Palm Fiction - Concept
In 2008 the White Elephant Collective presented a two week exhibition entitled Palm Fiction, at the
Palmkernölspeicher, a deserted factory located on the Stralau peninsula in East Berlin:
"The Palmkernölspeicher was a remnant of Germany’s rapid industrial expansion at the end of the 19th century
and had been inoperative for the past 18 years. In its day, it was a processing plant that produced oil and
carbon disulfide from palm seeds which were imported from German colonies in Western Africa. It later
became storage for crops and produced animal feed. More recently, the Palmkernölspeicher was a hopeful
prospect for luxury loft housings. Today, a model apartment still resides within the vacant building.
The title of the exhibition Palm Fiction refers to the factory’s primary resource, the palm. The term 'fiction'
has a threefold meaning: the process of forming and creating, the telling of a story and its relation to our
The palm stands today as an exceedingly positive and romantic icon that is associated with tropical islands,
beach fronts, cocktail bars and vacation resorts. At the same time, it is directly tied to the western
phenomena of exoticism, colonialism and the exploitation of foreign countries. During the end of the 19th
century, Palmgardens and palmhouses became an upper-class fancy, replacing the more functional
orangeries ( where one would breed citrus ) that accompanied many bourgeois habitations. In effect, the
palm provided the upper-class with a means to express wealth, power and the grip that the western world
had over its freshly acquired colonies and ever expanding empires. The Palmkernölspeicher originates from
these heydays of colonialism, built to exploit and profit from Germany's strongholds in Western Africa.
Despite the exotic or romantic feelings evoked by the palm, in this context its nature is oppressive and bloody.
Today, palm oil has regained economic relevance as it potentially compensates for the world’s dwindling
fossil fuel resources. This new role of the palm is controversial. On the one hand, it carries the hope for the
switch to a more natural and regenerative economy. On the other hand, the massive, monocultural palm
oil-plantations significantly contribute to the destruction of the world's richest ecosystems, the primeval
rainforests, and cause a general shortage of food supply in equatorial countries, by displacing agricultural
land. Thus, the palm and the Palmkernölspeicher symbolize an ambivalent history of romance and oppression.
Palm Fiction will create a discourse between the building’s historical and present-day functions and implications,
through sight specific artworks. It will thereby reflect on what the building was, is and might become.
Each floor has been assigned a theme related to the context of the building.
The Palmkernölspeicher stands as an independent icon of Stralau’s past within a surrounding of modern
housing. It’s empty, dire condition - with holes in the floors, broken or missing windows, and an unresolved
interior design - arise feelings of romanticism and nostalgia. There is a beauty to the raw skeleton with all
of its flaws. Although the Palmkernölspeicher has been dormant for nearly two decades, it presents us with
an undeveloped story that occurred in its past; holes for us to fill.
The ground and first floors are labeled archeology. They will address the location and current state of the
building. Here, findings from the building and its surrounding environment will be excavated, scrutinized
and displayed, creating a museum-like scenario, a tribute to the place itself.
Although the Palmkernölspeicher has undergone internal changes to construct a new face and identity for
the building, its architecture and floor plan are reflective of a space with specific functions and intentions.
It is truly a factory; a formation of systems, with a singular target of transforming one thing into another. It
encompasses basic choreography; a thorough organization of several movements to generate an endproduct.
These systems which existed within the Palmkernölspeicher can only be imagined. For the worker,
the atmosphere must have been immense, and the labour, monotonous. The factory surely extruded a
menagerie of sounds and smells; a commotion of fabrication created by machinery and workers, granules
flowing through the columns of the building, shipments coming in and out; maybe there was a horn to
signal the beginning and end of the worker’s day. The second floor, or the ‘factory,’ will draw together these
processes of production, trade, employment, and labor.
The produce of the factory will be the basis for the theme of the third floor. Physical and sensual
impressions of food, fuel, oil, and energy, will confront the viewer with contemporary implications. By
examining the qualities of these human essentials, the viewer will consider the elemental role these goods
play in the course of daily life. Though we are constantly surrounded by these seemingly simple necessities,
their representations beg for reconsideration and articulation in respect to the world today.
The final level of the Palmkernölspeicher brings the exhibition back to its source, the palm. Here, the
palm tree acts as a central image and mediator between dreamy romanticism and coldblooded economies.
It will highlight the preconceptions, fictions, and utopias that are invented to embellish our exploitation of
foreign worlds. The visitor will be left in a position of ambivalence; where one’s nostalgic, idealistic
thoughts of paradise are skewed by an actual, harsh reality.
The range of work exhibited will be multi-disciplinary; varying from individual to collaborative, and small to
large scale. Palm Fiction will be group-curated, meaning that the works will be developed and critiqued
from the beginning stages to their final realization by the artists of the White Elephant Collective.
Palm Fiction will open its doors on the 28th of June, 2008. "