Botox For Your Soul

Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.  –Samuel Ullman

Internationally-acclaimed artist JR has been traveling the globe since 2008 tracing “the wrinkles of cities.” From Cartagena to Shanghai, Los Angeles to La Havana, he’s been photographing the older inhabitants of these places, pasting their giant black and white portraits on similarly old city buildings. The result is a poetic manifestation that summons time, history, memory, presence and decay. For his latest iteration of this worldwide project, JR has made Berlin his canvas. You may have noticed giant portraits popping up recently around the city, as over fifteen pasted artworks went up in the period of two weeks in mid April—that’s at least fifteen unique stories from Berlin’s oldest citizens. We visited the opening of “The Wrinkles of The City: Berlin” at Galerie Henrik Springmann to discover that half the artwork hung on the walls while the other half was walking among us.

Reading Between The Wrinkles

If eyes are the windows to the soul, JR has been showing us the souls of cities across the world since 2008; his signature trademark is pasting a single wide-open eye on architectural facades (if you’re in Wedding and take a stroll by Gustav-Meyer-Allee 25, you’ll certainly know what I’m talking about). The result is the transformation of these buildings from lifeless and decaying architectural structures into newly personalized observers, silently watching the cityscape as they bear witness to the passing of time and the destruction and construction that comes along with it.

Appropriately, JR’s models in this series are the citizens of that particular location––those who have witnessed the passage of time the longest and have gained the badges (wrinkles) to prove it. In fact, the opening reception for his exhibition was really about these figures and less about the work on the walls.

Greg and Helga Mippo, two of JR's Berlin muses. Photo: Chris Phillips

When stamped upon a city building, an old face ceases to be an old face, instead becoming a time capsule where memories and histories are withheld. Beyond their personal histories and memories, it is perhaps the collective memory of these individuals that stands out more in a city like Berlin. World War II, for most of us, has always existed in our past or in history books, and the devastation was therefore was never a part of our present. But here are those who witnessed and lived through the destruction and construction of their time. Suddenly, walking through the exhibition on opening night felt more like a stroll through the city’s history; JR’s models began to appear as architectural structures that continue to watch the changes of their cityscape.

Sonja Dickel and Evelyn Stundlach, partners for almost a decade. Photo: Chris Phillips

But the focus of the exhibition was not necessarily the collective memory these people share by living in Berlin. We also discovered some of the personal and private stories withheld among the wrinkles of our elders. Among JR’s models, the story of Evelyn Stundlach and Sonja Dickel certainly stood out. Evelyn and her girlfriend Sonja have been together for almost ten years after having met as extras on a film set in Berlin. Evelyn, a born and raised Berliner, was selected to serve as one of JR's models, and her girlfriend Sonja could not have been more profusely proud, declaring "Evelyn finally went from being an extra to a star." We will not mention their age simply because they happily do not adhere to it. Years may have wrinkled their skin, but their enthusiasm has certainly kept their soul wrinkle-free.

Article by Jovanny Varela-Ferreyra