A message of solidarity and thanks: BISS’s 25th Anniversary

By Karin Lohr, BISS

It all started in 2016 as a student project at the Faculty of Design at the Augsburg University of Applied Sciences. The idea to develop a project for the 25th anniversary of BISS came from Professor Gudrun Müllner and Joerg Jahn, who are both lecturers with long-term experience in professional advertising and who worked on BISS’s first campaign in 1998. Just like ‘real’ customers, the students started by finding out in person about the work that the Munich-based street paper does. They took part in a BISS city tour, spoke with sellers and asked them various questions. At the end of the semester, future advertisers and designers presented their suggestions in groups. Those of us at the magazine were impressed by how the students had approached the project in such an engaged way and by the ideas they came up with. As a result, BISS decided to pursue the idea of putting together an art project that could be shown in a public space.

The importance of public spaces

As a street paper, public spaces play a particularly important role for BISS. In contrast to most conventional organisations, the bulk of our operational activity takes place on the street. Our sellers are always in public when they are selling, and it is vitally important that they can sell the magazine safely. There are increasingly more big cities where people cannot stay in one place because they are in danger of being run over by cars, mistaken for criminals or being robbed. City centres have long been developing to the point where there is no space for homeless people – or indeed anyone who doesn’t or can’t go shopping all the time and who isn’t a consumer. Changes to our city centres are also being brought about by rising rents and a shift towards a totally commercial utilisation of space, of which Munich is unfortunately a bad example. For BISS, public space is a valuable commodity that must be protected. It is for this reason that we wanted to make a lasting impression with our art project.

An artist's rendering of what the sculpture will look like. Credit: Hans-Albrecht Lusznat

The artist: Studio Morison

In order to choose the artist(s) for the project, we worked with a qualified curator, Dr Caroline Fuch. She initially compiled a portfolio of five contemporary artists and groups with whom we held intensive discussions both in our project groups and with experts. Each artist would have been great in one way or another and so the final decision was difficult for us to make. Studio Morison were particularly impressive because they create superb projects all over the world and give equal weighting to both substance and wit in their work. We thought they would suit BISS and so established contact with them. Things then developed quickly: Heather Peak and Ivan Morison answered our invitation, we spoke via email and Skype, and, in November 2016, Heather came to Munich for the first time. It was bitterly cold when we went out together by bike to visit our sellers’ pitches. Heather was present at a sellers’ meeting and spoke at length with several sellers. As a result of her visit, BISS and the artists decided to undertake a project together.

Ivan Morison and Heather Peak. Credit: Hans-Albrecht Lusznat

The project

Ivan Morison walked around half of Munich in his search for the best location and visited numerous public squares. Wittelsbacherplatz was our favourite from the start. It is a centrally-situated square, with neither crossroads nor a lot of traffic. It is a big space, but one that is manageable and has a pleasant atmosphere with its trees and benches. Above all, there is the equestrian statue of the Elector of Bavaria, Maximilian I (1573-1651). The artists’ sculpture was designed to partially shroud the monument and it would therefore be striking by its presence: the interplay between visibility and invisibility was a key part of the artistic statement. Incidentally, the Elector Maximilian I is supposed to have been not only the most significant and severest Bavarian ruler, but also astonishingly perceptive, according to this quote from his will: “My body should not be left a long time out of the soil, nor should there be a lot of pomp and ceremony: the expenses should be used for the poor instead.” On hearing about the project, the well-known art collector and curator Ingvild Goetz, founder of the Goetz state collection, thought it sounded brilliant and agreed to provide financial sponsorship.

Under construction. Credit: Hans-Albrecht Lusznat

The motto: “I will be with you, whatever”

 The motto of the project is really a promise and it is one that went straight to our hearts. It was significant for BISS and our work, in that it resonates with our mission to support people who have no status in society because of poverty, illness, and in the worst cases, homelessness, and help them to overcome these difficult life crises. No matter what happens or how long it takes. The motto should give courage to those affected and show them that there is someone standing by and helping them. What became clear on second glance was that the promise is not a one-way street; rather, it works both ways: The poor hold up a mirror to society by their presence and remind us that it is crucially important for an equal society to establish basic living standards for everyone. Everyone has a right exist and to find a space where they can live peacefully – even if they were not born with a silver spoon in their mouths.

Financing the project

 BISS continues to look for donations and sponsors for this project. We have approached a range of charities and sponsors: some have already made a pledge and others are still deciding. We are optimistic that we will receive the support we need.

The blueprint. Credit: Hans-Albrecht Lusznat

Why this art project is so important

For BISS’s 10th anniversary in 2003, the magazine received worldwide attention for its exhibition, “The Architecture of Homelessness”, which was housed at the Pinakothek der Moderne gallery. Well-known artists such as Wolfgang Tillmans, Wolfgang Bellwinkel and Boris Mikhailov contributed. Back then, we found that art speaks to people, touches them and often encourages them to open themselves up to social and socio-political issues.

For its 25th anniversary, BISS, which is a flagship project with its 100 vendors, 51 of whom are permanently employed, wants to raise awareness of the issues of homelessness and social inequality among the public. We especially want to show that everyone can make a change for the better, and that this is a necessity if we are to preserve our democratic society and strive for greater equality. The project should encourage people in times such as these, when it often seems as though the world is falling to pieces. We are certain that this project will be the first time that many people will learn about the existence of flagship projects such as ours.

Above all, we want to give those we hold most dearly in our hearts a really big and uplifting gift. One the one hand, we want to celebrate our brave vendors: over the last 25 years, almost 1,000 people have sought help by becoming BISS vendors and have almost always found the support they needed as a result. On the other hand, we also want to thank the citizens of Munich for their long-term support and loyalty!

We are currently working on our programme and planning the on-site events. There will be talks led by art experts and BISS vendors, music, performance, discussions and we will meet on particular days to sing together. For now, we would like to invite all of the citizens of the city to join us at Wittelsbacherplatz. There’s more to come in the next issue about the events programme!

Translated from German by Natassja Thomas