Alter

See videos

Alter

Alter: to change or cause to change in character of composition typically in a comparatively small but significant way.*
Altar: a table or flat-topped block used as the focus for a religious ritual especially for making sacrifices or offerings to a deity.*
* Webster’s definition

Most things become altered, even the most beloved. During Mr. Berger’s four-year residency in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he witnessed profound alterations in both the physical and cultural cityscape.

As a city recovering from the devastating Flood of 2008, the historic city center needed restoration and with that, in some cases, came something far beyond alteration. The idea of a clean slate allured many. City historic builds were torn down to make way for the future. Cedar Rapids’ past, however, was home to the roots of its physical and cultural identity. From the Czech blue collar neighborhoods surrounding the (once) world’s largest meat packing plant to the church Grant Wood helped design with an interior mural, questions of preservation and restoration were countered by visions of gambling casino capital, high-end housing, and banal architect as the promise for future prosperity. Historical buildings and neighborhoods disappeared in favor of faux modernist glass boxes and empty lots. Cedar Rapids was being “whitewashed.”

Alter is an 3.5ft x 10ft x 12ft altar-like form dedicated to the alteration of the Cedar Rapids Community during this time. Though Mr. Berger knew his intent, the form of this piece developed organically during an intense period of collecting materials while roaming the stricken city and working in his basement studio in one of the flood stricken historic buildings.

Mr. Berger’s materials were sourced from the detritus of this decimated historic district. Old wood, cloth, nails, and screening were thrifted from piles of rubble. These materials became charged artifacts and relics, empowering Alter with an aura of history and respect. Gradually he saw his structure taking the shape of some eccentric Gothic cathedral. In a final gesture the entire surface was covered with a plaster fabric maché, giving the effect of a whitewashed “crazy quilt” and emphasizing its crude construction. The back view revealed its original material sources and, perhaps, a view into the past.

Referencing the Medieval tradition of wheeling the village altar through the streets as a rededication, Mr. Berger laboriously pushed Alter through the streets of downtown Cedar Rapids, along railroad tracks, and through empty lots. Visiting various sites, historical, new and under-construction, Alter's presence encouraged the intrigued to tag along, providing input and opinion. In this way, Alter was dedicated and consecrated by both the ground and the citizens of the center city. Mr. Berger’s procession concluded with the final placement of Alter on a raised area of earth covering the remains of a downtown Cedar Rapids iron factory. Over the next Fall, Winter and Spring, its whitewashed surface became mold and moss covered - from white to green to a rotting black, atop that pile of rubble – finally disappearing into its surroundings. What remains of Alter waits to be altered again.