Magazine article Artforum International

7th Berlin Biennale: VARIOUS VENUES

Magazine article Artforum International

7th Berlin Biennale: VARIOUS VENUES

Article excerpt

"THIS IS NOT OUR MUSEUM / THIS IS YOUR ACTION SPACE," reads a banner greeting visitors to KW Institute for Contem-porary Art, the Berlin Biennale's main venue and traditional host. Its authors, members of Occupy Berlin and affiliated groups invited to set up shop there by the biennial's curator, the artist Artur Zmijewski, are the exhibition's main attraction and set its tone. They paradigmatically stand for the concept of art to which Zmijewski has dedicated his "biennale for contemporary politics": "Art that actually works, makes its mark on reality."

Zmijewski, who organized the biennial with Joanna Warsza, doesn't have much faith in the professional art world, where (as he writes in the book accompanying the show) "what is at stake for the curator is the next project, not any radical social or political goal," and artists pursue the same "individualistic politics of survival." The biennial's publications and the discussions affiliated with it develop a notion of engaged art in the best avant-garde tradition, of art as a tool serving political causes and turning "spectatorship into citizenship," which is convincingly pitched against autonomous art that is still "aestheticizing reality, changing ideas into spectacle, and transforming the political into a call that no one follows." In order to find "art that brings change, art that is not critical in an empty fashion," the curators looked outside the art world "for people who have 'stumbled' into art when they were supposed to be working in other fields ... in parliaments and government, or in the media ... or even therapists or doctors."

One is thus surprised to find among the participants quite a few professional artists, such as Yael Banana, Pawel Althamer, Olafur Eliasson, Teresa Margolies, and Zmijewski himself, who shows his 1999 video Berek (The Game of Tag), which was recently "censored" by being removed from an exhibition at Berlin's Marrin-Gropius-Bau. Especially at KW, which holds three-quarters of the biennial's installed works, the curators nevertheless manage to maintain an improvised look and feel, cluttering up the space and deliberately avoiding elegance or a unifying design. With focused presentations at three more venues and a handful of projects in public space, the exhibition feels less overwhelming than past editions. And yet it conveys a sense that the biennial eludes one's grasp. Several r actions and events preceded the exhibition itself, or are happening elsewhere, like an artist residency in the shrinking East German city Eisenhuttenstadt on the Polish border. Some works represent social conflicts or their mediation while themselves remaining clearly located and contained within the art context--for example, Margolles's PM 2010, which presents one year of covers from the Mexican tabloid PM, each of which pictures drug-war victims juxtaposed with the pinup of the day.

Next to such works, one does indeed find art that exceeds this context in more or less consequential ways. Khaled Jarrar, for example, offers to stamp visitors' passports STATE OF PALESTINE. The significance of the stamp is obviously more concrete in Ramallah, where Jarrar first undertook the action, but even in Berlin one thinks twice before thus marking one's position. Martin Zet released--through the biennial's press office--a call for copies of Thilo Sarrazin's infamous book, Deutschland schafft sick ab (Germany Gets Rid of Itself, 2010), for exhibition and subsequent recycling. (Within sixteen months of its release, the hook had sold more than a million copies and been heavily criticized for its explicit racism.) The installation component of Zer's work, Deutschland schafft es ab (Germany Gets Rid of it), 2012, is nor very impressive in itself: Only four copies were donated, and they are exhibited pressed against the wall by a metal rod, next to a video narrating the course of the project. Months before the exhibition, however, the work sparked heated debate. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.