Berlin Biennale: Strange days indeed
In truth, and true to Żmijewski’s disenchantment, there is not much ART in this Biennale. The ground floor of the KW has been set up for the Occupy movement and sundry issues and concerns. It looks a bit like a protest expo. We wonder about the idea of this. To bring the Occupy movement into this sanctuary of art and its context, according to Artur Żmijewski, of neo-liberalism seems to miss the point. There is no resistance here. No energy to speak of. It is all sanctioned and annexed and seems to have been tamed by acceptance. People wander about in listless fashion and chat with various petitioners.
You can take the movement out of the street, but you can’t take the street out of the movement it seems. Read here an open letter of protest. http://www.alytusbiennial.com/news/477-open-address-to-the-curators-of-berlin-biennial-2012-due-to-commissioning-alytus-biennial-and-damtp.html
Elsewhere in the KW walls have been written on in fluro paint (a nod to the seventies poster day-glo colours we guess), and black markers…more manifestos. Banner flags of new nations festoon the 2nd floor. You have to walk through them to get to the little model of Jonas Staal’s proposal for the New World Summit structure – a rondo seating plan to enable transparency for an alternative parliament for political and juridical representatives of organizations currently placed on international terrorist lists. You can read about it here: http://www.berlinbiennale.de/blog/en/events/new-world-summit-a-congress-with-jonas-staal
Khaled Jarrar, a Palestinian artist, has made a passport stamp for the State of Palestine and visitors are invited to stamp their own passports or selves. We cannot recite the chapter and verse of the law, but are pretty sure this might contravene the Passport Act of Australia (something about defacing or falsifications)…it most certainly would draw attention at borders. This is the point undoubtedly and one of those challenging moments where reality and art idea intersect problematically. It also, as it intends, tests your fear. Do you risk fine or being detained at borders to protest the current nation paradigm?
The Gentrification Program by the Institute of Human Activities takes place over five years in which the ‘modalities of art production’ launch a Gentrification project eight hundred kilometers upstream of Kinshasa on the river Congo. In a specially built bamboo settlement seminars will be held to discuss the issues arising from the ‘transfer of artistic production to this zone of reception’. Like many, the artists included we imagine, the people of the upper Congo might have preferred medicine, supplies and shelter, and so we understand this project to intend a cynical critique of the processes of gentrification that follow artistic inhabitation in places like New York’s, lower East and West sides, Melbourne’s CBD, and many other arts lead urban recoveries.
Writing and drawing on walls becomes another trope in this Biennale. At the ST. ELISABETH-CHURCH on the Invalidenstraße artist Pawel Althamer has invited anyone to come and contribute their art…we saw some children working in groups and one young woman making a crayon mosaic pattern on the floor, the rest of the site seemed to already have been overtaken by the scatological scribblings of people who don’t seem to know how to share wall space and so the contributions seem already compromised.
Back at the KW Althamer exhibits one of the only actual art works…his film piece Sunbeam which is quite fabulous and we had wished was shown larger and in a room where you could see it more easily. Sunbeam riffs off rock/pop clips with a visual narrative that moves from the wintery hardships of the Eastern European (Polish) snow storm to the happier sunny times of the emerging new spring of Poland basking in the golden glow of EU investments. Like good art, this film, which refrains Althamer’s gold lame wearing protagonists from his previous Common Tasks project, uses metaphor, symbolism and rhetorical tropes to deliver a critique of the new Poland. Romantically shot with many tricks of the Rock video trade it’s MTV feel is the right touch amid so much that seems heavy and inert in this Biennial so far.
Later we wonder if Althamer’s Sunbeam was a late replacement of Artur Żmijewski’s own video Berek, which is listed in the program, but not found. Consistent with his centrality in all undertakings, Żmijewski has included this controversial work from 1999 in which naked people play a game of tag, laugh and dance in a disused Nazi Gas chamber. The work was recently rejected from being shown at the Martin Gropius Bau, and we think perhaps has been a midnight hour withdrawal from BB7.
At the top floor of the KW a nursery for young birch tree seedlings being raised from trees brought to Berlin from around the area of Auschwitz-Birkenau – where they have grown in the soil where bodies are buried. Berlin- Birkenau is the project by Lukas Surowiec, a Polish artist and intends to be a living monument and memorial for the lost lives of the millions of Jews murdered in the concentration death camps. This is a project of mutual thought and responsibility. If you promise to care for the seedling and bring it to maturity in a life long activity then you can take a seedling home and plant it. The mature trees are also being settled around Berlin. This project recalls Joseph Beuy’s 7000 Oaks for the Documenta 7, 1982 and to our way of thinking is a fine continuation of memorial symbolism.
We travelled to the Deutschlandhaus, a building with a history that represents the shifting geo-political context of Berlin from Weimer Republic to Nazi era to East block sectioning. It is now proposed as the site for the SFVV (Foundation for Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation) headquarters. The building is intended as its own exhibit – with stained glass windows, designed by Silesian artist Kowalski in 1950, a 1922 sculpture ‘the Expellees’ by Hermann Jochim Pagels who would go on to sculpt the heads of Hitler, Hess and Goebbels – and delivers a kind of mute history. On the upper level a small exhibit of personal items donated by families of German Jews who were forced to flee are arranged like a regular museum display.
The Battle, win lose or draw
The much-anticipated Battle of Berlin re-enactment lasted 15 minutes with a small number of participants assembling and going through the paces to musical accompaniment.