7th Berlin Biennale: How (Not) to Be Good.

Berlin Biennale main exhibition space (c) PAS

 

Polish artist-curator Artur Zmijewski and co-curator Joanna Warsza claimed the 7th Berlin Biennale to be a very political one. In these shaky times, I think, this is a good idea. However, they forgot about the art.

 

Mr. Zmijewski says, ‘The conzept of the Berlin Biennale is to present art that actually works, makes its mark on reality, and opens a space where politics can be performed.’

 

Artur Zmijewski (c) PAS

 

The Kunstwerke’s main exhibition hall was renamed Occupy Biennale and the curators invited a number of political pressure groups to have their petition and information booths there. (If 2009 Venice Bienniale winning artist Tobias Rehberger would have been the curator and had the same intention, he would at least have designed colourful nice booths for them…).

 

Mr. Zmijewski and Ms. Warsza also made the recently much-hyped Russian art and protest collective VOINA to be co-curators of the Biennale, but nobody really contributed to the show, as they limit their artistic practise to direct actions of protest and never accept invitations to shows or commissions. Joanna Warsza says, 'The institutional tools off the Berlin Biennale can serve VOINA's cause: Through it they are legitimized as artists and their actions are deemed art.'

 

 

Pawel Althammer's music video for the rock band N.R.M. installation view

 

Many of the remaining autonomous works of art in the show did not convince me either: Pawel Althamer’s commercial music video 'Pramien/Sunbeam' with Belarussian band N.R.M. referring to the Belarussian anthem and Althamer's great performance ‘Common Task’. I think it was rather weak for an artist of his class. Or the artist booth, where you could commit yourself to stop doing drugs for the time of the Biennale in order to improve the situation of the drug war in Mexico is more ridiculous than relevant artistic practice.

 

The better works were by Artur Zmijewski himself, Teresa Margolles and Lukasz Surowiec.

 

 

Unstallation view of Teresa Margolles 'PM 2010', 2012 (c) the artist

 

Just like Klaus Biesenbach, who was co-curator of the first Berlin Biennale in 1998, Artur Zmijewski invited Teresa Margolles: For PM 2010, she assembled all the 313 front pages of the popular Mexican PM magazine from each day, when somebody died in the current Mexican drug war in the year 2010. The contrast between the yellow press pin-ups and the corpses is very moving.

 

Birch tree installation by Lukasz Sowiecz 2012, (c) the artist, photo by PAS

 

Very disturbing was Artur Zmijewski's well-known video of 1999 'The Game of Tag', which depicts half a dozen naked adults, who innocently play the kid's game tag. The video was shot partly in a private basement in Poland and also partly in a real gas chamber of a Nazi-concentration camp in Poland.

 

 

Detail of installation by Lukasz Sowiecz 2012, (c) the artist, photo by PAS

 

Polish artist Lukasz Surowiec took 350 small birch trees from the area of the former Nazi-concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland and planted them in public places scattered all over Berlin. He does not only want to commemorate the history of the Holocaust, but also to start debates about the future relationship between Germany and Poland. His very private approach towards Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coming to terms with the past) goes further than the 1982 planting of 7,000 oak trees at the Documenta by Josef Beuys: At the exhibition there is a greenhouse-style installation with more Polish seedlings. The visitors are invited to take them home free of charge and grow their own memorial.

 

Natalya Sokol, member of the Russian art collective VOINA, declares ‘The artist who denies political awareness is just a designer.’ I am wondering what is a curator, who forgets the art?

 

Artur Zmijewski tried to form the angriest Biennial of all, but failed to show enough convincing art.

 

 

by Chris Neuschler

 

 

7th Berlin Biennale, Germany

Through 1st July 2012

 

 

Installation view of Pierre Huyghe at dOCUMENTA(13) (c) the artist, photo by PAS

Comments

Adama, 20-07-12 04:21
Yet, the “situation” changed radlcaliy when the “Movement” (that is AZ’ “comrades”), were asked to get the ball rolling. This article shows an incredible lack of knowledge about the implication of real activists within the space of the KW and the unfortunate 7th Biennale, with which most of the Berlin activists I personally know are trying to distance themselves. There are some people who enjoy the indoors-camp in the KW, even some other who seem to be trying to get there art works promoted, but the activists who organized the press conference weren't to my knowledge either a) AZ's comrades, nor b) organized or directed by this guy. There are still some people getting involved inside the Biennale rooms, just to use that public space for political discussion (NB: people who are not getting involved in the Biennial of arts, only joining what's being tagged as movement , although this possibility is for many both difficult to comprehend and also difficult to accept). Yep, it seems easier to write a piece of accusing and based on (unluckily false) assumptions about the working group who dared participating in the press conference.I was there at the KW the night before at the public asamblea, in the space that the Biennale has offered to the occupiers (all these terms and conditions being almost constantly problematized by many of the activists, who even doesn't feel like participating in this kind of Biennale-revolution-zoo, being ourselves used by those artists for their exhibition in Berlin to be successful ). Can anyone understand this? The whole situation is very problematic and often problematized and self-criticized by those people you saw at the press conference. Even if no one really wants to get to the core and just feel happy with those kind of must-be-obviously-like-I-am-assuming-this-to-be. The two guys who took the role of trying to question the fuss around activists made by the journalists attending the conference (as well as by the Biennale organization itself, with its VIP's and other nonsense, which really are 2 different things) where just those who volunteered, and there were just no girls who wanted to get involved. Yes, someone brought the very same issue at the asamblea the prior night, but the attendees just decided by consensus that we don't want to give a damn for parity if there were no girls volunteering for this social act. I want to thank once more the courageous activists who wanted to turn things upside down, as I understood it, both the biennale organizers using activism and obscenely mixing it with VIPs and other disgusting things, and the misinforming journalists, who have to sell their souls to get published.Try questioning yourself and the way you understand the world for once!
Chris, 12-10-12 09:59
Dear Adama,

Thank you for your detailed comment about Berlin Biennale 2012.

In shakey times as ours, I think it is very important - especially for contemporary artists - to also speak up politically.

One may agree or disagree with the various activist groups at KW.

My main point is: The art shown there did not convince me most of the time, because I felt it was made up all too simple. Often, weak pieces were supercharged by political messages.

For instants, the New World Summit installation by Jonas Staal was really superficial and ridiculous to me!

But it is ok, if you don't agree with my point of view: I think art is a very personal thing and I may also be wrong. Time will show how this Biennale will be remembered.

In any case, we want to encourage the discussion about contemporary art.

Chris Neuschler
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Jenay, 28-04-13 08:33
In my view, which I published in several articles critizising the basic frame set by AZ for the Biennale, it is the basic frame of the biennale concept, which is producing just automatically situations of undecitability. To create “free” and open interactions and communications is not to set an open frame and declaring everything is possible, instead what is needed is the very very difficult operation of framing to make it possible creating sensibility (it is an art exhibition!) for existing mechanisms of unjust and dominant structures of perception and interaction. What An Paenhuysen in my view makes clear is that in AZ’s basic framing everybody, also An herself gets whatever one intends just part of a Biennale sensation of the fiction of selfregulating individualized “free” interactions. The result is reproduction of the same thing you find everywhere in a so-called self-regulated society. It is a pity that as you point to at the end of your argument now activists who just followed AZs tricky “open” invitation are now just part of an so called art-going-politics-thing for what others got the money, are now just ‘showing’ democracy and human engagement automatically in complicity with AZs frame. By the way that the girls just didn’t want is not just a statement, its a well-known part of everydays male dominated sexual politics.So I suggest that you in your statement as you critized An’s article you should have critized solely AZ, not the one who named the thing but the one who is responsible for this awful biennale framing. But may be we are now also in the nonsense framing of unresponsiblity which is AZ’s special capacity to play just the litle boy from the country side, who wants to do everything good and doesn’t understand, why everything went otherwise….;-)

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Emma, 28-04-13 08:34
In my view, which I published in several articles critizising the basic frame set by AZ for the Biennale, it is the basic frame of the biennale concept, which is producing just automatically situations of undecitability. To create “free” and open interactions and communications is not to set an open frame and declaring everything is possible, instead what is needed is the very very difficult operation of framing to make it possible creating sensibility (it is an art exhibition!) for existing mechanisms of unjust and dominant structures of perception and interaction. What An Paenhuysen in my view makes clear is that in AZ’s basic framing everybody, also An herself gets whatever one intends just part of a Biennale sensation of the fiction of selfregulating individualized “free” interactions. The result is reproduction of the same thing you find everywhere in a so-called self-regulated society. It is a pity that as you point to at the end of your argument now activists who just followed AZs tricky “open” invitation are now just part of an so called art-going-politics-thing for what others got the money, are now just ‘showing’ democracy and human engagement automatically in complicity with AZs frame. By the way that the girls just didn’t want is not just a statement, its a well-known part of everydays male dominated sexual politics.So I suggest that you in your statement as you critized An’s article you should have critized solely AZ, not the one who named the thing but the one who is responsible for this awful biennale framing. But may be we are now also in the nonsense framing of unresponsiblity which is AZ’s special capacity to play just the litle boy from the country side, who wants to do everything good and doesn’t understand, why everything went otherwise….;-)

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Carli, 28-04-13 08:34
In my view, which I published in several articles critizising the basic frame set by AZ for the Biennale, it is the basic frame of the biennale concept, which is producing just automatically situations of undecitability. To create “free” and open interactions and communications is not to set an open frame and declaring everything is possible, instead what is needed is the very very difficult operation of framing to make it possible creating sensibility (it is an art exhibition!) for existing mechanisms of unjust and dominant structures of perception and interaction. What An Paenhuysen in my view makes clear is that in AZ’s basic framing everybody, also An herself gets whatever one intends just part of a Biennale sensation of the fiction of selfregulating individualized “free” interactions. The result is reproduction of the same thing you find everywhere in a so-called self-regulated society. It is a pity that as you point to at the end of your argument now activists who just followed AZs tricky “open” invitation are now just part of an so called art-going-politics-thing for what others got the money, are now just ‘showing’ democracy and human engagement automatically in complicity with AZs frame. By the way that the girls just didn’t want is not just a statement, its a well-known part of everydays male dominated sexual politics.So I suggest that you in your statement as you critized An’s article you should have critized solely AZ, not the one who named the thing but the one who is responsible for this awful biennale framing. But may be we are now also in the nonsense framing of unresponsiblity which is AZ’s special capacity to play just the litle boy from the country side, who wants to do everything good and doesn’t understand, why everything went otherwise….;-)

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