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

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