South likes: 8th Berlin Biennale, Berlin
South likes: 8th Berlin Biennale, Berlin
8th Berlin Biennale
Various venues, Berlin, Germany
29 May – 3 August, 2014
Taking an utterly different direction than the one attempted two years ago by Artur Żmijewski, the 8th edition of the Berlin Biennale, curated by Juan A. Gaitán, seems to resort to a much more solid curatorial practice in order to question the cultural development of the city. Spread over three very different venues, the 8th Berlin Biennale proposes narratives and perspectives that pursue a political discourse and at the same time set in motion a dialogue with the identity of the city, especially with its cultural establishment. The three selected venues investigate different institutional stances, questioning the fast development of the Mitte in relationship to the heterogeneous fabric of the city: in Haus am Waldsee rather discreet works are installed in the domestic environment provided by this former private villa built in the 1920s; the Museen Dahlem deals instead with the colonial imaginary of the non-European, intertwining the extraordinary ethnographical collection with contemporary art pieces, which break the institutional display of artefacts from all over the world; the KW Institute for Contemporary Art proposes eventually more recognisable patterns of display, in a traditional venue of the Berlin Biennale and cultural landmark of the city.
The highlights of this Biennale are several and cleverly distributed among these three venues, exploring the potential of different strategies of display. In the garden of Haus am Waldsee stands out the sound installation by Slavs and Tatars, Ezan Çılgıŋŋŋŋŋları, which questions issues related to the politics of language and references Atatürk’s language reforms as a way in which religion and language remain entwined with the realm of politics. With Subconscious Society Rosa Barba dismisses digital technologies in favour of the film, with a wisely installed projection that envisions a post-apocalyptic scenario gazing over a series of bleak landscapes. Carsten Höller conceived a site-specific installation in the room of pre-Columbian gold antiquities of Dahlem Museum, intervening in the existing lighting system to create a flickering light that reflects on the cinematic perception of the museographic display. The drawings of Gordon Bennett offer a sophisticated counterpoint to the ethnographical collection of Museen Dahlem, exploring the artist’s Euro-Australian identity with provocative references to violence, sexuality, and repression. Julieta Aranda’s work, Stealing one’s own corpse (An alternative set of footholds for an ascent into the dark), is the result of her experience of zero gravity, further elaborating on the analogies between body experiences, literary science fictional constructs, and metaphorical gravitational pull of recurrent global crises. Experimenting on the architectural construction of space and its impact on the body, Leonor Antunes creates a big installation that shuffles modernist references and traditional craft techniques in order to blend visual rhetorics related to artisanal labour and capitalist mass production. Cynthia Gutiérrez’s work is commentary on the persistence of history in contemporary world through a subjective take on the history of the restitution to Ethiopia of the Obelisk of Axum, taken to Italy by Fascist troops in 1937. The installation by Otobong Nkanga, In Pursuit of Bling, is a reflection on natural resources and their exploitation that creates an intelligent ambiguity between nature as a commodity and the “magical” charm of the mineral mica. Andreas Angelidakis’ Crash Pad, opened four months prior to the Biennale, works as a preliminary statement imagined as a gift from Greece to Germany. Reflecting on the development of modern Greece and on Greece’s separation from the Ottoman Empire, Crash Pad is a multipurpose room with a library designed around the concept of a “domesticated ruin”.
The Berlin Biennale as a whole succeeds in the attempt to expose the loopholes and blind spots in the cultural development of the city through a careful account of its history and present maturation. And this is indeed a much needed effort, especially with regard to the status of Berlin as one of the capitals of contemporary art, which seems to face a delicate transition, disputed as it is between the profits of the art market, the ideologies of the cultural establishment, and the failures and successes of its experimental soul.