A Game of Words
After my exploratory excursion into the far, far west, what rests to be discovered in this years Biennale is it´s „historical“ centre, the Kunstwerke for contemporary art in Auguststraße, Berlin Mitte. The catalogue states, that after intervening in the setting of a Villa (Haus am Waldsee) and setting up contemporary art, dealing with ethnological and postcolonial themes in an ethnological museum, art will come to itself in the Kunstwerke. Rather than the other, rather particular locations, the Kunstwerke remains that white cube, that is so common for the showcasing of art after all. While I did see the first two locations before the opening for the general public, I went to the Kunstwerke at the opening day with some friends, rain falling, tingrey skies, crowds gathering in the courtyard of the Kunstwerke and after some time waiting in line, we finally entered the exhibition. The first two works you see (each with a separate room) entering the ground floor picks right up, where you left the ethnological museum in Dahlem. David Zink Yis (Peru) video installation „The Strangers“ work circles around a silver mine high up in the andean mountains, showing the surroudings as well as the work in the mine, while Santu Mokofengs (South Africa) „Ancestors/Fearing the Shadows“ documents some form of a construction site, that is contested by the local indigenous population due to burial grounds of their ancestors. Especially the latter needs so much context to understand (beside of technical well done photographies of a rather barren landscape with construction going on), that you really did not get the thing very well on opening day, too many people, and I, knowing the other two locations already, wonderes a little, why these works were not implemented into the ethnological museum location, where they would have fitted nicely, not being art that would „come to itself“ shown in a white cube. This happens afterwards, in the big hall of Kunstwerke, that was this time fragmented into different spaces and picked up the classical artifact showing museum theme by implementing vitrines into the exhibition space, which did have a rather nice touch, I must say.
The works shown in the big space are drawing related, with a subtle, mostly monochrome aesthetic, which one could describe as poetical. The works really were proposals, from shades of green to drawings of plants and angles, lightgrey on white, studies one might say, other shown pieces dealing more with architecture, very geometrical is that, or sociologal approaches, aesthetical approaching comic. And than there is in the middle a built room with the works of Tonel. These now are in the face polemical (if not worse) depictations, accusations, posters, I would myself say, posters for raging teens willing to save the world they do not understand. because of colour and the more sensual, more brutal force of these works, the room was naturally the most occupied. I on the other hand asked myself, why these works were part of the exhibition anyway. The depth of the critic articulated in some words was at best as deep as a shallow puddle, the agressiveness of the depictation did not harmonize with the rather „silent“ drawings surrounding it, or the contextual depth of the works you could experience beforehand. It really reminded one of the last Biennale, where Occupy activists camped right there in that hall in the ground floor, with the upside that their striking slogans might have had even more substance. A pick on side of the curator, that otherwise had shown such a devotion to reflection, I do not understand at all.
Getting up the stairs in the first, second, third floors of the Kunstwerke proofed to be a nightmare. Due to the crowdedness the entry was restricted somewhat and you had the fine choice to wait in the pouring rain or inside in the heated up axhibition in a long row of art afficianados. That is why you actually do not go to openings of these big events, it always kind of hurts you badly in one way or another.
The first floor was dedicated to art playing with light and shadow, some very nice and poetical stuff actually, that were sadly lost in the gigantesque space, overlapping and diffusing because of too much sources of light. It really did not do the works a favour to have them set up like that, but i guess it was a necessity due to lack of considerably fitting space in the Kunstwerke itself (and they would have not made a point in the other locations). The second floor really did not hit it off either. The best work on display in my view, an installation by canadian artist Judy Radul, meditates over the idea of displaying artifacts in museums, showing vitrines like those in the ethnological museum, emptied or filled with everyday objects, this combined with videos from the same room, people looking into the vitrines, and selected parts of the ethnological museum and its collection (and its visitors). While only really understandable when you have visited the other locations before going to the Kunstwerke, it has an intertextuality that I find rather appealing. And than there is the plastic Owl on the windowsill in the uppermost part of the staircase, overlooking the courtyard and the rooftops of Berlin Mitte arty district around Augustsraße. A silent observer, in the bacjground playing some classical music (it might be the quintuor de negres, also played in the Haus am Waldsee, but I am not sure). That is were this years Biennale ends, a poetical image, a worthy situational work, ironic and sensual at the same time. The latter, sensuality, colour, overwhelming impressions, art that hits you just by looking at it, rather than reading two pages text on the context, is what´s missing in this Biennale, by purpose, for sure, but also closing it to what you might call „the art world“ and leaving the general populous a little bit out, for they are usually not drawn ti highly contextualised concept art or the poetics of drawing that is always a poetic of the proposal rather than the absolute stated by artworks so oftenly.
After the Haus am Waldsee, as a reasonable proposal for starting the walk through all three exhibition sites of this years Berlin-Biennale (find the article here), I want to take you down some tube stations to Dahlem-Dorf (Dahlem-Village, if you would translate it), the location of the main buildings of the Freie Universität, the Ethnological Museums, were the Biennale is occupying some space, and a mixture of gardens, Villas, Cottages and small retailers, as you would find in any village, probably with more restaurants than usual though. As well as the even more outskirtish location of the Haus am Waldsee, the proposition of Dahlem Dorf as one of the centrepieces of the Berlin Biennale (and it is – at least in my view – the central place of this Biennale, were the overall concept, the works and the form of displaying them as well as the setting probably come into their own) enlarges the cities geography regardind contemporary art once again.
One of the reasons why this museum complex was chosen is their scheduled move into the yet to build Humboldt Forum Unter den Linden, that will be housed in the reconstruction of the Stadtschloss (the old palace of the prussian kings and later emperors), that is underway right now. This move will change the museums and their rather important collections considerably. Now housed in a modernist architecture in a corner of the city less and less visited after the fall of the wall, it will probably become a touristical hotspot in a fake historizised architecture, rebuilding the nineteenth century in the centre of the city instaed of looking (and building!) into the future. The whole project of rebuilding the Stadtschloss is a rather strange one. The Berliners don´t really want it. The peole stemming from the former GDR and – in my opinion every german – lost the emblematic building of the GDR Parliament, that was torn down in that location some years ago, although not necessarily beautyfull, it was a real historical site, that vanished for the purpose of eliminating the recent history, probably all of the misdeeds of the 20th century, which made Berlin actually what it is right now. It is also a project mostly backed by well-off old men from old western germany, entangled into the idea of prussia. The Museums in Dahlem now live like in a deep sleep, waiting for their reawakening and their transformation in the central city, which has become a touristical hot-spot over the years. I do not want to talk too much about the implications this all brings with it, but the anyways difficult display of ethnological objects, mostly collected during times of imagined european supremacy, in a touristical context rather than right now, secluded, for interested and therefore people who are more aware of the entangled problematics, will very much change the museum and the way one will look at the artifacts, because of the auratic impact of the central location, the fake historic faccade and so on.
Back to the works, back to the village, back to the far west, looking from a Berlin perspective. The intervention of contemporary art into an existing collection of artifacts in the formal setting of a museum struck me as highly interesting, when I first heard about it. Something like that had been done in documenta 13, where the curator opposed parts of the collection in the castle with contemporary art. The respond to that was mixed, as usual, regarding a ethnological collection and artists intervening into that with works reflecting colonial, ethnological and collecting issues could be much more fruitfull, due to the more specific nature of the artifacts on showcase. Sadly the intervention only takes place here and there, most of the Biennale pieces are in their own spaces, freed from objects of the museum itself. It may very well be, that it was not possible otherwise, I do not have insight into the arrangement made with the museum for the purpose of the Biennale. It is notably though, that the strongest pieces and installations are those directly taking on the preexisting collection of the ethnological museum. Wolfgang Tillman´s piece „untitled“, a one room installation taking into consideration its former display (the woodlands, USA), showcasing an assemblage of photographies, found images, objects, a nike shoe for instance, set up in a vitrine, just like the ethnological objects in the museum, a woven cap originating from these woodlands (left standing, as you might say). With this, Tillmann creates an inside-outside view on the collection of the museum, proposes a postmodern ethnological „image“ collection and refers (back and forth) to the location, he installs this piece in. Apart from this, there is a rather lovely touch of proposal in the piece, it is at the same time very adapted to the situation and very open in its dialogical structure, taking you, as the spectator very seriously. Very different in the approach and the final execution is Mariana Castillo Deballs installation „You have time to show yourself before other eyes“, that deals with objects fabricated after originals (some of them actually lost during WWII) from the mesoamerican collection. Plaster reproductions are scattered through the room, on the walls there is a print done from the reliefs (very much like you would do with a cylinder seal of ancient Mesopotamia) and images related to the shown „objects“ oscillating between original and reproduction and copy. It is – for me – a pity though, that this really good piece of work could (as I imagine) not be shown in the halls were the mesoamerican artifacts are on display, it would have harmonized and there woul have been a rather intricate dilogue situation created, I do strongly believe.
Something to be noted too, is the use of rather outdated, sixies or seventies originated showcases and built-in vitrines for some of the contemporary works. The old museum (as in non-event related and outdated) comes here together with contemporary works, sometimes giving them a rather special feel, highligting maybe their datelessness (most of the works could very well stem from some time of the last thirty or fifty years, contemporary yes, but not aggressively „new“).
A work I want to mention, because I personally really adapted to it, are the notepad drawings of australian Artist Gordon Bennett, dealing with racism, white supremacy, images of the other and the self, mostly in regard of the native australians, the Aboriginees. It is also one of the few pieces displaying lively colour, something you will notice yourself in this Biennale that has a tendency to monochrome and silent-poetical colouring.
A review on the final exhibition site, the Kunstwerke for contemporary art will be posted soon.
I was fortunate enough to have the possibility of attending the press preview of this years 8th edition of the renown Berlin-Biennale, that is even more than usual scattered around town. Besides of the traditional nukleus of the Kunstwerke for contemporary art in Auguststrasse, Berlin-Mitte, this years Biennale introduces locations far out in the western, bourgeois parts of the city, the ethnological Museums Dahlem (the Underground station actually is named: Dahlem-Dorf, Dorf meaning village) and the Haus am Waldsee, a former private Villa that became one of the most important venues for contemporary art after WWII, only to obscure more and more after the fall of the Berlin Wall because of its location far away from the new centre.
Much as most Biennales, the 8h edition of the Berlin Biennale is an intellectual construct that follows a general idea, in this case the outside look on the city and – even more importantly, looking at the works and the make up of the exhibition – postcolonialism. Both fields of research are not new to the international art circus of Documentas, Triennales and Biennales. What is probably different, is the very postmodern approach taken by the main curator Juan A. Gaitan, to propose this field of research and to work from that alongside his artistic team and the participating artists. The outcome is respctable, you have not one of these big shows, were the curator becomes the artist or is dedicately making his thesis, the works, venues and themes are always open for dialogue and the spectator is required to deal himself with the artworks, alongside their sometimes quite long explanations (the concept, after all, rules the work itself, that, in many cases, cannot be understood without context). Regarding this special makeup, the concentration of drawings in this Biennale makes sense: the artwork is a proposal, a possibility rather than a „work“, sitting pretty and satisfied with itself, they are in essence rather ephemere products of artistic research and subjective approaches on themes.
The proposed start for a walk through the Biennale venues is the Haus am Waldsee. Now there are a lot of critics out there stating, that this expeditionary starting point tries to set private collection as kind of an approach on art (which is partly true, regarding that there is a section named private collevtion just after the entrance of the villa), what they, in my view, neglect are the implications of the very special venue, being a bourgeoise Villa with a beautifull garden, regarding the theming of colonialism, collecting, and ethnology. Out of these surroundings, wealthy and mostly non aristocratic, the european dominace over the world turned to collecting its artifacts int he 19th century, from Napoleons Egyptian expedition to Alexander von Humboldt and so on. The imagined supremacy and the – oftenly romanticised – fascination with the „other“, that always unveals more of the self than of the other, especially when displaying their artifacts out of there natural, sociological or ritual context. The displayed artworks also reflect this very uniquely. Carla Zaccagnini from Argentinia proposes with „Le Quintuor des Négres“ an installation that assembles a classical music piece with that same name by Johann Nepomuk Hummels that is shown as a notation and is played from the terrace of the Villa, overlooking the splendid garden reaching downhill to a small lake. Additionally she showcases several volumes of a nineteenth century novel dealing with the „paradisic“ life in the colonial world, alongside Rousseaus theory of the good „natural“ human. The music fits very well the villa, this european model of bourgeoisie, the title of the piece itself transports the romanticism and adventure of the „other“, the books draw us into the science of humanities and europes intellectual view on its outside, tainted by the very limited idea of eurocentric civilization. Next to it, the work of Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnec, cryptically entitled „Sector IX B Prophylaxis of Sleeping Sickness“, is displayed. Glasses with mosquito larves, on the walls photographs from ethnological objects out of the lost collection of his grandfather, who worked out of Gabon, and finally a vitrine showcasing pages from a 19th century guide how to collect ethnological artifacts for the french museums, if travelling remote corners of the earth. Personal history connects with the idea of collection, displaying and science (as in the larves, needed for research on mosquito transmitted diseaes), both given in an open, wide angle of proposition for the spectator to meditate over, but again taking into account the „private“ angle of collecting and the citizen as hobby researcher, breaking the eurocentric view by displaying it. Outside, in the garden, a sound installation by the artist collective „Slavs and Tartars“, does in a way break the privateness of the villa, its garden and its bourgeois surrounding by intervening through a muezzin chant in turkish, alienating the idyllic and for the european spectator culturally so well known setting of a garden and a villa.
Although this might read very positively, it is, in question of the whole curatorial set up, a rather pressing question, if an opposing of these works with the artifacts in the ethnological museum would not have been more fruitfull. A Dialogue between the artifacts and this contemporary works, directly dealing with the intention of collecting artifacts, might have been a more disturbing, more discursively approach. In itself though, the Haus am Waldsee presents a series of interesting works, besides those mentioned especially the installations by Matts Leiderstamm on the upper floor.
Secnd thoughts and a virtual wordy stroll through the Museum Dahlem and the works displayed there will follow soon.
Thirty years are a long time in the art business, especially in Berlin, where – with our contemporary view – everything seemingly started in the nineties. Surely that is not true and Berlin has been the Hub for visual and arts in general in Germany many times, not only before WWII. The Printing Press „Tabor Presse Berlin„, founded 1982\83 in Kreuzberg, at first in the Kunsthaus Bethanien, celebrates its 30th birthday these days in the communal project space „Alte Feuerwache“ in Friedrichshain with a grand overview on their work since the beginning. Thirty years, that means not only a hell lot of wirks to choose from, that also means an enormous variety in style, technique and approach on the craft of printing, ranging from Aquatinta to Lithographie to Woodcuts. Although probably not as popular as it once has been in Germany, prints are in my view one of the most interesting and probably most underestimated works in art. They struggle with the original as being seen as the holy grail for the collector, which is actually astonishing given the art history of the last sixty years and the proclaimed negating of the „one“ original by many avantgarde movements like Fluxus and artists as Andy Warhol.
If you manage to have a look at the exhibition (and i really advise anyone to do so), you can expect works from Berlin painter stars from the early 80ies as Elvira Bach (one of the Jungen Wilden), from grandmasters of GDR painting like Wolfgang Mattheuer and nowadays art heros like Jonathan Meese, not to mention all the not so famous artists being part of the exhibition.
For those interested also in the craft of printing there is a selection of tools you work with and a prepared Lithography stone on display. If you are interested in prints as a collector, have a look at the „Tabor Presse Berlins“ shop website. Fresh in the program is the annual print calendar (2014) with twelve prints by twelve artists, also being around for over twenty years now. A nice christmas present if your Budget allows it.
Now there is only one thing left to say: Happy Birthday, Tabor Presse Berlin!
„Die Spur der Steine“ (the track of the stones)
30 Years Tabor Presse Berlin
until january 31st
Tuesday to Saturday 14.00 to 19.00
Alte Feuerwache Friedrichshain
Machlewskistraße 6\10243 Berlin
Berlin is an amazing city. Even after years of gallery scouting and involving yourself in the art scene, you always get around to new places by chance that kind of charme you in an instance. This week I had two of these encounters, which is much above average. Since the artistic scenes – if off or commercial, does not matter – have left their old quarters and begin to meander througout all of the city, even beyond the inner circle transportation system boundaries (which is quite new), there are no places without upstarting cultural centers. Lichtenberg for instance, a quarter with rather bad reputation for skinheads and such, has just gotten a big new venture, the old GDR „Fahrbereitschaft“, that is now housing the Haubrok Collection.
While the lamentation about ongoing gentrification is getting louder, Berlin still has more vast empty spaces that can be filled than any other european metropoly, though they are not as central, as they used to be. What is missing though – and I really wonder about that – is the occasional art buyer, the beginning collector, the well-to-do citizen who is actively supporting the cultural scene in his district. One has always hoped that this would emerge somewhere along the line (and it does happen from time to time, but very very scracely), to secure at least some of the project spaces and off galleries to survive, but the money is drawn to the already established, as it seems. So Berlin stays what it has been for the last twenty years: a big showroom with young art, experiments and a hole in the bankaccount.
My first discovery this week was the wonderfull „Centre Bagatelle„, a cultural house in the very north district of Frohnau, where i have never been before. Housed in classical villa built in the 1920s, the Centre Bagatelle really has a history. First home to an industrial, later occupied by the nazis, after the war a casino for french officers, turning into a french cultural space with library and such, gien back to the district in 1993, when most of the french army left Berlin, afterwards run as a cultural space for some years, then nearly sold but saved by a number of involved citizens who now run the house as an association, making exhibitions, concerts and offering courses of all kind (Yoga to french language) to the public. Me going there was a lucky coincidence. I was to held a speech at the recent opening of Johanna Silbermanns exhibition opening „Das Dach voller Gedanken II“ (The roof full of thoughts part 2) on the 28th.
The exhibition is the second because of her recent scholarship by the Bösenberg foundation, that enabled her to work for one year with a monthly stipend in the small village of Meinersen, somewhere near Wolfsburg. After showing the works executed during the year in Meinersen, Berliners can have a look at her astonishingly beautifull and deep paintings at the „Centre Bagatelle“. While usually the young painters are much drawn to shock, to colour, to awe and what you may call an attack on the eyes, Silbermanns paintings are held in earthly tones, mixed with some blue and white, showing architectural structures embedded in their natural surroundings and leaving human or animal life out (actually on none of the paintings there is a human to see). There has been also a catalogue published to the exhibitions i can really recommend to have a look at, fom which i took the photo seen here.
After this rewarding expedition out into the outskirts of Berlin (really, a mile more and you stand in the woods), friday brought a wide range of exhibitions i wanted to visit. After meeting up with the guys running the „Kunstverein Frau Fritsche“ in Kreuzberg, i made my way through town to the near west, more specifically Moabit, a quarter that is to be said „hot“ right now for art spaces (and gentrification, as both goes hand in hand). The exhibition opening i visited was hosted by the venture „The Wand“ – a wordplay obviously, Wand in german is meaning „wall“, in english bar or sorcerers staff. Entitled „The End is The Beginning“ and curated by spanish curator Ana Sanchez de Vivar and Melissa Steckbauer who is running the space, was astonishingly broad ranged (and the space was much bigger than i anticipated). In a subterrrenean, labyrinthic set of rooms, the exhibition – much focussed on monochrome works – exploring positions on ending\beginning e.g. the implications of the word end – trustily following a great quote by T.S. Eliot: „What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.“
For me the exhibition is a definite for this month, for the range of (mostly) Berlin based international artists as well as the quality, the diversity (from painting to video to installation to collage and photography) and for the space, if you do not know it yet that is. The catalogue accompanying the exhibition contains a cd with soundart, that alone is worth the price of ten Euros, although i might have been one of the few to buy it actually (as i said: a hole in the bankaccount, that is Berlin usually).
Enjoy two Photos i took from the Catalogue and make sure to see some art the next weeks!
Das Dach voller Gedanken II
Paintings by Johanna Silbermann
Zeltinger Straße 6, 13465 Berlin (near S-Bahn Frohnau)
The End is The Beginning
Paulstr. 34, 10557 Berlin
Sa. 14-18 and by appointment
„Has Art to be beautifull, or aesthetic?“ – rather odd question in the field of contemporary art, isn´t it? Aesthetic is not only a broad field, but ever since the beginning of modernism and Charles Baudelaires attempt to beautify in language the ugly realms of mid 19th century Paris in his accomplished „Le Fleur du mal“, the aspect of something being „aesthetic“ or „beautifull“ has no meaning for art anymore, really. This question was one of many asked in a talk for Bloggers who attempted (like me) a special Blogger event at the Affordable Art Fair in Hamburg yesterday.
To be fair, most of the invited Bloggers and the host of the event are coming from the „Lifestyle“ and „Fashion“ sphere, which makes the question more understandable, but left (besides me) also the two talk guests, Isabell Kamp, featured in the emerging artist section of the fair (more to that later) and photographer and publisher Martin Morbach startled. The answer was no, obviously. After rambling for some while on topics of „image“ and „lifestyle blogging“ and the problems arising due to the fact that Public relation agencys and cmpanys are buying (more or less) posts, i felt a little lost. Writing on the new jeans by that Designer and how awesome it is just is`nt my cup of tea, nor would it possibly work like that with art, may it be affordable or not, which means on the affordable art fairs, created by London based gallerist Will Ramsay between 5000 and 100 Euro. Following the questions of aesthetics, image and lifestyle, the fair in Hamburg, hosting 70 Gallerys from around the world (1\3 from Hamburg, 1\3 from the rest of Germany, 1\3 international), has – just like other fairs – the tendency for the easy going, the enjoyable and decorative or what i want to call „nice“ works, largely painting, photography and graphic.
After the talk, i had a good conversation with Isabell Kamp and we wandered to her works at the „emerging artists“ section. She is doing Drawings as well as sculpture, exhibiting both, somewhat linked together. The sculptures depict surrealistic deformed human body parts, injected with bubbles and are made of ceramic. The drawings were mostly showing heads, faceless, again with little bubbles, in the eyes, in the mouth. The line of work deals with human communication – or rather miscommunication and the human body as an alienated being, separated from the mind and open for transgression.
Though the idea of an „emerging artist“ section is something i do like very much, having to do with young and „emerging“ artists in my worklife as a journalist and sometimes as a curator as well, some of them being close friends, the presentation was a little bit unfortunate. The „youngsters“ were given a bigger booth at the end of the fair, just outside in a little pavillon, next to them three other galleries, two very much dedicated to street art. The works were necessarily too close together and haven´t had the space to breathe, that most of them would have deserved, so to pick just one artist and to let him work on site in the booth or giving them together the whole Pavillon would have been the better decision in my view, because it would have created the feeling of a „special“ room, section or how you want to call it.
But let´s talk the art, the things you can discover – and there were some very nice pieces and artists indeed. I would like to start off with mentioning the „We are visual“ artists collective who will set up a small printing studio, having also built a hide (to hide from the people from time to time, as they told me) and who are usually much into public interventions and performances, which you can have a look at online: WAV. They are also part of the emerging artist special section but have an own booth in the main exhibition hall. Also very noteworthy the Australian Retrospect Galleries out of Byron Bay NSW, especially because of the breath taking photography „Calamity“ (2011) by Alejandro Gatta.
In respect to Editions, the french publishing house „editions bucciali“ really convinced me with their program, being minimal, nearly concrete and showing some really astonishing works, i would have liked to buy (sadly a little bit out of my budget), especially the works of Zhou HAO , with their intimate but strong use of space and geometry schooled in the ancient tradition of calliagraphy.
Last but not least – and because you always stumble on artists you know personal, working in this field, i want to mention the wonderfull swiss photographer Jean-Paul Cattin, whom i had the pleasure to work with on my mail art project „keep me posted“ last year and who exhibits some works at the AAF Hamburg with the Canadian artêria Gallery.
If you are in Hamburg and visit the fair, make sure you get the „Tips for art buying“ they give out. It is really a rather hillarious document, although it might very well help people in their process of thinking about buying an (probably their first) art work.
Affordable Art Fair Hamburg, 201314th to 17th of November,
Exhibition grounds, Hall A3, entry Lagerstraße