8th Berlin Biennale, Third Notions

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.

 

Über philippkoch

author and curator, specializing in literature and writing on visual arts
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