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The 7th Berlin Biennale: more discussions than ever before

Posted on: Juli 9th, 2012 by Marta Gornicka

The 7th Berlin Biennale––more discussions than ever before

The Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art has become a format providing a space for curatorial concepts beyond the mainstream production of contemporary art and culture. By choosing the artist Artur Żmijewski as the curator of the 7th Berlin Biennale, the Berlin Biennale once again demonstrated itself as a space for action and experimentation. Żmijewski and his pick of associated curators, Voina and Joanna Warsza, were particularly interested in strengthening the social impact of art and artists in order to manifest their responsibility towards the processes of social change. With more than 120,000 visitors, it was at twelve sites in Berlin and in Eisenhüttenstadt that the 7th Berlin Biennale negotiated art as a tool for social transformation by presenting a range of attempts of influencing politics directly.

 

For the first time in its history, everyone could visit the Berlin Biennale free of charge—a novelty that helped to reach audiences who normally do not respond to art institutions. Many visitors used the chance to visit the 7th Berlin Biennale more than once, hence following its process-based development. A newspaper informed about important issues around the 7th Berlin Biennale and offered texts on the participating artists and projects.

 

Already before its opening, the 7th Berlin Biennale generated a broader media interest than any previous edition. More than 1,000 articles in the daily news and specialized press reported on the event more extensively than ever before. In correspondence with the curatorial demand, the 7th Berlin Biennale’s content was no longer solely negotiated in the art field—the remarkable resonance to it exceeded the usual specialized publications and comprised not only national (Tagesschau) but also international press coverage such as Al-Jazeera and CNN.

 

The aim for direct political influence led to the process-based character of the 7th Berlin Biennale. While it did not begin with the mere installation of artworks in the gallery space, it will also not end by simply shutting the doors and cleaning everything up. It was months before the official opening on April 26, 2012 that one of the projects had already started: Martin Zet’s campaign to drop off Thilo Sarrazin’s best-seller Deutschland schafft sich ab at so-called collection points all over Germany triggered a heated public debate that, instead of focusing on the racist content of the best-seller itself, protested wildly against the alleged intent of a book burning.

 

Correspondingly, the processes that this year’s Berlin Biennale initiated are far from completed with the closure of the event on July 1, 2012. In the following months a number of solidarity partners are going to continue with a series of actions, such as in the context of the upcoming steirischer herbst or the Swiss Institute in Rome. In addition, there are projects that were started as part of the 7th Berlin Biennale but will continue beyond it. Both the documentation of the exhibition and its projects and the discussions around it will continue to be accessible on the Berlin Biennale website. The newspaper Self # governing by Marina Naprushkina communicates scenarios of an alternative future to the citizens of Belarus. In the course of the 7th Berlin Biennale its first edition was distributed all over Europe as well as secretly to hundreds of homes in Belarus. It remains to be seen which impulses and changes Naprushkina’s drawings will initiate.

 

The project Berlin-Birkenau is a similar situation, for it will have an effect on the landscape of Berlin over the next decades. Łukasz Surowiec displaced several hundreds of birches from the environment of the former concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau to the landscape of Berlin. Now, these trees grow as living, decentralized monuments in schoolyards, parks and private spaces such as gardens and balconies. A further example of the flexible framework, which is needed for this type of exhibition, is the Peace Wall by Macedonian artist Nada Prlja. The wall at the southern end of Friedrichstraße highlighted the obvious, yet rarely pronounced processes of social segregation. The artist went to the site and discussed with business people, local residents, district politicians and the media. Although an application of urgency by the district council Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg to take down the wall was rejected, Prlja ultimately conceded to an early dismantling of the Peace Wall. Likewise the wall might have led to collectivizing the neighborhood and articulating own demands. In a similar way as regarding Martin Zet, with this project the Berlin Biennale entered the unstable territory of public debate by making a provocative statement—a risk whose results one could hardly foresee or control.

 

The 7th Berlin Biennale had an impact on district politics and the landscape of the city, on debates about collective memory and even on the executive board of one of the largest arms manufacturers in Germany. In 2011 the Federal Security Council confirmed the sale of tanks to Saudi-Arabia, which since March 2011 has been directly involved in the destruction of the Arab Spring. The group of art activists, Center for Political Beauty, used a website and billboards in Berlin-Mitte to post a wanted-call aiming for the arrest of the proprietors who cannot be sued for their dealings. In the course of this initiative one of the members of the executive board publicly denounced the trade with Saudi-Arabia upon which he was dismissed from the executive board.

 

In addition to Self # governing by Marina Naprushkina, Paweł Althamer’s collective performance Sunbeam was a direct response to the problem of participation in Belarus. Althamer mobilized 250 people who wore golden suits and marched at dawn towards the government palace in Minsk, a city in which it can be an illegal assembly if some friends happen to accidentally meet in the street. The journey of an oversized key sculpture from the refugee camp Aida near Bethlehem to the 7th Berlin Biennale provided an occasion to address the marginalization of the Palestinian narrative within the German public. With the passport and postal stamps for Palestine that Khaled Jarrar distributes worldwide as part of his project State of Palestine, the artist suggests the existence of a hitherto utopian state while at the same time transcending stable national aspirations.

 

Among the numerous discussions of recent years about the relationship between art and social responsibility, Artur Żmijewski’s Berlin Biennale represents a decisive practical step forward, not least also in terms of addressing the kind of self-deception that “critical” art is subjected to. For where does critical art really make an impact? Does it change the regional grievances it points out, or does it matter rather in the western centers where it is not only shown, but economically profitable? The Institute for Human Activities, which was co-founded by the artist Renzo Martens, attempts to turn the tables by displacing art production to places where gentrification would actually be desirable. A program of workshops and stipends on a plantation in the Congo wants to encourage local residents to benefit from the global art market by producing their own artworks. The Institute launched its five-year plan of activities with a seminar conducted as part of the 7th Berlin Biennale.

 

These were just a few concrete examples among the many other thought-provoking 7th Berlin Biennale projects. The Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP), initiated by Israeli-Dutch artist Yael Bartana, calls for a return of more than 3 million Jews to Poland, opening up questions about issues of co-existence both regarding Europe and Israel and the Middle East. Held at the Hebbel am Ufer (HAU 1), the First International Congress of the JRMiP developed a concrete platform and demands for the movement. The New World Summit by Dutch artist Jonas Staal was another contribution to the culture of political debate. Organized at Sophiensaele, this event brought together political and legal representatives of organizations marked on international terrorist lists. Discussing the undemocratic methods with which democracies exclude certain interests from their systems of representation, the alternative “parliament” assessed possibilities for introducing a radical form of democracy in Europe.

 

Political engagement is always connected to the problem of social responsibility. Theater that Acts was developed in cooperation with the Hebbel am Ufer and one of its performances, Illumination, by the theater group Krétakör around Hungarian director Árpád Schilling, pledged for understanding actors as political people. The actors of Krétakör see themselves as active members of society who transcend “façade art” (Marcin Śliwa in the reader Forget Fear).

 

As part of our contemporary society it is particularly the Occupy movements (started in 2011 with M15 and Occupy Wall Street) that represent the demand for social empowerment and participation on a global scale in a media savvy manner. Throughout the duration of the 7th Berlin Biennale, representatives from these different international groups practiced their forms of protest and strategies of involvement on the ground floor of KW. While the institution initially only offered the space, over the course of the exhibition this partnership grew into the desire not only to address the visitors of the exhibition as members of society, but also to transform the institution as a mediator between art and society into a “horizontal” structure––an example of the process-based and self-critical methods with which Artur Żmijewski and his associated curators made pivotal contributions to contemporary discussions around exhibition production.

 

The 7th Berlin Biennale did not pursue the type of curatorial concept that communicates a particular idea through a physical arrangement of artworks in a space. Rather it was the question how art can allow citizens to influence reality and foster critical attitudes in society. Both the activists from the movements as well as the participating artists tried to position themselves in relation to concrete political and social concerns in order to contribute to situating art within the field of contemporary politics. At several moments during the 7th Berlin Biennale it became apparent how uncomfortable both art’s debate with itself and its confrontation with political reality can be. For an attitude of artistic and political responsibility is always accompanied by skepticism, disagreement, risk, confrontation, and possible failure. The 7th Berlin Biennale prompted us to leave behind our feelings of discomfort and fear of confrontations and change in order to face the challenge of social transformation.

Projects of the 7th Berlin Biennale

“A Gentrification Program” by Institute for Human Activities

If we feel art should fully embrace the terms and conditions of its own existence, it may be good to inquire where art has a bigger impact on social... More >
“A Gentrification Program” by Institute for Human Activities

“Art Covers Politics” curated by Tomáš Rafa

The front page of the 7th Berlin Biennale website shows the project »Art Covers Politics«, which presents images submitted by artists and others who are willing to react on... More >
“Art Covers Politics” curated by Tomáš Rafa

“Battle of Berlin 1945″ – a documentation

The 7th Berlin Biennale has invited a few re-enactment groups to stage the Battle of Berlin 1945. More >
“Battle of Berlin 1945″ – a documentation

“Berek” by Artur Żmijewski

The movie »Berek« was removed from the exhibition »Side by Side. Poland – Germany. A 1000 Years of Art and History« by the director of Martin-Gropius-Bau in atumn 2011. More >
“Berek” by Artur Żmijewski

“Berlin-Birkenau” by Łukasz Surowiec

The project Berlin-Birkenau brings a few hundred young birches from the area around Auschwitz-Birkenau to Berlin. More >
“Berlin-Birkenau” by Łukasz Surowiec

“Beyond” by Lou Cantor

The movie by Lou Cantor documents the final phase of the construction of Christ the King-Statue in Świebodzin. More >
“Beyond” by Lou Cantor

“Blood ties” by Antanas Mockus

Antanas Mockus refers to Teresa Margolles’s work on the current drug war in Mexico, where gangs and paramilitary groups kill each other, murdering many other unrelated civilians in the... More >
“Blood ties” by Antanas Mockus

“Born in Berlin” by Joanna Rajkowska

I believe that the place of birth has a significant influence over each human being’s fate and their attitude toward it. You return to it like an animal. More >
“Born in Berlin” by Joanna Rajkowska

Breaking the News

»Breaking the News« presents the activities of a number of artists and their documentary practice, readiness to act, civic disobedience, and willingness to put themselves on the front line. More >
Breaking the News

“Christ the King” by Mirosław Patecki

The »Christ the King« statue, designed by Mirosław Patecki, reaches over fifty meters and is situated about sixty kilometers from the German-Polish border, in Świebodzin. More >
“Christ the King” by Mirosław Patecki

CIVIL INITIATIVE FOR THE MEMORIAL TO THE SINTI AND ROMA MURDERED UNDER THE NATIONAL SOCIALIST REGIME

Up to now the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Murdered under the National Socialist Regime still has not been built; it is an unfinished construction site in the... More >
CIVIL INITIATIVE FOR THE MEMORIAL TO THE SINTI AND ROMA MURDERED UNDER THE NATIONAL SOCIALIST REGIME

Deutschlandhaus as Venue

Metaphorically speaking, Deutschlandhaus seems to be a container of repressed or excluded German memory. More >
Deutschlandhaus as Venue

“Draftsmen’s Congress” initiated by Paweł Althamer

The »Draftsmen’s Congress« is a continuous meeting of people who talk using images instead of words. Everyone is invited! More >
“Draftsmen’s Congress” initiated by Paweł Althamer

„Facing the Scene” by Anna Baranowska and Luise Schröder

The film »Facing the Scene«, which was shot in November 2010, depicts the inauguration of the statue Christ the King. More >
„Facing the Scene” by Anna Baranowska and Luise Schröder

Filtered by Eisenhüttenstadt

It’s easy to offer culture to people in Berlin, where there are always some visitors who will come to see the show. But what about »forgotten« cities like Eisenhüttenstadt? More >
Filtered by Eisenhüttenstadt

“Final Fantasies” by Joanna Rajkowska

There is an important question for everyone whose life is about to end: »How would you like to die?« More >
“Final Fantasies” by Joanna Rajkowska

“Germany gets rid of it” by Martin Zet

The campaign »Deutschland schafft es ab« (Germany gets rid of it) was launched by artist Martin Zet in January 2012. More >
“Germany gets rid of it” by Martin Zet

“Happy New Fear” – an action by BUREAU Mario Lombardo

With our experiment we want to investigate the limits of politics, art and election advertising. More >
“Happy New Fear” – an action by BUREAU Mario Lombardo

“Key of Return” – probably the biggest key in the world

In 2008, the residents of the Aida Refugee Camp near Bethlehem in Palestine collaboratively produced what is said to be the largest key in the world. More >
“Key of Return” – probably the biggest key in the world

Krytyka Polityczna in Berlin

As part of the 7th Berlin Biennale, Political Critique launches its newest Club. The Berlin branch (following Kiev and London) is another international initiative of the organization, founded in... More >
Krytyka Polityczna in Berlin

“Lady of War” – Center for Political Beauty

In 2011 the Federal Security Council, under its chairwoman Angela Merkel, decided to approve a major arms deal. More >
“Lady of War” – Center for Political Beauty

“Lebanese Flag” by Youseef, Ibrahim and Moussa Bassal

During the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Germany the Arab and Turkish population showed unprecedented support for the national soccer team by putting German flags on their cars, installing... More >
“Lebanese Flag” by Youseef, Ibrahim and Moussa Bassal

Mobinil advertising banner

Recent Mobinil advertisements capitalize on the revolution and struggles for democracy. They feature images of protesters and quote famous politicians who expressed support for the Egyptian struggle. More >
Mobinil advertising banner

“New World Summit” – a congress with Jonas Staal

The »New World Summit« is an alternative parliament for political and juridical representatives of organizations currently placed on international terrorist lists. More >
“New World Summit” – a congress with Jonas Staal

Open Call & ArtWiki: Digital venue of the 7th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art

In November 2010 curator Artur Żmijewski announced a call to artists from all over the world, asking them to send in artistic material as part of the research of... More >
Open Call & ArtWiki: Digital venue of the 7th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art

“Peace Wall” by Nada Prlja

A wall is standing on Friedrichstraße. Finally, we are on a way to establish peace. More >
“Peace Wall” by Nada Prlja

“PM 2010″ by Teresa Margolles

Teresa Margolles collects the front pages of the Mexican daily tabloid PM, published in Ciudad Juárez, one of the most dangerous border cities in Mexico. More >
“PM 2010″ by Teresa Margolles

“Rebranding European Muslims” by Public Movement

»Rebranding European Muslims« is an international public relations campaign by Public Movement, which aims to change the image of the European Muslim population. More >
“Rebranding European Muslims” by Public Movement

Remembering Piece by Piece. First objects for the future exhibition

We invited the curatorial team of the Foundation Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation to present items from their collection of belongings donated by Germans who left the land where they were... More >
Remembering Piece by Piece. First objects for the future exhibition

Solidarity Actions

We asked other art institutions who are interested in the same issues to develop their own research and present it in the framework of the Berlin Biennale or in... More >
Solidarity Actions

Reflections on the “Peace Wall” by Nada Prlja

Posted on: Juni 28th, 2012 by Marta Gornicka

Video by Rafał Żwirek

REFLECTIONS ON THE "PEACE WALL"

BY  NADA PRLJA

With this essay, I aim to reflect on some of the issues that have arisen through the project “Peace Wall” and have shaped my opinion about how to work as a “critical” artist within the public domain. “Peace Wall” was created with the predetermined goal to initiate and externalise specific social, political and ethical processes existing in the area of Friedrichstein in Berlin. This process of exposure was expected to be turbulent – but the reactions to the project for the entire duration of the “Peace Wall” (02.05-15.06.2012) far exceeded our expectations.

 

SELF DETERMINED FORCES

During the time of planning, pre-production and existence of the “Peace Wall”, five robust entities have shaped this project. There is therefore the need to describe each of these and clarify their function within the complex reality surrounding the existence of the ‘Peace wall’.

 

  • The curators, the art institution and the press office (mainly involved in the selection process, finance, support and advice, realization and follow up of the project);
  • Political and official bodies (in this case, the district mayor, local borough committees, art commissioning committees, architects, builders and other institutional bodies involved in the approval and execution of the project);
  • The artist (as creator of an idea and as initiator of the process-based work);
  • The local community (consisting of various players – residents, shop owners, investors, local governmental and non governmental organizations, etc.);
  • The media (the most independent of all the aforementioned entities)

 

All of these entities are self-determined; they all have different agendas and goals and should be seen as forces, rather than as institutions. All of those forces were mutually connected, like “puppets on strings”, where any “move” of a single entity, invariably affects all of the other entities.

 

RESPECT THE ART INSTITUTION

I am interested in conveying political messages or revealing gaps in social and judicial constructions. This can only be achieved through the use of art methodologies and by being a “free floating entity” (an entity that does not belong to any institution). I use subversion and occasionally manipulation in order to deliver the project and to convey its inherent conceptual message. The only “bodies of power” that could essentially support those actions are the curators and the art institution itself; all other institutions of "power" sees the artists’ ideas as purely idealistic, and at times even as perverse constructions, essentially not applicable to reality, or even simply as naive societal observations. The art institution is able to mediate and communicate the project to the political “players”; in this respect, the art institution and the artist become equal political players.

 

I believe, however, that art should instead generate knowledge about more global issues and the world at large. With every project, while trying to fulfill the conceptual goal of the work, I am aware that my own tendencies and methods to achieve this are no less malicious or mischievous than the relations of the “empowered” entities. “There is a positive form of "partisanship" between the artist and the art institution, and an assumption that art can operate as a political intervention.” The “Peace Wall” would never have been possible, if the established power structures did not make it possible. Opposing the structures that make the transformation of an idea into reality - no thank you!

 

THE ARTWORK AND SOCIETY

There is always a reason why an institution is able to support certain ‘devious and shady concepts’ delivered by artists. Why not, then, to use the potential offered by certain art institutions?

 

In 2006, the London-based curator Sophie Hope and myself applied for the realization of a public art project, entitled “Advanced Science of Morphology” (consisting of the temporary replacement of the EU flags permanently positioned on flagpoles at Marble Arch in London, by a series of 26 “morphed” ex-Yugoslav flags). The approval for this temporary replacement, was accompanied by a comment made by Julia Peyton-Jones (the director of the Serpentine gallery and one of the members of the local art committee): “The political agenda of the project is ‘questionable,' but the art-work is great, lets do it."

 

This statement proves that if you are determined, as an artist, you are able to challenge any particular concept. You can even “get away” with building a wall in a city like Berlin, that suffered for decades under a real, truly divisive wall. The action of re-building a wall in Berlin demonstrates, to a frightening extent, what can be achieved if a “power structure” is in place. Intriguingly, the initiative of re-building the wall, does not reflect one’s own position as an artist/individual, but rather, it tests the structures of local power. In the case of the “Advanced Science of Morphology,” it became apparent that the UK did not (and still does not) entirely align itself with the EU, proving the existence of a certain irregularity in the UK’s political stance regarding the EU. However, this project didn’t reflect anything about the artist’s (my own) relation to the UK or the EU.

 

Which hidden political and ‘power’ maneuver made the ‘Peace wall’ possible in Berlin? What was the higher political setting that allowed the ‘new’ wall to be built on Friedrichstrasse and the street to be divided again, two decades later? Does this act of agreement reveal something about the new politics of a city where ‘anything goes’, or does it perhaps show a respect for the cultural industry (one of the more lucrative industries that currently generates 20% of the city’s income). Or does the situation perhaps demonstrate the remains of a guilty conscience on a national level - combined with the persistent cultural liberalism of Germany, and the tendency to see cultural activity as a positive, therapeutic or pedagogic exercise? To what extent is this situation also a reflection of myself, as the initiator of the "new" wall? The "Peace Wall" was a precise example of these factors, which have become transparent through the artworks’ existence.

 

The most discussed issues in relation to the “wall” were: Why and who allowed the ‘wall’ to be built? Who officially granted the required permissions? Why was there no need to request the approval of the local residents and commerce? We (myself and the art institution) followed the rules and legislations but nevertheless, people felt victimized by our actions. Does this illustrate our mistakes (those of the art institutions and the artists) or the lapses of the system itself?

 

THE MEDIA AS AN EQUAL PLAYER

The media coverage of the “Peace Wall” was extensive: more than 30 newspaper reviews, numerous Internet entries, dozens of bloggers and facebook entries. All of this has shaped the project itself has had a direct influence on all the other power structures in this process.

 

The media around “Peace Wall” created its own narrative, a narrative which was beneficial for the project in terms of stirring up incorrect and distorted information, a sense of confusion and the banalisation of the criticality of the project. This counterbalance was necessary for the project itself, which I accepted - welcoming the media as an equal creator and modifier of the project.

 

The media represented the wall in a "black and white" manner, repeating the same slogans over and over, until they came to define the situation. The media was engaged with the creation of purely symbolical meanings, highlighting the use of terms such as “ghetto,” the “rich and poor,” etc. The media did not ask; the media simply attacked the project, making statements such as: “controversial art has disrupted the normality”; “art is artificial”; “art is shit”, etc. The media was instrumental in directing the interpretation of the work away from its own intentions. During the entire period of the ‘Peace wall’s presence (6 weeks), no questions have been raised or facts exposed in relation to the real problems that have been persistent in the area for more than two decades.

 

In public art projects, the media engages with the residents, the passers by, with shop owners etc., which is otherwise highly unlikely to happen within galleries or museum spaces. During conflictual moments of the “Peace Wall”, the media had effectively become a mediator between the artist/art institution and the local community. Through the media, residents and others have become contributors to the project, but unfortunately the media was not seen as a tool that could have been used to gain something for the community itself.

 

Objectively, in the end, none of the real issues in the area were communicated or even discussed of their own accord, and I can therefore conclude that the relation between the media and the community was not productive.

 

ARTIST AND ART INSTITUTION WORKING EPHEMERALLY

When an artist decides to work in a public space, there are two possible ways to work with it – to beautify it (to set up community projects or to otherwise improve the area’s visual appearance, etc.), or to intimidate the community and subsequently accept a confrontation. After the building of the “Peace Wall,” the project was under the pressure of constant changes, the artists/art-institution’s working method proceeded, without knowing what the next step was going to be. Acceptance of this situation of uncertainty and the KW team / BB7 artistic office’s ability to adapt to these constant changes, was exemplary. But the entire project of the “Peace Wall,” was at times on the verge of crumbling, due to the impossibility of following the dynamic (imposed on myself/art institution and various political bodies), by the strategically organized ‘hate campaign’ and negative media coverage of the wall. In this unfolding situation, we were only capable of responding to, rather than creating the dynamics.

 

During those important moments for the project, my most important consideration was to avoid methods used in politics or diplomacy (always a uniform and universal mode of operation). The production of critical art does not need to comply with requests to provide logical answers; it reserves the right not to communicate and to avoid behaving according to an expected routine. At certain times, it was important to maintain the fact that the artist is not necessarily a social worker, or a journalist, or a politician, or on the end not even an artist in the archetypal way but rather, a “radically critical” actor–this integrity characterized the “Peace Wall.”

 

COMMUNITY IN ACTION - PRODUCTIVE AGGRESSION

The "wall" revealed certain “soft spots” of the community: the local shop owners’ frustration for being portrayed as being on the ‘poor side’ of the street; the residents of migrant background did not complain about their underprivileged position in the community (and society at large), but complained instead about the practical and functional problems related to the temporary blockage of the street. Individual memories about the old Berlin wall were re-lived, for the most part without the ability to comprehend or find a way of dealing with these memories. Most of the residents complained about the disruption of their right to drive or park on the street; the ‘wall’ destroyed one of the postulates of the contemporary democratic city – the right to convenience.

 

Although there were many supporters of the wall, the voice of anger has shaped the visual appearance of the wall. The community argued with conviction about the feeling of exclusion, stigmatization, ghettoization. Some of the reactions, mainly directed towards myself, showed a degree of ignorance, but also a sense of superiority and even racism by certain members of the community. The innermost and most honest human feelings have been exposed during the presence of the “Peace Wall.” The community found it hard to admit that there are any problems in the area and that they might somehow be responsible for these issues, or somehow creators of the very situation. With a sense of fear, they disregarded the reality that was uncovered and made public by the “wall.”

 

COMMUNAL CONSCIOUSNESS

The embittered local community graffitied, vandalized and attempted dismantling the wall. They spat and shouted abuse at the wall – why did all of that take place? Was this hatred and outrage simply a sense of envy? Here was someone, an artist, from ex-Yugoslavia, not even speaking their language, who has been supported to bend the rules - the rules that the community otherwise needs to obey on an everyday basis. The ‘wall’ has somehow ‘poked’ them and destabilized their own submissiveness. In that sense, the reaction against the ‘wall’ really did come from within the community.

 

NEVER COMMUNICATE, NEVER DESIGN, NEVER LABEL

Reflecting on the “Peace Wall” now, it is clear that it became a project shaped into two parts: the first consisting of the avoidance of communication (during the first month), followed by a second period of performativity (the second month).

 

The "Peace Wall" clearly demonstrated that "critical" public art should not explain its idea to the community beforehand. Any a priori description, could nullify the project’s process, making the work appear as an ‘art product’, but not as a reflection of the anticipated reality. A meaningful description of the project was intentionally avoided by the artist/art institution during the first month of duration of the BB7. The project worked very much in ‘real time’ and it was shaped on a daily basis by the social interaction and collisions between the various power entities. Numerous layers of graffiti were sprayed onto the wall, advertisements were posted, drawings were drawn. Two meetings were organized next to the wall by independent organisations (on 06.05.12 and 24.05.12). These events were radically critical about the wall, although there were many other, silent voices supporting it. On 23.05.2012 in a heated discussion, the local political parties voted in favor of keeping the wall.

 

Soon after these events, a negative "charge" was generated within the community. This sense of negativity was misused by the local political parties. CDU’s T. Husein, launched a campaign "The Wall Must Fall" ("Die Mauer muss weg"). In his printed leaflet, he states that four local parties have voted for the wall, but that CDU did not. ‘SPD, Greens, Linke (Left) and Pirates want the wall: CDU request is rejected. Only the CDU will continue fighting for the dismantling of the wall.

 

The economic investment interests were evident: the most effective of the initiatives was Interessengemeinschaft Friedrichstrasse e.V., which has been campaigning for the ‘urban development’ of Friedrichsrtrasse since 1992. Mr. M. Hartwich, Managing Director of IG Friedrichstrasse represented the interests of traders (who were directly attacking myself while the wall was there), communicated with the media and the general public, manipulating my own statements and re-appropriating them for their own agenda, which supports the gentrification and political influence of the Northern side of Friedrichstrasse, over the poorer South side.

 

Kreativquartier Südliche Friedrichstadt’s interests in restructuring the area, were the most powerful of all. Mr. F. Schmidt was one of the "users" of forceful symbols and words (such as ghetto’, etc.). He operated mainly through a media: “Through the Wall, the area around the Mehringplatz has been stigmatized as a social ghetto. The local players were not consulted. The involvement of traders was zero, the planning was disastrous. This work may be allowed for three days, but not longer.” F. Schmidt  for Der Tagesspiegel, 05.06.2012

 

From this point onwards, the game moved onto a different level and disengaged from the local residents.

 

PERFORMATIVITY OF THE POWER RELATIONS

During the second month of the artwork, our strategy changed. Using direct self-involvement, I spent two weeks of fieldwork (02.06.12 -15.06.12), talking with people in the streets around the wall. This process gave us the ability to generate further knowledge about the area and to test the ability of the community to engage with issues relating to their own current reality and the prospects for this specific area (the area of Friedrichstein will be “injected” with 27 million euros in the near future, which will destabilize and change the social life of the area).

 

I am not interested in power relations within the artworld, but I am interested in the dynamics of power between art, the community, and politics. My presence was intended as an invitation to the inhabitants to see the situation objectively, to see created situation as an opportunity to actively influence the course of social affairs. Nevertheless, this “objectivity” could only be introduced by myself, through a weird sense of submission (a form of self-sacrifice) and the use of persuasion when talking with the residents. I allowed them to direct their attention to myself, and unwillingly, at this point, I adopted the “role of an artist.” Through this, while working on the site, I became separated from the complex engagement I had formed with the other institutional players (curators, art institution and the mayor). The community primarily expressed their aggression against me - the artist. A group of ‘angry’ citizens were aware of their power over a single individual. The artist was seen as a weak target.

 

At those moments of attacks, I gave the residents an ultimatum (from a position of power encouraged by the presence of the wall). I requested from the residents to demand the premature demolition of the wall with a call, in the form of the community’s demand, directed toward the local leading political circle (which was vulnerable while the wall was in place). I was ready to ‘deliver’ any demands raised the residents and address them to the mayor. This action would have separated my self (as the artist) even further from the institution of my own support, yet I was ready to do this. On the other side, I assumed that the residents would not come up with bold or realistic demands; therefore awkwardly knowing that my position within my own ‘world of power’ was effectively safe. Even facing a 5.5m high, 12m long product of “instrumentalised disobedience,” the community failed to disrupt the conformist behavior embedded in this neighborhood.

 

The “wall” initiated certain processes, but we can only hope that the wall’s desire for individual or organized engagement, will address the long-term social fabric of the neighborhood of Friedrichstein. We can clearly confirm that the community expressed disbelief in the potential for art and culture to influence the course of political reality or social development.

 

WHEN DOES THE ACTION END?

If there is disagreement between the parties involved in the project, such as complaints by the community, as was the case with the “Peace Wall,” the power structures and their relations need to be re-evaluated.

 

When a claim is made for a work of art in the public domain to be taken down, the artist has to take that claim seriously and react to the requests. In the case of the “Peace Wall,” I consider the following issues as important contributors toward my approval for the removal of the work:

 

  • The social pressure around the project increases to the point of possible physical harm to any individuals involved
  • Loss of assets: claims were made that the wall reduced the income of the local shop owners (with a decrease in earnings of up to 50%); others claimed that people had lost their jobs and even their homes (speculations, the validity of which are difficult to ascertain);
  • The work becomes re-appropriated by other interests, which could harm any of the groups involved. Some of these were: the manipulation of the project by different political parties; the re-appropriation of the project for ‘dodgy’ financial influence over the area; the area’s invasive gentrification; the possibility of the project to become a tourist attraction;
  • Supporting bodies of the artwork (the political or art institution) no longer see the possibility of keeping the work in place until the planned date for its dismantling;
  • The project reaches the end of a productive discourse.

 

It is likely that most of the claims that were made reflected the overall situation in the area – which has simply been projected onto the "Peace Wall." But, did I fear for the well-being of the ‘unstable’ man (who had lost his flat and job) and who claimed that he would burn himself together with the wall, if it were not removed? Yes, I did. Did I fear aggression against myself and other members of KW and 7th Berlin Biennale artistic office? Yes, I did. Did the shop owners, the investors, local institutions for community support fear the wall? Yes, they did. Did the ordinary residents - disempowered, homeless, unemployed, etc - fear the wall? No, the wall was just another obstacle in the city, probably similar to the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, seen as something imposed by ‘arrogant cultural workers’.

 

All of those factors influenced, to a greater or lesser degree, my decision to agree to the wall’s premature dismantling. The fall of the “Peace Wall,” happened on 15.06.2012, two weeks before its intended dismantling at the end of the 7th Berlin Biennale.

 

The artist needs to show the possibility of creating the impossible; in other words to demonstrate that the impossible is possible. At the same time, however, he/she also needs to demonstrate the ability to listen, to be flexible, to comprehend and be responsive to the complexity of the evolving situation.

 

Over the course of two weeks in June, exchanges took place. The positivism of the discourse was growing day-by-day. Many important issues were exposed and discussed with members of the community, on an individual basis. As soon as the wall was down, the residents felt even freer to independently reflect on the impact of the wall. It was interesting to see how under this new “peace,” some of the citizens openly started discussing the issues in the areas (which was the project’s real aim). This process is still active.

 

AFTER THE "FALL" OF THE WALL

After the fall of the wall, many residents have written emails, apologising on behalf of their neighbors; these more positive voices aimed to organize other events. In the aftermath of the wall, certain voices from within the artworld have expressed their appreciation of the project and congratulate me on my bravery and integrity. Mr. S., the mayor of the district, risks a less secure political position, as a result of the whole experience. Mr. Zint, who lives and works in the area, is preparing an exhibition of his documentation of the wall. The last post on the Facebook ‘hate page’ was uploaded on 15.06 – the day the wall entirely ‘disappeared’ from the site. And what about me? I feel that, I have been able to genuinely glimpse under the surface of a single community, a group similar to any modern European community. By remembering those days and the human relations and interactions around the wall, I still feel fear about the human nature and power structures …

 

The “Peace Wall” has been dismantled and recycled, in order to stop this object from becoming a “monument” of past political and social processes. This community is on their way to establishing their own active and engaged peace.

 

With thanks to JJ Charlesworth

June 2012

Reflections on the “Peace Wall” by Nada Prlja

With this essay, I aim to reflect on some of the issues that have arisen through the project “Peace Wall” and have shaped my opinion about how to work... More >
Reflections on the “Peace Wall” by Nada Prlja

NADA PRLJA AGREED TO DISMANTLE THE “PEACE WALL” ON JUNE 15, 2012

Originally, the artwork was planned to be dismantled after the end of the 7th Berlin Biennale on July 1, 2012. More >
NADA PRLJA AGREED TO DISMANTLE THE “PEACE WALL” ON JUNE 15, 2012

Art divides opinions

A comment on Nada Prlja's »Peace Wall.« More >
Art divides opinions

“Peace Wall” by Nada Prlja

A video by Lidia Rossner. More >
“Peace Wall” by Nada Prlja

Draftsmen’s Congress in Eisenhüttenstadt

Posted on: Juni 27th, 2012 by Marta Gornicka

Draftsmen's Congress in Eisenhüttenstadt

After the closure of the St. Elisabeth-Church, the "Draftsmen's Congress" moved to Eisenhüttenstadt, in the Strasse der Republik 37.

Photos: Aga Szreder

Draftsmen’s Congress in Eisenhüttenstadt

Draftsmen’s Congress: Painted Man

A film from the workshop by Ivan Caponecchi. More >
Draftsmen’s Congress: Painted Man

MOLESKINE-Workshop at the St. Elisabeth-Church

Video by Luca Bogoni and Matteo Mattana More >
MOLESKINE-Workshop at the St. Elisabeth-Church

The Pornography of Everyday

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The Pornography of Everyday

Printemps des Arts: the condition of the culture?

Posted on: Juni 27th, 2012 by Marta Gornicka
7-berlin-biennale-printemps-des-artes

Printemps des Arts: the condition of the culture?

From June 1 to 10 the 10th edition of the art fair “Printemps des Arts” took place in Tunis. The art fair was very successful, with a lot of visitors. But on the last day of the art fair, a bailiff found some of the art pieces a blasphemy, abusing his religious views. He informed a couple of Imams about this, who again called their believers to boycott the exhibition. Photographs of the art pieces from the exhibition mixed together with other works, not displayed during the art fair, were shown in the internet with comments that interpreted them as “attacks on the sanctuary.” From this moment, the violent attacks started. There were many attacks on the artists and organizers of the art fair. In several cases it came to death threats. Since a couple of days there is a state of emergency in Tunis.

 

To deliver a wider view on the situation, a Tunisian researcher [1] thought and brought together in collaboration with Meriem Bouderbela  some ideas about the condition of the culture in Tunis. Meriem Bouderbela is the curator of the 10th edition of the Tunisian Art Fair “Printemps des Arts”. She’s also a painter, a photographer and video artist.

 

WG: Could tell you a little about yourself and about the annual art fair "Printemps des Arts" in Tunis?

 

MB: I've spent my whole life in Europe. In 2001 I returned to Tunis, shortly before September 11. This event had a huge impact on my life choices. My shows are not material, that's why they are indestructible for the authoritarian governments. I deal with the censorship in a typical "oriental" way. I use it to increase traffic at my exhibitions. I've made it even under the regime of Ben Ali, but it was never a deliberate provocation. I never had to draw attention to myself.

 

In the current context of the exhibition "Printemps des Arts" I am not concerned with the occupation of the culture under the motto „everything-is-allowed.“ It's not about the culture of the elites; it's about the culture in a broad sense, in the Freudian sense of Kulturarbeit.

 

Everything is being decided right now, we must react quickly. We must occupy the terrain of culture in order to stop the return of the totalitarian regime. Many people have been involved in this process of occupying, so it is advisable to sign this unwritten manifesto for the defense of culture.

 

WG: How do you feel about your role primarily as an artist but also as a curator of this event in relation to the current situation in Tunis? Have you set yourself any limits?

 

MB: I have not exhibited my work here. I display them somewhere else at the moment, in the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, in the exhibition "Unveiled body". They are photographs that show the fate of women, especially in relation to their body. The work of a curator is also an artistic act, at least for two reasons:

 

The selection of artists and the arrangement of their works in the exhibition are an artistic decision. The curation implies the involvement and cooperation with other people, which also can be viewed as an artistic act. For the artist there are no limits. If they encounter objective obstacles, it is the job of the curator, to eliminate these for the artists.

 

I gave each artist an absolute freedom, although I do not show works, which only goal is the denigration of religious views. I believe that such activities are a sign of totalitarian ambitions.

 

In my show, there are no works that deliberately offend the religious views of others. However, through the manipulation of anti-democratic forces in the Internet, few were considered as such. Art is a part of democracy, it is one of its symbols and this is the reason why it is being attacked as first.

 

It is the first time that the government is turning back on its artist, for the first time the artist are threatened with death, for the first time artists take part in the civil war, which aims the inauguration of the sharia law, and lose their lives.

 

WG: Was the display of these works a collective decision, issued by you and your team?

 

MB: No, it was solely my decision, a very subjective choice, and therefore I am responsible for the fate of the artists participating in the exhibition.

 

WG: How do we could discuss, in this context, about “degradation” of art, if one should talk about freedom of speech?

 

MB: The struggle between the artists and the extremists is escalating because of the ambiguity of the works. But the world has changed and the elites need to understand that they have no longer a monopoly on culture in this country. It also does not mean that you can leave the artist to the extremists. The artist may indeed be tactless, but they do not want to kill anyone. They understand the recognition of differences as the foundation of democracy. The problem is not the people, but those, who want to rob them the culture.

 

WG: During the Ben Ali's period, the censorship applied against artist only in a weakened form. The artists knew how to deal with it. But right now it is much worse, censorship is increasing, especially since Persepolis and Cinema AfricArt. Tell me please, what happened during the "Printemps des Arts"? How do you think has the censorship changed since then?

 

MB: Our jokes about Ben Ali also give us the sympathy on the side of our enemies as we were exposed to the same repressions. Nowadays, everyone in Tunis can feel personally insulted because of blasphemy. The censorship of the dictatorship has not dealt with religious subjects. Today, censorship and fear are different. The artists are being terrorized by the religious propaganda that is used by the rulers to legitimize their power. It's not about morality but about theocracy. When it comes to censorship, which is based on the moral order, we can evade it by showing its contradictions. In comparison, the censorship based on theocracy is destroying all contradictions by its crazy logic.

 

WG: Do you think that the lack of government commitment is a reaction against a resented cultural policy? Or maybe there is another reason, another fear?

 

MB: There is no cultural policy in Tunis; the cultural policy is based on the rejection of the culture. Since I have organized the first international exhibition of contemporary art in 2003, the situation has changed. I've discovered a lot of young, talented people who had little experience. If they are dangerous to the state, then only because, they do not want to be relegated to the role of servants of the government.

 

WG: This year, the 7th Berlin Biennale is titled "Forget Fear." It is a very important call to ‘occupy” movements, which could also apply to the events of the past days in Tunis. What do you think?

 

MB: For me the occupation of a terrain can be compared to cultivation or sowing. If it is not possible to do this in broad daylight, one has to hide under the curtain of the night to go to the field and distribute the seeds.

 

WG: What worries you about the recent events the most? What can happen to the artists whose work you have displayed? What are your fears concerning those whose works were destroyed?

 

MB: In a civil society, the only solution is to show solidarity with the artists.

 

WG: What are the risks for the Tunisian art scene and also for society?

 

MB: There are so many dangers. We see straight fight between the world that goes by and the one that is coming. We have to learn to respect people–only then we can decide about the right place for the artist in the society.

 

WG: Do you think that art can solve society's problems? What is, in your opinion, its real function?

 

MB: Art is a breath. An apnea causes the clinical death of the brain. In Tunis, we are very close to this death. You have to react in Berlin. We are waiting for you.

 

[1] Wafa Gabsi is Ph.D. researcher at the University of Paris, La Sorbonne. She is currently carrying out doctoral research on contemporary southern Mediterranean artists who are involved in the international circuit of art and cultural globalization. Her writings have been published in various journals and publications in Berlin, Paris and Tunis.

 

You can sign a petition to support the artists and freedom of speech in Tunis here:

http://lapetition.be/en-ligne/petition-11611.html#.T-JJcLLkmv0.facebook

The taboo-breaking 7th Berlin Biennale

Posted on: Juni 26th, 2012 by Marta Gornicka

The Taboo-breaking 7th Berlin Biennale

When art does not ask questions anymore, is it still art?

by Marina Naprushkina

If one thought that art could break no more taboos, the 7th Berlin Biennale has proved the contrary to him or her. The art shown during the 7th Berlin Biennale gives answers instead of asking questions. It promptly sends art establishment to the field of non-art.

 

Nothing about this Biennale was as usual.

 

For me, the cooperation started already in Summer 2011 and it still takes place. First of all: an artist as a curator–this allowed us to spare a lot of time, which would have been dedicated to finding a common language. The communication and the lack of distance made the work so different from what I have experienced during my former exhibition projects.

 

The 7th Berlin Biennale cannot be seen only as an exhibition period or space. An art institution, the KW, became suddenly a political platform without having the necessary know-how to do so. In many situations one could observe the lack of experience or contacts. The projects were driven by the energy of the artists but also without the efforts of the Biennale-team their completion would not be possible. I felt, that art is taken seriously here–not only by the curators, but also by the team–some projects were liked, some other not, but there was not a hint of the often-observed professional indifference.

 

The idea of the exhibition is clear and simple; one does not need to have an art history background to understand the idea of art that can influence the reality with measurable effects. It is a paradox that exactly this idea got so many enemies in the art scene. Why? Do not we believe in our work anymore? Is it naïve and, what comes with it, unprofessional, to believe in the effectiveness of art?

 

I come from Belarus. In this country, let by the authoritarian regime, the censorship and self-censorship in art belong to the everyday life of an artist. One reaches the limits of the allowed quite fast. Only a few artists work on stretching those limits, the most of them retreat and try to build an autonomous space around themselves. And the president Alexander Lukashenko would be happy to completely remove art from the public space.

 

This is the reason, why I get irritated when here, in Western Europe, art gets confined without any clear reason.  When here, in the democratic and enlightened Germany, one can reach the limits of art so quickly. I seldom got such a clear demonstration where those limits lay, what is considered as good und right art (according to the art critics), as here, during the Biennale. Obviously also the engaged art has a given frame. Thrilling.

 

Is it possible, that the rejection of the Biennale for many is a result of their own disorientation? How else to explain the fact, that despite the calls for artists to take radical positions, the Biennale was dismissed as a provocation. Or another, not so rare statement, that artists that would like to do politics, should become politicians. Why cannot we stay here?

 

It seems, there is a clearly defined field of politics and so is the field of art. Does one need to leave the field of art, when he or she wants to shift something in a political sense? The headwind that has blown from the early days of planning of the 7th Berlin Biennale, states that all the projects deeply touched the real. It is astonishing, how much skepticism the concept of the exhibition and the “display” of Occupy-activists have gained. Nowadays many protest movements come to life, a fact that seems unnoticed in the art circles. Also the fusion of the political and artistic methods is being denied. The Biennale was not ahead of the society, but way ahead of the art establishment.

 

The art historian and curator Ekaterina Degot from Moscow wrote on the side of the comment on Documenta 13, that “literally everyone disliked the 7th Berlin Biennale. But the exhibition started important debates on nationalism an censorship, on activism and esthetics of the documentary, of the Catholic Church and, finally, about art.”

 

The aversion towards esthetical forms exposed the political conflicts. Should we wish for more?

The taboo-breaking 7th Berlin Biennale

When art does not ask questions anymore, is it still art? A comment by Marina Naprushkina. More >
The taboo-breaking 7th Berlin Biennale

“My Daddy is a Policeman”

The coloring book is designed by Marina Naprushkina for the campaign against police violence towards women in Belarus. The campaign was initiated in 2011 by civil movement »Nash dom«... More >
“My Daddy is a Policeman”

“Self # governing” – a newspaper by Marina Naprushkina

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“Self # governing” – a newspaper by Marina Naprushkina

Marina Naprushkina: Protest against death penalty in Belarus

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An open letter to #OccupyBiennale

Posted on: Juni 26th, 2012 by Marta Gornicka

AN OPEN LETTER TO #OCCUPYBIENNALE

BY CAROLINA, AN ACTIVIST FROM SPAIN

Some weeks have passed since the #OccupyBiennale started. The framework was/is a difficult one: a contemporary art exhibition, probably the most famous one in Europe. Most artists would pay to be there, to have an extra line in their CV that adds Berlin Biennale. However the #occupy and #15M movements were invited, not because of their artistic skills but because of the political process they were living worldwide. There was quite a controversy about participating in an art event, the fear of being “exhibited,” the fear of being swallowed up by a “commercial” event - when art becomes a consumer article and forgets its function of questioning reality - and when transgression is even more marketable than art. “People,” it seems, are so bored in society that they need “adventure,” so art has to sell that adventure. This was the starting point at the Biennale, #occupy | #15M, visitors expected to share an “adventure,” the one that thousands of people are living in their squares, the process of civil disobedience going on in our time. That was the risk and the challenge that was to be overcome when finally the invitation was accepted.

 

To say that the #occupy | #15M movement has been successful all over the world is something very difficult to assert. Spain has shown that #15M really has changed society. Perhaps the changes are not yet visible, but they are so deep that we can say it is a turning point in Spanish society. There is no way back to the previous situation. The #occupy movement over in the US may have had the same experience, the awakening of society, that regaining of people’s consciousness and their capacity to decide for themselves, things that once seemed dead or numb. But in most of the other countries it has been a “well intended” movement that has not managed to transcend into large public support or concrete gains.

 

The challenge, however, was very tough: a clear motivation and strong driving ideas were needed, and it was particularly difficult to find them in an artificial environment, with an artificial goal, with no core group that could help facilitation and with not real bonds that could tie people to the #Biennale square.

 

THE INSTITUTION

When you’re out of the movement, watching it evolve for a few minutes or hours, you do not get a sense of how it came to be; you get no hint that the spectator is not a spectator, but a part of the show. One can imagine building a wall (how ironic would that be in Berlin) one brick at a time, and building it as a separation from what is not wanted (corruption, domination, mental slavery, exploitation of remote, unknown, corrupt invisible hands), and as well as an instrument for a new means for expression (painting, writing, etc.). So to presume that people coming to the exhibition would not “look-at” the #occupy | #15M movement space expecting something to “happen” was a wrong way to focus public participation in the Biennale. It was wrong to believe people would simply join because they had the need to, to expect that a building could reproduce the process of the squares as public space, to think that things “would” happen naturally when the process itself was artificial, not in a pejorative sense, only to describe that it needed a particular input from the people occupying the space. This input, or driving force, happened organically when people organized in squares because there was a moral or political (maybe even material) motivation to do so.

 

At the same time, the intention of the curators to stay out of the process has not worked as planned. It is not possible to play in both sides, to present a self-organized space with constraints, because it really belongs to the exhibition set; the relation of power between curator and “occupy” could not be diluted. Every now and then it appeared in the scene and no reaction to that situation ever occurred.

 

THE ASAMBLEAS

Asamblea madness, as something untouchable, fixed, un-redo-able, is the belief that an Asamblea is something other than a tool (amongst others) for coordination and decision-making. To pretend that in an assembly it is necessary to have everybody that may have participated in previous assemblies is not being inclusive. Anyone that passes by can make a decision, and there is no need to wait for a “specially implicated” person if he or she is a “leader.” If people can attend, great, and if not they have to assume it will progress without them. That leads sometimes to difficult situations, but it is how a square works, under the belief that everybody is a part of it and can participate. The other essential thing is trust. Decisions must be taken even if we are not present. One has to rely on the group, on the decision taken during an Asamblea where people discuss and add nuances and arguments. We can’t fossilize decisions to what was decided in the past. The building of a square is something alive, continuously changing, and as decisions change, needs change, and there is nothing that can be guaranteed forever except that every decision can be re-thought.

 

In the Biennale, the scheduled Asambleas were not respected in the first weeks. Nobody attended, so that gives a clue of the commitment towards the collective building process, Nobody had the need to talk about the conflicts, to look for solutions, the international status of things, or anything. In the name of assemblies, decisions were not accepted.

 

THE FASCISM

Although it may seem quite unbelievable, there has been some fascist behavior among some of the so-called occupiers, that don’t represent what actually happens in the squares, where respect and active listening takes place. Instead of this we found a lack of respect, and even mobbing done to people who joined this “artificial” square, making it difficult to stay and actually work on things rather than playing the game of exhibition. The result of this attitude was people leaving the #OccupyBiennale, feelings of hostility, and invitations to leave. For an example in the mailing list, an email with subject that read: “Exclusion of antisocial, arrogant, anti-art, anti-individual occupy guest” was followed partially by:

“Permanently trouble making people who dont accept the decision of former assemblies, talking bullshit, standing on an arrogant, non flexible position should be sent back.We need constructive people and no trouble makers. you are here in Germany where law and order rules. Even in the german Occupy Movement we have law and orders decided by former assemblies. If you are not able to accept those former decisions you better go back home.”

 

A week after and under pressure, it was explained that it was “sarcasm.” Is this believable? Who can accept this behaviour? Where is the sarcasm? We saw something present through all the process of the #OccupyBiennale, people that come are “guests”, “visitors,” or even treated as “enemies.” There is a “we,” strong identities, To the “we” belongs the best, the winners, so the #occupy instead of being a space with no identities, no discrimination, comes out to be one more identity and exclusive.

 

This shows that fascism is present when it comes to remaining silent and not doing anything about these kinds of comments, especially in a country with a background full of deportations, borders, where the wound still emerges and where certain topics are still sensitive. But the problem is not to have a fascist. There are many, and we’ll have to cope with that. The problem is that nobody else reacts. Fear?

 

THE FEAR

This fear leads us to several uncommon behaviors, such as remaining silent when intolerable behavior took place, to respect the established roles of being “guests of an institution” and having to respect the rules even if they make no sense in our context, to fear to discuss and debate when there is censorship around certain topics, restricting certain debates just to Germans because the “outsiders” would not understand the German context. Instead of understanding that building a global movement means explaining contexts, decoding ideas that can be obvious for the local people but not for the others. A wall appeared once more. A “we” and a “you” were created, dialogue stopped flowing; one is right, the other is wrong, no exchange is possible, positions are fixed. This cannot be part of a #square, where there are no previous truthful statements, everything is under construction, everything can be questioned and solutions are built based on the discussions taking place.

 

AN INDIVIDUAL OR COLLECTIVE PROCESS?

A thing that happened during the organization of the “event,” was that not even a thought was given to the building of a commons: of a common space, of a common working place, of a common goal. The square was a container, a check-in of projects that were individually shown at an exhibition. Why and how did that happen? Perhaps it’s not an easy question to answer, while our mouths are full of words like collective, collaboration, our practices are very distant from them. In the end there was a lack of political maturity in the group, the tension between being or not being part of the whole exhibition lead to the situation of finally presenting the “visitors” with an exhibition, a model of what is supposed to be a square which is very far from reality.

 

People belonging to the so-called occupy movement, with more voice than the rest, seem interested mainly in putting their name on the walls of a famous art exhibition that will guarantee some extra rewards once it is added to their CV, and forgetting that one of the basic principles of the movement is to avoid personal profit.

 

Social networks present a fundamentally historical perspective, involving people and their relationships. The success of the Spanish Revolution takes root in the social fabric of the population. One can’t just decide to MAKE THE SQUARE and expect this social fabric to be of any quality. Building networks takes time, effort, and participants. But the Occupy Biennale square – a literal one, enclosed between strong walls - doesn’t invite anyone from outside its physical boundaries. One example is the intervention of Jeremy Zimmermann from La Quadrature du Net, who talked about ACTA in front of a dozen “outsiders” who were all already in the know. Nobody else was interested. Maybe because they already understand the scope and consequences of ACTA? A collective would have respected the “guest” and given him a chance to transfer this knowledge.

 

CONCLUSIONS

The construction of an artificial square has failed. But it’s good to see why and understand the process. First of all, to escape the logic of exhibitions and institutions is not possible; we can interact with them, we can do some lobbying so that some things change, but what is not possible is to develop a process of true freedom inside them (as the ones lived in the squares). A square has no limits, no restrictions, while an exhibition has, even if there is a different purpose, to establish a border between the “proper” exhibition and the #occupy space. When problems appear, such the lack of space, they have to be solved within the predefined and limited space, without it being possible to “disturb” other parts of the exhibition. The concept of what role was played by every part in the exhibition cannot be questioned, and finally there is a curatorial frame, so the #OccupyBiennale had it’s cage, and when it was found that it didn’t accomplish the needs of all the “occupiers,” a “battle” for space started that could only be solved by having people leave.

 

An inclusive space could not be made, not just for this, but also for the political views and aims of the people most involved, for discussions about conflicts, but also solutions, experiences, a “lecture” based space, where collective intelligence could be felt. There is a lot to be learned about collective processes, when the people are in the squares, where a high percentage of the population is involved. It means a deep social change. In the end this means changing social rules, it means changing our own positions, even when we may think they are the best and obviously so, it opens a space for questioning the unquestionable. Those kinds of changes we never know when or why they happen, they are spontaneous and unpredictable.

 

Meanwhile we should be able to remember that we are not playing games, nor playing assemblies, nor squares. People are suffering. The causes are many injustices due to social welfare being destroyed and they will get worse and affect even the “rich” countries. People are dying daily fighting for freedom and food. Activism is not a goal, something to be done in our spare time. The goal is to change and disrupt the logic of the system, to build a new world, not to carry out a process with no goal. A global movement is taking place outside and many countries are really searching for alternatives and for the first time in history, knowledge is more distributed. There are tools to put it in common, technologies to facilitate information, communication and decision-making, and they can be on our side if we defend them. So while the old system is collapsing, we have the opportunity to build global change and a better world for everyone. Shall we do it?

 

To forget fear we have to feel free and this did not happen in the #OccupyBiennale.

 

Carolina

RESPONSE FROM FLORIAN RAFFEL

ACTIVIST FROM #OCCUPY BERLIN

Carolina,

 

I like your critical review about the #occupy space and I hope there will start a discussion about the topics you put in a focus: human issues, the fear or the individual or collective process. All this is part of groupbuilding and I think that this is the core of our movement to deal with all human issues as well beside the political work. When we learn to live together, when we learn how to deal with everyday issues among men and women within a group, when we find solutions then we can create trust and mutual support that will become the foundation of our political work.

 

Your point of view about art seems very limited and you are only pointing out negative effects, that art might have (e.g. "art becomes a consumer article", "art has to sell an adventure to boring people") you are not listing, that art is a key to the mind and heart of people. You are not saying that art is activating communications within and among people. Some art has been very political "Guernica") and is very political (e.g. Banksy's stencil at the israelian wall in Gaza).

 

 

And: also within the movement many artist supported the ideas and thoughts of us, helping us to spread revolutionary moment.

 

About the 7th Berlin Biennale Project  I am missing one major information: Berlin's camp was shut down, so we needed a new base, a new location for us to meet and work. This is the core of the occupy biennale, an open space of 500 qm for the political work of #occupy and #15M in Berlin. And it was clear that this would be an experiment.

 

I like your approach to integrate or invite people into the movement within the occupy biennale hall. All your suggestions are sounding great - but they are just theory. Please do it, instead of pointing your fingers at the existing concept and call it "wrong"… You know, saying "It was wrong" is not really helping… and btw there is no right or wrong ;) There are only many different ways and approaches in the world. Every single one of them has advantages and disadvantages. But none of them should be called "wrong".

 

I hope, we will have many more experiences like the occupy biennale space to grow as a movement - individually and collectively.

 

Best wishes,

 

Florian Zacharias Raffel

 

Response from Noah Fischer

an activist from #OccupyMuseums

A few weeks ago, I thought that the 7th Berlin Biennale had constructed a kind of tomb where movements would come to die. Arriving in early June, we encountered exactly a human zoo, a position from which activated activism felt impossible. It seemed that an anemic representation of the movement was being exhibited and consumed by an audience; rather than occupying, we were being occupied by the institution.  Also, the “global” activist community appeared surprisingly nationalistic and was blocking itself in various ways which Carolina details, leading to a culture of degeneration. For example, I witnessed an “activist” call the police on someone else to settle a dispute, which created a pleasing spectacle for the art audience. So my initial experience when we arrived was very close to Carolina’s picture and I was angry with the curators and wondered if anything helpful for the movements could come from the 7th Berlin Biennale. I even wondered how much damage the 7th Berlin Biennale would do to the movements.

 

However, after a two-week experience in Berlin, I have two questions to offer to her assessment. The first: is the goal of growing a healthy square on the model of Puerta del Sol or Liberty Park an appropriate measure for the 7th Berlin Biennale? Certainly a museum exhibition with “star” curators and with time limits is a strange place to set up an inclusive public square. And one that is funded by the German government is an even stranger place to invite members of 15M protesting austerity!  Also, at least in New York, the #square stage of the movement passed months ago, partially because the logic of squares created problems in themselves and we are busy trying to understand how the post-square stage can work. So here, perhaps we could have started, not finished, from the conclusion that a “free square” wouldn’t be likely. This would lead to the question concerning the other strategies we can follow with the resources available here. It turned out that we found many tactics and some of them started with leaving behind the pure square model in search of hybrids.

 

The second question: Is it possible to pronounce an experiment a failure halfway through? This question touches on the “space of possibility,” which I think is kind of the bread and butter of the movements--another world is possible! (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary). In my experience with Occupy Wall Street, you’ve got to trust the moment, even when it twists and turns out of control. Sometimes, for example, the moments when police exerted the most force - like that day of 700 arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge - the dispiriting situation quickly flipped around into a win for the movement. I feel like our involvement in this global movement, which is responding to 30 + years of Neo-Liberalism, is like scratching around for hidden pathways, secret allies, magic tactics within an extensive fortress-city. So maybe looking for new spheres in which to act, using new tactics, without giving up, keeping the space of possibility open despite all logic, despite absurdity, is a strong position to take.

 

So what did we do with the situation? After the initial shock of finding ourselves in a human zoo, I/we began to respond. What was first needed was to address the power hierarchy of the zoo and flip the situation so that we could regain our dignity. An international group of activists attempted this through a series of semiotic guerrilla actions (naming the curators publicly for example) and holding meetings which culminated in a proposal (which was accepted) for the former curators and director to step back. Our logic: to invite and exhibit the movements was not a bad thing in itself, but only a first step, and one that would naturally lead to degeneration if it stopped there. It was necessary for the institution to “go farther into the concept,” pushing the 7th Berlin Biennale structurally in a horizontal direction to make their invisible frame visible and put it under question. To accomplish this, we were leveraged by the strength of our group, by the public “failure” of the Biennial thus far (leading perhaps to desperation and willingness), and by allies in the press. The proposal was consensed upon in a simple version by the Biennale staff, and an experiment about the limits of activism in relation to institutions was initiated.

 

As we walked into the muddy waters of open meetings and the realization that in the short time we had, we could probably accomplish very little concrete changes within the institution (some of us wanted to support the guards in raising their 6.5 euros/hour salary for example), we did notice (not only occupiers but guards and staff too) that we got a lot of our dignity back. Things began to move. New allies emerged from all sides and we began to work together in groups that broke the boundaries of “occupiers” and “institution.” The former curators who at first seemed like our zookeepers became kind of collaborators, maybe even activists. Interesting collaborations were proposed and attempted. Could we use the 7th Berlin Biennale institutional name to pull off even stronger actions, hacking the ambiguity and class-relation of culture in service to the movement? We also used tools from the #square such as general assemblies, working groups, and our consensus process, but this move toward horizontality was not a “pure square model” but hybrid territory.  We are conscious that as we play out this experiment we are also developing tactics that can be shared for future hybrids that transgress many lines. A “continuity working group” is busy planning such future hybrids.

 

So far, I would not call the experience in Berlin a success. I don’t think there is such a thing in this movement. Part of what we are doing is moving beyond a striving for success in the way we previously defined it (mostly through acquisition of money or status). But neither can I say that it was a failure. We entered a space of tension and possibility, created a kind of interesting mess and many people are now busy developing this mess collectively. It is possible that this is simultaneously a process of cooption of our movement and also the discovery of secret passageways in the fortress. Let the global movement be everywhere, attempt everything. We’ll see what happens next.

“Happy New Fear” – a painting action by Bureau Mario Lombardo

Posted on: Juni 25th, 2012 by Marta Gornicka

Happy New Fear

a painting action by Bureau Mario Lombardo

On June 23 Mario Lombardo and his team painted the windows of the Akademie der Künste with political slogans.

Photos: Katja Zeidler

“Happy New Fear” – an action by BUREAU Mario Lombardo

We dare to undertake an experiment. The question behind the test is: How can a written statement change depending on the context in which it is found. [...]More >

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“Happy New Fear #2″ by Bureau Mario Lombardo

Mario Lombardo and Enver Hadzijaj during the painting action “Happy New Fear” on April 14 in Berlin-Mitte. [...]More >

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We should dare to begin

Posted on: Juni 22nd, 2012 by Marta Gornicka

We should dare to begin

by Michaela Filla

To art connoisseurs the 7th Berlin Biennale is lacking in sex appeal. To art critic Hanno Rauterberg, a Biennale of gratification would have been ideal. A Biennale encompassing art with a clear stance, challenging to its observer, which does not only allude to flaws but also strives to sway reality (inasmuch as it takes actions and entices to take action) is, to art critic Hanno Rauterberg, an unpleasant duty. He is not the only who came out of the Biennale with a sense of disillusionment: even visitors less prone to surrender themselves to earthly sensory pleasures come out empty handed. This is, at least, what could be inferred from the predominantly negative reactions in the press. Is this critique justified? Are the gestures on display at the Biennale indeed banal, vulgar, naive, or are they merely provocative? Is a fleeting, superficial overview of the pieces–perhaps on opening night, perchance as intermediate stop during the Gallery Weekend–enough to have a well–versed opinion of the Biennale? Is critique that terminally declares the Biennale as an ultimate failure convincing, having as only criteria for judgment the disconnection between Occupy in the main exhibition hall and the activist euphoria in Zuccotti Park? Admittedly, if one looks for effectiveness in the pieces on display only in the Auguststrasse, he might be disappointed.

 

The present Berlin Biennale is not an ordinary exhibition. Artur Zmijewski describes his concept as applied social arts. He understands art as a tool through which we can expand and propagate knowledge. According to Żmijewski, art wields the same powerful influence over public discourse–hence over our worldview as well–as science, politics, and religion. He is convinced that artists should realise their power and possibilities to delineate social problems, and start using it in order to put pressure on some aspects of social structures. The ultimate need for autonomy and the fear of a renewed instrumentalization has led to artists distancing themselves from political, religious, or power objectives. This, in turn, has led to their “forgetting how to form relationships with human reality in order to process ways of manipulation and to obtain the tools necessary to turn power and knowledge into reality.”

 

At this point, it seems to be all about the essence of art: is art once again at a defining moment? Is this comparable to the post–WWII debate over the precedence of abstraction or figuration in painting? Abstractionists came about with the development of art: they set it free from the object, leading it instead to concentrate on the production process towards autonomy unknown until then. As pointed out by Żmijewski, we can clearly see a rupture in contemporary art. On the one hand, the artist is bound to his traditional role as consignee of the state and of financial mechanisms, producing visual environments, visual information systems, interior and industrial design, in the service of society; on the other hand, the artist will want to escape the oversimplification and over–reduction into the category of mere supplier of services through a challenging stance and the confirmation of taboos. According to Żmijewski, the realization of those duties diminishes the strength of the protest. Furthermore, an idiosyncratic aesthetic of insurgence limited by shame has been developed, although its main goal is meant to be a noble one. Art relates to society, but it does not generate any societal consequences. Żmijewski encourages us to disengage ourselves from the stalemate situation between duty and insurgence; he proposes a political execution beyond the gallery and the art market and defends the involvement in actual political debate that takes place in a common milieu–in the media, for example.

 

One project to which Żmijewski tendered practical social-art credentials is Martin Zet’s  “Deutschland schafft es ab” (Germany gets rid of it), whose provocative call for action caused heated debate. Critics promptly compared the alignment of collecting points and the proposed recycling move with Nazi methods. The move cannot be merely dismissed as pure provocation, however, since it reacted to the uneasy relationship of the Germans to Thilo Sarrazin’s book “Deutschland schafft sich ab.” With sales of up to 1.3 million copies, Sarrazin’s book is the most successful non–fiction book in Germany after 1945. Although its basic line of argumentation has been widely refuted, it is presently in its second edition. It cannot be denied that Sarrazin’s book exerts an odd fascination in many Germans. Martin Zet’s piece had a strong effect, above all, on the (German?) collective imagination. The liberating thought of being able to detach ourselves from the book through Zet’s method of collection was repressed through the association of book burning by the Nazis; in the meantime, the book has become a new symbol for racism in Germany. Critics bluntly attempted to defame Zet’s artistic action as a threat to freedom of opinion and as an attempt to educate the masses. As a consequence of the suspicious and blunt comparison of the campaign to Nazi crimes, several institutions that had made a commitment to set up collection points distanced themselves from the campaign. The heated debate that ensued is arguably a measure of the effectiveness and resounding success of the campaign. This is not, however, the entire story. In retrospective, we are confronted by the commotion around the artistic move, the mechanisms of belief and the interdependence of institutions and public opinion. Independently from the fact that racism was being purportedly defended in the name of entitlement to individual opinion, the controversial debate caused by the campaign is testimony to a complexity not necessarily intrinsic to Zet’s artistic gesture, but to a hitherto unseen obvious contradiction: the memory of oppression evoked by the campaign manifestly collides with the desire to free ourselves from Sarrazin’s book, a symbol for racism in Germany.

 

Another piece of work, Nada Prlja’s “Peace Wall,” shows in equally eloquent manner how applied social art can unfold beyond the control of the artist and can even turn against him or her. Through the erection of a simple wall, the artist wanted to denounce societal differences in an area where exclusive boutiques and a socially–challenged housing district are not far from one another: Berlin's Friedrichstrasse, a stone’s throw from Checkpoint Charlie. “Peace Wall” sets itself apart from other pieces of public art: it not only evokes real walls with which affluent people–in Mexico City, for example–distance and protect themselves from the ‘poor’ population, but also presents us with a real intervention, since it blocked traffic on Friedrichstrasse for several weeks. . Following the completion of the wall, adjacent businesses complained about reported losses in profit, and were presently protesting against the art move. It has not been easy for the artist to deal with the resistance to her piece. The Nevertheless, she has been–and still is–willing to face the increasing criticism, either in constant discussions with local residents or in neighbourhood councils, in which the residents demand the removal of the wall. Death threats and damage to the wall forced the artist to agree to take the wall down untimely. And again we are confronted with questions: What is behind this disproportional anger? What do the leaders do, when art fails? The “Peace Wall” could not be defended at all costs. But what price do we pay, when we allow moving the art, which took the discourse of social ills from the museum to the streets, out of the way?

 

To Artur Żmijewski, art is a disruption experienced by the social body, since it attacks the consciousness of the individual. Art has the power to reach into spiritual space. By “spiritual space,” Żmijewski means the collection of thought and emotion as well as their exchange in the realm of communication–a continuum, which is not to be regarded as a fixed order, but as an organization in a constant state of fluctuation. Żmijewski’s idea of a constantly–evolving organization reminds us of Michel Foucault’s Episteme, the historically-formed awareness logic of a specific epoch. In his “The Order of Things” Foucault unveils these systems of thought, by scrutinizing the different scientific discourses of a period in view of shared structures. In as much as Foucault denounces the relativity of thought through discourse, he strives to show humans that they are freer than they think; that they can accept things brought about at a specific time in history as true and evident, and that we can destroy this purported evidence in the heads of people. The analysis of discourse led Foucault to understand affirmations as occurrences. Art paradigms such as those seen at the Biennale are characterized by the occurring. As such, these art works intervene in existing discourses. As occurrences, they create new, real, and imagined spaces of experience, thus creating conditions of possibility for a new order of things.

 

Yael Bartana’s project JRMiP (“Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland”) and the action “Key of Return“ react to present discourses and strive to rupture the status quo through artistic intervention. In the exhibition, the utopian call to 3.3 million Jews to return to Europe is linked spatially to the symbolic message from Palestinian refugees, who have in turn expressed their hope to return home in the form of an enormous key. What would happen if all descendants of the persecuted and murdered Jews would return to the land of their ancestors? Could the displaced Palestinian return home as well, then? Would there be peace? These ideas are utopian; they are radical. But it is perhaps necessary to set artistic fantasy in motion in order to find ways out of a crisis and end war. The inescapable presence of the key, which found its place next to the birch trees from Birkenau in the courtyard of KW Institute for Contemporary Art, confronts us with the complex ensnarement of contemporary politics and history, with the consequences of the German crimes of war, who were heavily involved with the decisions that led to the founding of the State of Israel, thus leading to the displacement of Palestinians. In view of the escalating conflicts in the Middle East, an artistic move (which can be interpreted as a gesture for the recognition of experienced unfairness) strives to confront public contention with the consequences of the past.

 

Many critics are apprehensive about the alleged one–sidedness of approach to the Middle–East conflict at the 7th Berlin Biennale. Nevertheless, whoever attended the Israeli artist’s Yael Bartana’s congress–nested within the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland–could witness a democratic space in which the main emphasis was the inclusive discussion of varied and frequently diverging points of view. In a period of three days, ideas for a future Europe were collected and summed up, and the agenda for the movement was drafted. The “New World Summit”, a two–day congress organized by the artist Jonas Staal, managed a space in which not only new forms of democratic interaction were tested, but also one in which democracy was the central discussion topic. Political and administrative representatives of organizations presently on international “terror lists” made appearances in an architecture specially designed for the congress. The architecture is a circle of flags form different political groups. The representatives of these groups joined to form an alternative parliament, thus creating a new political space, as complement to existing political order. Three lawyers and four activists discussed, above all, the limitations of democratic systems, which per definition exclude certain positions through categorising certain elements as “terrorism.” Who defines what terrorism is? What for some segments represents a terrorist threat to others may be political self–expression.

 

The right to self-government is often maimed in the name of democracy; political prejudice, economic and military interests often stand behind the brand identity of political organizations. Jonas Staal’s project, which aimed at the awareness of the limitations of democracy, was a visual event as well. During the “performance” of the second day, the flags defining the main space were re–positioned. The surrounding corridor turned into a series of gates through which the main space could be reached from all sides.

 

To many, the symbolic language used by the artists and activists at the Biennale is too blunt, too naïve. The dominance of the symbols at the Biennale is the direct result of an understanding (by now scientific) that the formation of symbols not only belongs to the process of recognition but it is also an integral part of human relations. There is a reflective dimension to the almost propagandistic dealings of the JRMiP. This is a reflection not only of the danger of a hijacking of art for political interests, but also that of the power of symbols, as well as our need for meaningful symbols. Even as art withdrew from the world after the bitter experience of abuses of self-complacency, images did not fall into disuse as means of communication. On the contrary: the image is experiencing an incomparable triumphant in the age of information. The image allows us to communicate more impressively and lastingly, thanks to its emotional immediacy, thanks to its quality of being understood in an instant.

 

Next to Khaled Jarrar’s gesture of stamping passports with a self-designed “State of Palestine” stamp (thus giving visitors the opportunity to make a highly symbolic statement), the power of symbols makes an appearance in another form, one that is not as esteemed by the art public at large as other (more popular) forms. An enormous head of Christ-the-King in the exhibition makes oblique references to the 36-meter statue in Świebodzin, which helped a Polish priest to turn a place of no religious relevance into a destination point for pilgrims. The success of the giant Christ not only testifies as to the power of church and religion in Poland, but also delineates the possibilities of an art that is not fully aware of the power it exerts on its observers.

 

Remembrance politics is an area frequently and well served by art. Memorials designed by artists are part of the culture of remembrance and influence the collective memory. Art that explores the culture of remembrance does not only reflect upon its own sensitivity, but also points towards established structures. As the exclusion of the video piece ‘Berek’ from the exhibition "Tür an Tür" ("Door to Door") at the Martin-Gropius-Bau a couple months ago clearly demonstrates, the subject of the Holocaust cannot be treated indiscriminately. The video piece caused controversy because it represents an intervention in the politics of remembrance; it goes against the grain of the present culture of remembrance, which tightly holds on to a definite aesthetic and narrative in monuments, exhibitions, and memorials. Łukasz Surowiec’s project „Berlin-Birkenau” is an attempt at a new artistic approach to the remembrance of the crimes against humanity by the Nazi regime by pitting a living, experienced artistic “move” against a petrified practice of remembrance.

 

If we were to regard history not as a steadfast object, but as a mental construct in which our societal relationships to the past are expressed, then it is only possible to strive to consistently find a new way of remembering. Indicative of the work of artists of the generation to which Yael Bartana and Artur Żmijewski belong is the fact that its function reaches far beyond the sheer remembrance of genocide. Their broaching the issue of the past admonishes contemporary changes and understanding, and puts these up for discussion. Besides these art pieces, the Biennale shows more possibilities to deal with history. In the Deutschlandhaus, the exhibition by the Foundation ‘Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation’ bluntly shows the generation of new, discussion/ripe narrative. A documentation of the reconstruction of the Battle of Berlin 1945 conveys the need–increasingly stronger–for immediate bodily experience of historical events through its iteration.

 

While very different (but equally corporeal) from the above mentioned, Joanna Rajkowska’s “Born in Berlin“ is another method of analysing the past. It tells the story of a beginning. Joanna Rajkowska, whose family was brutally torn apart by the hands of the Nazi reign of horror, sets a landmark by bestowing new life upon the city out of which destruction formerly originated. The birthplace of her daughter Rosa, the city turns into a place loaded with new, contemporary meaning. Should we understand this gesture as one of reconciliation? In the case of “Born in Berlin“, it would be the story not only of a natural start, but also a metaphor for a new political beginning. The artist turns the private recounting of the birth of her daughter into a public event. What outrages the critics is the implied imposition resulting from the association of art and political activism. As an example for the transition from private into public realm, “Born in Berlin“ entices us to think about the origins of political exchange, which began when humans organized themselves publicly.

 

There have always been recurring beginnings. Humans have always interrupted the development of things, by rebelling against oppression and abuse. For Hanna Arendt, hence, there is in every beginning the experience of freedom. According to Arendt, freedom comes to fruition wherever and whenever there is political exchange. What does this understanding of politics and freedom mean for the art? Is it possible for the politically involved art not to loose its freedom but, on the contrary, to take the chance and to set free? The motto for the Biennale this year is “Forget Fear.” We should dare to begin.

“Peace Wall” by Nada Prlja

A wall is standing on Friedrichstrasse. Finally, we are on a way to establish peace. [...]More >

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“State of Palestine” by Khaled Jarrar

Khaled Jarrar, a Palestinian artist, decided to declare the existence of a non-existent state. He created a passport stamp for the State of Palestine, challenging the Israeli border regime. [...]More >

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AND EUROPE WILL BE STUNNED – a congress by JRMiP and Yael Bartana

The Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP) calls for the return of 3,300,000 Jews to Poland in order to re-establish the annihilated Jewish community. [...]More >

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“Berlin-Birkenau” by Łukasz Surowiec

The project Berlin-Birkenau brings a few hundred young birches from the area around the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp to Berlin, where they have found new places to root all over the city. These trees, taken from soil that contains the traces of countless deaths, become a ”living archive” that shifts something growing and breathing to Berlin. [...]More >

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Immigration and emigration: this is the whole European history

Posted on: Juni 21st, 2012 by Marta Gornicka
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Chandelier from the exhibition by the Foundation Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation; Photo: Marta Gornicka

Immigration and emigration: this is the whole European history

An interview with Michael Dorrmann, the curator, and Manfred Kittel, the director of the Foundation Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation.

This interview was conducted by Daniel Miller.

 

Daniel Miller: What is the difference between the Bund der Vertriebenen, the Center Against Expulsions, and the Stiftung Flucht, Vertreibung, Versöhnung?

 

Manfred Kittel: The Center was a civil society project by mostly two persons: Erika Steinbach, the Chairman of the Bund der Vertriebenen (the Federation of Expellees) and a deputy of the Christian Democratic Union, and Peter Glotz, the former Secretary of the Social Democratic Party in Germany. So you had representatives from the two big “Volksparteien” in Germany; it was not only the project of one party. There were many prominent supporters, writers, intellectuals, from both sides of the political spectrum. But this is all pre-history. Because in 2008 the German parliament created our foundation “Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation”, as a Federal Foundation.

 

DM: Is Erika Steinbach on the board of your Foundation?

 

MK: She is not. There was a heated discussion about this theme. Six out of twenty-one representatives in our “Stiftungsrat” are members of the Bund der Vertriebenen. But not Erika Steinbach. Her membership was vetoed by the German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle in 2009 on the basis her participation would be damaging for German-Polish relations, because of some positions she has taken in the past, and still maintains.

 

DM: Why is so much controversy associated with this project?

 

MK: The problem concerns whether it is possible to remember the fourteen million ''expellees'' who had to be integrated into the two parts of Germany after the Second World War, without provoking German Polish or German Czech... discussions that might interfere with the process of reconciliation.

 

DM: You want to restore a part of German history which you believe has been omitted from the record?

 

MK: Yes. For many years, this topic of flight and expulsion has been hardly acknowledged in German memory culture. Now the question arises: ''How should we deal with this topic? How far it is possible to connect the memory of this part of German history with the general theme of displacement in the twentieth century?'' The expulsion of the Germans would not have come about without the actions of the Nazis, that is clear. But the millions of Germans who were expelled were also victims. These were 12 to 14 million displaced people, who were mostly women and children and who had little or no influence on the politics of the Third Reich, and certainly not at the leading level. No criteria were applied to distinguish between Nazis, who really killed Czechs, Poles, Jews and all of the other Germans which were displaced from Silesia, Pomerania and Czechoslovakia. It was more of a collective punishment for everyone identified as German. German anti-fascists in Czechoslovakia, for example, were also affected by this process of expulsion.

 

DM: Why do you believe this topic was omitted?

 

MK: It is a difficult topic. It demands that you think about the German victims and offenders simultaneously, and this is hard to do. There were some fears that memorializing the expulsion could change the historical picture, so that Germans would suddenly appear primarily as the victims of World War II. There were also fears that the crimes of the Third Reich could be relativized, according to the motto: "Yes, yes that's true, but the Germans were also victims." But we are convinced we can handle this topic responsibly.

 

DM: Do you agree this is different emphasis that you are giving to twentieth century German history?

 

MK: I don't agree. One needs only to take a look at the legal basis upon which our foundation was established in 2008. [Removes bulky folder] "The foundation's purpose is to provide the memories of flight and expulsion in the twentieth century in the historical context of World War II and in the context of the Nazi policy of expansion and destruction and its consequences." That is the purpose of the foundation, paragraph 1. You surely cannot speak of a paradigm shift...

 

DM: But this is what your enemies would claim?

 

MK: Exactly.

 

DM: What do you think is the source of the confusion that surrounds your project?

 

Michael Dorrmann: One reason is that we are mixed-up with the Center Against Expulsions, especially in Poland. Not in politics, but in the population, they don't make a distinction between our federal institution and the Center. As you know, the League of Expellees is an organization with many members and some of these members represent historico-political opinions that in Poland and Czech Republic  provoke incomprehension.

 

MK: In the 1970s, the Bund der Vertriebenen was a harsh enemy of the so-called German East treaties, the Warschauer Vertrag, Prager Vertrag, and the recognition of the Oder-Neiße-Line. So in some Eastern countries, there are still hostile reflexes to the words ''Bund der Vertriebenen.'' But this is not the whole truth because for some time many members of the Bund der Vertriebenen have been traveling in their former homelands and trying to support the reconstruction of these areas, in collaboration with the Polish and Czech people. Take Herbert Hupka, a very famous vice-chairman of the Bund der Vertriebenen since the 1970s, a man about whom Polish children once were taught, if you do not eat your soup, Herbert Hupka will eat you. This Herbert Hupka became, in the 1990s, a Citizen of Honor of his former home town in Silesa, and supported the community to get European money for building the communal... recycling plant.

 

MD: It is sometimes not easy for people in Poland or the Czech Republic to remember this part of their history, because the expulsion of the Germans is a difficult and violent part of their history?

 

MK: Indeed. For a long time in Polish and Czech society there were tendencies to say: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, they decided on this policy at Potsdam, and we were only a small nation and had to execute. But this is not the whole truth.

 

DM: Do you agree that the existence of this Stiftung is part of a renegotiation that Germans are having with their history after reunifications?

 

MK: Yes I would agree with you, certainly. A discussion in Germany, but also in the rest of Europe, on how to deal with our recent past. Eastern Europeans, of course, were the victims of two dictatorships. Not just of the Nazi dictatorship, but then of the Stalinist Soviet Union.

 

DM: Do you think the foundation could be seen in the context of a new German power mentality?

 

MK: For me, this is a quite remote discussion. In view of the comparatively fragile national identity in Germany, recently abolished military conscription, and above all, demography, I do not understand how one could be afraid of this country today.

 

DM: But you appreciate that once you start to talk about ancestral Germans lands you are talking about a certain history of a German-speaking people...

MD: If you are looking at regions like Bessarabia or parts of Romania there were not only Germans as a minority, but also Jews, and Ukrainians. Other parts, like Lower Silesia were completely German, but towns like Czernowitz had a very mixed population. So part of our project would be to look at Europe and to say that it was a very mixed population in a lot of areas, to show to this reality, and at the same time, to show conflicts.

 

MK: As you know, we live now in societies that are more and more colorful due to immigration, with all the opportunities and risks that this entails, in Germany and other European countries. So considering the past struggles, and the look at the coexistence of different ethnicities and cultures in the past, it is very interesting to re-examine this history.

 

DM: One conclusion you could draw from your research is that Germany has always been an Einwanderungsland.

 

MD: An immigration and emigration land!

 

MK: It was both. In the Medieval Period, many Germans emigrated East. In the 19th Century, the emigration was, often in the direction of the United States.

 

MD: The whole of European history is like that. People immigrating and emigrating, sometimes by force.

 

DM: Is there anything you'd like to add?

 

MK: Only that our motivation to cooperate with the Biennale was to inform and to destroy some of the prejudice and misunderstanding towards our project, and to clarify that our intention is purely to give an objective picture of the twentieth century and the problem of forced migration in the twentieth century.

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Occupy Pergamon!

Posted on: Juni 19th, 2012 by Marta Gornicka

Videos by Rafał Żwirek

Ceremony at the Pergamon-Altar

Restitution of Art and Culture to the Commons!

There is a famous treasure in Berlin known as the Pergamon Altar. This giant relief sculpture from Ancient Greece depicts the battle between the Giants and the Olympian gods known as the Gigantomachy. In the late 19th century, the Pergamon Altar was displaced from its original site in present-day Turkey and brought to Museum Island in Berlin. Since then it has been used and abused as a symbol–a representation of power by both Germany and the USSR. The Pergamon Altar has come to symbolize the displacement and occupation of culture by the powerful elite. A call has been issued for its return to Turkey.

 

We are here to question and confront the issue of colonization and misappropriation of art and cultural heritage. We stand in solidarity with the Turkish population in Berlin suffering from gentrification and racism. We will use the altar to bless victory for horizontality, sharing, and non-ownership.

 

#OccupyMuseums

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10th Berlin Biennale