More than halfway into the 7th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, the invited global movements have challenged the hierarchical structure of the Biennale, initiating a move toward horizontality. Horizontality means de-centering power away from leadership hierarchies and making decisions through group consensus. The experiment consists of changing the positions of the curators relative to the Occupy Biennale and calling a series of assemblies with activists and KW staff willing to rethink the terms and conditions of labor. This experiment is meant to loosen the assumptions of cultural, institutional, and economic hierarchy and bring the 7th Berlin Biennale into line with the stated claims to “present art that actually works, makes its mark on reality, and opens a space where politics can be performed” (Artur Żmijewski in the Berlin Biennale newspaper “Act for Art”).


People from the Occupy/M15 movements who are included in a section of the 7th Berlin Biennale initiated this experiment in response to a disempowering situation that became, especially in Berlin, known as the “human zoo.” A group of international activists challenged the curators with a proposal to go further into their stated concept of enabling a situation that they “don’t curate, supervise, or assess.” They released a public statement calling for the 7th Berlin Biennale to function horizontally for one week, adopting a leaderless process developed in the squares of Cairo, Madrid, and New York. Spatial barriers of the exhibition would break down, the dispersion of the entire budget would become transparent, and “working groups” would transform the program to reflect everyone’s voice. The former curators and director consensed on the proposal, and the entire staff of KW Institute for Contemporary Art and the Berlin Biennale was invited to an assemblea to clarify the proposal and discuss moving forward in a concrete way.


This experiment is consciously naïve. Movement activists know that horizontality is sometimes messy and inefficient. Employees of the Berlin Biennale have established a functional structure and know that attending extra meetings is likely to mean extra effort. In addition, critics from all sides know that art institutions love to play games with politics, fetishizing activists language and aesthetics.


Yet the backdrop to this experiment is real, and there is ample reason to try.  The experiment aims at questioning the institutional structure of the Berlin Biennale. In the times of European and global cutting of tax-funded art and the growing financialization of art, we want to use the Berlin Biennale – a state founded art exhibition – as a platform to apply horizontality, radical transparency, and sharing labor. The former curators and some members of the Berlin Biennale staff are open to this experiment and are currently engaged in this process. Please join us!


Asambleas take place in the main hall of KW Institute for Contemporary Art every Tuesday and Thursday at 6 pm.

9th Berlin Biennale