Archive for Juni, 2012

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

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

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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

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MOLESKINE-Workshop at the St. Elisabeth-Church

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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

CANCELLATION OF THE EVENT BY BRIMBORIA INSTITUTE

Posted on: Juni 27th, 2012 by Marta Gornicka

CANCELLATION OF THE EVENT BY BRIMBORIA INSTITUTE

A statement of KW Institute for Contemporary Art

On short notice, KW Institute for Contemporary Art cancelled the event “An evening without Christian Worch” planned for the evening of June 26 as part of the 7th Berlin Biennale, after the well-known neo-Nazi Christian Worch had been invited to participate in the panel against previous agreements and information.

 

In her position as director of KW, Gabriele Horn clearly opposes an equal dialogue with neo-Nazis in terms of a mutual acknowledgment. In principal, KW refuses to function as a stage for any type of neo-Nazis, legitimizing participating people through a public discussion in a recognized art institution.

ABGESAGT: „Ein Abend ohne Christian Worch” von Brimboria Institut

„Ein Abend ohne Christian Worch” ist eine performative Auseinandersetzung mit dem Umgang mit Nazis in der Öffentlichkeit. Hierzu werden die Gäste am 26. Juni 2012 eingeladen, einer Veranstaltung beizuwohnen, zu welcher der führende Kopf der Freien Kameradschaftsszene, Christian Worch, nicht eingeladen wird. [...]More >

7-berlin-biennale-brimboria-institut

Statement on the cancellation of the event „An evening without Christian Worch”

The event “An evening without Christian Worch”, which was planned to take place on June 26 as part of the 7th Berlin Biennale at Kunst-Werke Berlin (KW), was cancelled yesterday early evening (June 25) by the director of KW. [...]More >

7-berlin-biennale-comment

STATEMENT REGARDING THE CANCELLATION OF THE BRIMBORIA INSTITUTE’S EVENT

Posted on: Juni 27th, 2012 by Marta Gornicka

STATEMENT REGARDING THE CANCELLATION OF THE BRIMBORIA INSTITUTE'S EVENT

BY ARTUR ŻMIJEWSKI

I met Tom and Max in Leipzig during the preparation process of 7th Berlin Biennale. We were talking about the Nazi threat in the German East, the slow process of the growth of pro-Nazi tendencies among the German population. Brimboria develops strategies, which could discredit events organized by Nazis. They cooperate with the German Apple Front, which openly interacts with radical right wing groups. They invade their demonstrations in order to decrease their power. They also permanently reflect on the social situation and on the strategies of struggling against the growth of pro-Nazi tendencies.

 

After the conversation I decided that it was important to invite the Brimboria Institute representatives to present their positions and methodologies in the framework of 7th Berlin Biennale. For the 7th Berlin Biennale they proposed a "non meeting" with Christian Worch – one of the figures from far right groups. There was an idea to touch the evil – not directly – to talk about the threat that radical groups make and about those who struggle against Nazis: Antifa, Brimboria, German Apple Front and so on.

 

 

The consequence of the "non invitation" for Worch was that he contacted Tom and Max and expressed his interest to join the event. That's his right in a democratic system, which Germany still is. As I understand the development of the situation, Tom and Max wanted to control the meeting and planned to come with Worch and let him talk after their presentation. There was a moderation expected by Alf Thum. This way the conversation would have been controlled.

 

 

This cannot happen because of the decision taken by Gabriele Horn, the director of KW Institute for Contemporary Art. She decided to cancel the event – what shows the limits of curatorial and artistic freedom.

In my opinion Tom and Max are not playing noble people who keep distance to social and political hazard. They are ready to confront themselves with the people who represent even inhuman ideology. But their event was removed from the 7th Berlin Biennale program in the very last moment. They lost symbolic power, which could have supported their effort.

 

It is difficult to defend the meeting "without a Nazi" because these radicals are against humanity, against democratic and constitutional values. But the cancellation of such an event hits directly people who struggle against radical groups. They cannot rely on the institution – they can just fight on the streets, what in fact was proposed to them during the cancelation meeting in KW. We left them alone with the problem, we will not make our hands dirty through contact with people who represent bad values, we prefer to confirm ourselves how noble and good we are, and how moral our program is.

Statement on the cancellation of the event „An evening without Christian Worch”

Posted on: Juni 27th, 2012 by Marta Gornicka

Statement on the cancellation of the event „An evening without Christian Worch"

by Brimboria Institute

 

The event “An evening without Christian Worch”, which was planned to take place on June 26 as part of the 7th Berlin Biennale at Kunst-Werke Berlin (KW), was cancelled yesterday early evening (June 25) by the director of KW. We conceptualized and prepared this event and should be able to execute it.

 

Regarding the cancellation we want to give the following statement:

We call ourselves BRIMBORIA Institute (BI) and have been working at the intersection of art, discourse and society since 2008. In addition, we have organized several workshops about political and aesthetic aspects and strategies against the Right as well as participated in numerous campaigns of the Front Deutscher Äpfel (“German Apple Front”)  – a satirical anti-Nazi project.

 

It was probably due to this profile that the Berlin Biennale asked us very early on in their program development if we were interested in doing a project on the NAZIs in the artistic context of the Berlin Biennale.

 

Already at an early stage of the project development we made clear that having a real NAZI at the event would be the desirable situation; that is, a NAZI that could also be asked questions. The Biennale explicitly welcomed and accepted this. For reasons that don’t need to be further explained here, Mr Worch was then sighted out as the “ideal guest.”

It was for the following reasons that we subsequently chose the title “An evening without Christian Worch” while moreover using the term “non-invitation” regarding the man in question: It was absolutely clear to whoever was involved that we were dealing with a risky, rightly controversial if not scandalous affair to present a Nazi. Presenting a Nazi however was not the aim.

 

It wasn’t about a gratuitous outcry – which would have ultimately damaged both the concern and the Biennale. This is also why the event was scheduled towards the end of the Biennale. Furthermore, we asked that the event was not to be advertised through any type of PR, with the reason that this strategy would ideally prevent journalists being present. The project was precisely not intended to follow the usual logic of the spectacle.

 

Besides being documented, the event was only supposed to have an effect on its visitors. The documentation could then have been used for further purposes – depending however on the quality of both material and argument.

In addition, the phrasing of the project was chosen precisely in order to prevent the danger of mobilizing the “wrong” type of audience.

 

Moreover, for quite a long period of time it was uncertain whether Mr Worch was ultimately going to be present at all or not.

 

And fundamentally: the obviously absurd formulation “non-invitation” was agreed upon at a project meeting with the KW staff and curator in February. Because of the Sarrazin affair the Biennale seemed to be under pressure at the time and we were basically communicated the following position of the KW: it couldn’t look like we were actively inviting a Nazi (until then our project was still called “An evening with Christian Worch”); under no condition could tax money (of the Cultural Foundation) be used for paying a fee to Mr Worch. To this we agreed – and no money would have been paid. We were never lead to believe that this type of debate was an absolute taboo. Rather we were communicated that one wouldn’t want to censor anything for the criticism this would raise. We were asked one thing: not to be too aggressive about it.

 

When on June 25 the director of KW suddenly realized that Mr Worch’s participation was to be expected, the event was definitively and for us surprisingly cancelled. The reasons – as formulated during a discussion with us – were: we essentially changed the project three days prior to the event; and the director decided that Mr Worch was not permitted to enter KW.

 

We proposed to change the concept of the event in a way that would not allow for saying that “Nazis were given a stage.” Ultimately, after a few minutes KW broke off the discussion because we were causing distrust. We were generously advised several times to look for a different venue. How cute, for originally they had invited us…

As soon as it became clear that Mr Worch would be attending, we communicated this. For whoever is interested we can disclose the entire timeline. We definitely did not make any essential changes on short notice. The project had been conceived and discussed in this manner from the very beginning.

 

We were alienated that the directorship of the institution had obviously no interest in talking about the content, the questions and statements we had prepared or the clips we were going to play – which would have certainly made clearer which facets of the ideology and practice as well as the personality of a Nazi we would have examined and highlighted for the critical reception of the visitors.

 

After proposing to “diffuse” the event, we were also alienated by the statement that Mr Worch was not even allowed to enter the KW in our company.

 

Again, explicitly, in case somebody hasn’t understood it yet: we don’t like Nazis. Not at all. This is why we have been active against them for years. What we do find interesting on the other hand is finding new and unconventional strategies. We believe that we don’t find ourselves at the eve of a Nazi-takeover; we believe that we can self-confidently confront Nazis; we believe that in order to further develop social strategies against the Right it is sometimes necessary to engage functionaries of this camp in direct discussions. Which then poses the question: in which context can we speak? We thought that the way in which we understand art and its context could allow for addressing even the awkward topics of our reality and that the Berlin Biennale – particularly due to its current attitude – could provide the context for such a discussion. Both the Biennale and other parties explicitly supported us in this.

 

We don’t accept the subcutaneous criticism from the directorship of the KW that we acted irresponsibly. Our caution is reflected both in the fact that we followed the requested PR politics and in the way that we have dealt with the process ever since February. It has never been our aim to protect Nazis. Or to produce propaganda. Or riots. We would have liked to present this evening to our audience – to the many people with whom we had previous discussions, weighing all the doubts about the project, and to all others who would have been interested in attending. When we told the KW that we didn’t expect our audience to lose its democratic certainty upon being presented and confronted with Mr Worch, we got the following answer: that one couldn’t be so sure about this.

 

Now, that might apply to your audience but certainly not to ours! But sure, go ahead and send them into the courtyard to the children’s birthday party of the poor Occupy-people.

 

We cannot do anymore than to thank Artur for trusting in us and paying him respect for the attitude that one also has to confront controversial and socially virulent topics. We apologize to our numerous helpers for their unnecessary intellectual work. We apologize to the audience for the raised expectations and thank Mr Christian Worch for his willingness to confront critical questions.

 

The directorship of KW we wish as much success for their heroic and ingeniously prescient antifascism as regarding their inner organization – and us a nice week. A week without art.

CANCELLED: “An Evening without Christian Worch” by BRIMBORIA Institute

“An Evening without Christian Worch” is a performance examination of the handling of Nazi issues in the public realm. On June 26, 2012, guests will be invited to attend an event to which Christian Worch, the leading figure of the right-wing extremist Freie Kameradschaftsszene [...]More >

7-berlin-biennale-brimboria-institut

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

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The taboo-breaking 7th Berlin Biennale

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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 >
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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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