Berlin Biennale / Presenting instead of Exhibiting

The press conference of the 7th Berlin Biennale:
the case of presenting instead of exhibiting

    An Paenhuysen

The 7th Berlin Biennale curated (or shall we say “mobilized”) by the Polish artist Artur Zmijewski used from its start a religious-sounding, redemptive vocabulary. And no, it’s not anything near Joseph Beuys’ work, which has more complexity and irony in its little finger. A new word had to be invented for this Biennale – “under-complex”, a neologism created by the Berlin artist and critic Wolfgang Müller.

His criticism is the only substantial critique that has been written in Germany since the start of the 7th Berlin Biennale’s call for artists (for those who read German: and As such, it was not so wrong that the attention at the Biennale’s press conference was directed towards the responsibility of the journalists.

Let me first sketch the mise-en-scène of the event. The press conference was arranged as a kind of political meeting where the roles got reversed: not the organizers/curators were under scrutiny, but the press was. We were all sitting in a circle around the prominent figures of the event. There was no stage. That way there were, so it was stated in all earnest, no hierarchies between the VIP’s and the audience.

The rest of the “meeting” was, unfortunately, more of the same superficiality and naivety. AZ was mumbling but what I did understand was the following: his aim is “to create something that can survive the Biennale”. He refutes the lack of “solidarity” in the art world. Therefore he wants to establish a “situation where people feel solidarity and express solidarity. ”We were all moved to tears for a second. Yet, the “situation” changed radically when the “Movement” (that is AZ’ “comrades”), were asked to get the ball rolling.

You see, AZ is not “exhibiting” but “presenting” artists: “They can do what they want to do”. To know how one can do politics with art, the simplest thing is to take the political movements into the art space. Logical, isn’t it? Two young men of the Movement (Los Indignados/ The Occupy Movement) took the stage, figuratively speaking of course, to organize the “situation”.

It was a pity that AZ did not come upon the idea to ask two women or at least one man/ one woman to coordinate the debate. So far for branding the no-hierarchies intent. This way it looked like a Nintendo game featuring a hold-up played by men. The tone was accusing, the questions were refreshingly new: who is happy with the functioning of their society? Who wants to change society by his/her writing? Why do we say crazy stuff like “lazy Greeks” in our articles? Which one of us not only writes art reviews but also political pieces? (That art is always political and the political is always aesthetics,was not considered) The intent was to shock the audience, to create a surprise effect, or, even better, to evoke indignation. This would lead to a vibrant debate open for all opinions. As AZ says in his Newspaper: “Some will find this exhibition interesting; some will see it as an abuse; while still others will accuse us of political ignorance.

Whatever happens, we should not lose sight of our main goal: to open access to performative and effective politics that would equip we ordinary citizens with the tools of action and change. Art is one of these tools.” AZ is known for bringing individuals into uncomfortable situations and then to await how the scene unfolds. The press conference was clearly a calculated event coordinated by him, but for what purpose? The Movement’s involvement in the set-up was questionable. They did acknowledge or at least pose the question about what it means for them to act inside an art institution. But that’s as far as they got.

They forgot to question the ones who engaged them (and the journalists did not get the chance). A few suggestions: Talking about capitalism: how much did AZ pay the Auschwitz survivor to renew his tattoo and why is this amount of money not openly part of his piece? Talking about hierarchies, what does it mean when AZ says in an interview that his political view is “masculinist”? And talking about “solidarity”: is that why the Biennial website is exempt of any critical reviews and is only publishing the supportive ones? Who is talking about transparency?

Yet, the conference room emptied quickly and the Berlin Biennale can now continue its redemption of the world, recycle racist books and plant birch trees in school yards. At least we know that the 7th Berlin Biennale might not stay in the head but possibly in the nose, susceptible to poll allergy.

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