Saturday, 30 June 2012

Review: 7th Berlin Biennale

Miroslaw Patecki, Christ the King

 This year Berlin held its 7th Biennale. Begun in 1998 it has seen Berlin emerge as one of the art capitals of the world. The 7th Biennale had people talking as soon as the infamous Artur Zmijewski was said to be curating the show.  The Warsaw born curator is known as much as for his ego, as for  his provoking, uncompromising artwork.  His manifesto The Applied Social Arts in which questions such as ‘Does art have any political significance’ and ‘can art change reality’ formed the point of departure for the 7th Berlin Biennale.

   With the heavy political theme running throughout,  it was always going to be an exhibition which provoked and infuriated some, and at the very least made you react. I reacted as soon as I entered the corridor leading up to the first floor of the Kunst – Werke Institute for Contemporary Art. The ground floor had been taken over by the occupy movement (invited by Zmijewski) and for this reason the corridors and stairs were covered in stencil art, and signs put up with peeling pieces of gaffer tape, and scrawled messages. If you wanted the antithesis of a ‘white cube’ space, or exhibition, this was it.

   The first floor saw the space being taken over by a huge head of Jesus, created by Miroslav Patecki. The head was a replica of the one that he created for the Christ statue, Christ the King in Swiebodzin, Poland. Patecki had been working on the polystyrene head throughout the exhibition with part of the gallery space as his workshop. I saw it in its final guise and I couldn’t take it in. The piece was meant to display ‘a perfect face of Christ’, although the disembodied head did little to enlighten my Christian leanings, especially as it was topped with a shoddily made crown which seemed several sizes too big. I feel that I would have gained more than simply bemusement from the piece if I had seen the piece whilst being made.  In its completed state alongside the empty studio space it looked like an oversized prop for a theatre. 

   PM 2010,a work by Teresa Margolles a year’s supply of the  tabloid newspaper covers  published in one of the most dangerous border cities in Mexico. The majority of the pages displayed grainy pictures of fatally shot victims in blood smeared clothing, and next to this, bare breasted models. This juxtaposition of the images seemed too absurd to be true and yet they were.

   In response to Margolles installation, Antanas Mockus, former Mayore of Bogota and political thinker created a piece titled Blood Ties. For the piece he asked people to donate a drop of their blood and choose to sign a legal waiver stating that they would not consume drugs during the Berlin Biennale as a statement against the Mexican drug wars. In conjunction to this a Mexican flag and book were placed on a lever over a bucket of liquid. When people signed the waiver and donated their blood the flag and book were hoisted into safety. When I viewed Blood Ties the flag and book were dipped in the pool of liquid, sodden and water damaged. Apparently due to health and safety regulations visitors were no longer allowed to give blood and thus the piece had stalled, leaving the sodden flag and book dipped in the liquid, and a table messy with the signed declarations of the waiver. 

  On the top most floor of the KW housed Polish artist, Lukasz Surowiec’s  project, Birke. Surowiec had taken Birch Tree saplings from the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau and had planted them throughout Berlin, including two in the courtyard of the KW. The viewer was greeted with tables upon which pots of birch seedlings rested under bright lights, ready to be taken away by the visitor and planted wherever you chose. In a darkened room a video also showed the process of removing the saplings from Auschwitz and then replanting them around Berlin.  I found the idea behind the piece to be beautiful, and there was something moving about seeing the two saplings out in the courtyard on a grey wet day, their thin branches fighting against the wind that made me conclude, that although not all the works exhibited fufill Zmijewski’s manifesto, ones like Birke certainly leave the world a more eloquent, thought provoking place. 

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