Back in July 2018 I got the opportunity to visit Berlin for the Berlin Biennale. Despite previously visiting Berlin on multiple occasions, this year sparked my first visit to the Berlin Biennale. Being in its 10th year as an arts festival across Berlin this felt like an important year to visit as they take the time to reflect on how they have developed and look forward to their future as an arts festival in this ever growing and vibrant city. We don’t need another hero is the title for this year’s Biennale and it had the art scene standing at a cross roads for both contemplation of historical moments and the possibility for new and future political action. As an anniversary for the Biennale it was interesting to see how the organiser’s used this milestone to their advantage or disadvantage and hopefully set the tone for the next few years of the festival.
As a visitor I was approaching the Biennale wearing two hats, my about-to-start-final-year CSM-Fine-Art-student hat and my just-worked-as-production-manager-at-the-new-Coventry-Biennial hat. With these two perspectives in mind I had a very interesting and quite critical experience. I found it very valuable to be in this position, looking both for inspiration and references for my practice and dissertation research as well as also viewing the exhibitions and overall experience from an arts professional viewpoint.
I gave myself a healthy four days to visit Berlin as this gave me enough time to enjoy each of the four venues that the Biennale had to offer. As soon as I arrived I headed off to the first venue which was the Akademie der Künste, the Fine Art Academy in Berlin. For me this space, exhibition and overall feel was not to my liking and somehow I felt like this might have set the tone for the rest of my visit. Having shows in university buildings are always a challenge, fighting against the institution’s architecture and trying to separate itself from any feeling of being a degree show. I also couldn’t help but notice that it had a similar wooden block floor to ‘the street’ in CSM that has been breaking apart for years. However, when taking in the works there were a couple that really stood out for me. One video piece that immediately caught my eye was all voices are mine (2010) by Basir Mahood. Having not much budget and only one day to shoot, the video created comprised of poses and actions alongside other actors. Mahood sees this work as a collaboration between himself and his fellow actors which I feel sits perfectly with the overall concept of the Biennale and also sits well with my own collaborative practice. In contrast to that approach I was also very interested in the work of Sondra Perry and her video in the Biennale, IT’S IN THE GAME ‘17, looks at the forces that control space and analyses its sometimes problematic ways of classification and reading.
As the main venue for the Biennale, the KW Institute for Contemporary Art did not disappoint. Spanning the whole of the gallery, KW managed to engulf me into its many spaces and house me for a few hours. Showing artists that have helped define what this institution is was a powerful way to set the tone for the show and created a rich selection of artists for the Biennale. Personal highlights were Fabiana Faleiros’ Mastur Bar – a travelling bar that offers an extended programme beyond the walls of the Biennale. From celebrating female masturbation through music and a social space to performances looking at the use of our fingers and gestures, the multi sided project within the mini basement area of KW acted as a curious oasis within the show.
The venue that has stuck with me since my visit has been the Volksbühne Pavilion; an interesting glass construction situated next to the Volksbühne Theatre. Having a rich history of housing previous artists’ projects and performances, this space housed Las Nietas De Nonó’s interactive installation for the duration of the Biennale, opening up the space for performances and participation. As an installation in itself it felt very intriguing for such a small space and almost acted as a little utopia. It gave off similar feelings to Post Modern Plant Life, a 1 week artist residency I took part in housed in an artificial hot house in Leamington Spa; especially with its use of portable technologies, plants and cooking tools. Despite visiting the space when no event was happening, I felt that this space acted as the centre of many discussions within the Biennale and that by being located in this space that the future was ready for us and we were ready for it with camping stoves and selfie sticks.
My final day saw me getting the tube over to ZKW-Center for Art and Urbanistics to catch the last show of the Biennale. Using the 10th Biennale as a moment to re-establish connections with collectives that previously used the space felt very potent and this could clearly be felt in the works exhibited. Even though initially I felt as though I’d entered a political underground Berlin club in the middle of the day when absorbing work, when it came to seeing Heba Y. Amin’s project rightly named Anti-Control Room I was left blown away. Unnervingly blurring the lines between history, present day and the potential futures, Amin created an incredibly in-depth project that explores utopian visions and alternative political worries. The multi-channel video left me both in awe and in turmoil being faced with an alternative reality that in many ways we are already playing out in our own parallel universe.
Coming away from Berlin and my first Biennale visit I was left with an interesting mix of opinions and feelings. As a visitor coming at a quiet time in their public programme I peacefully made my way around the venues alone taking in the shows and exploring Berlin, which made my visit very subdued and flat. However, what came from uncovering the subtle decisions in selection and curation of the different shows built up a much more lasting effect on my Biennale experience that I would not have previously expected. Building on previous relationships, expanding programmes and addressing political issues collectively with new and exciting artists, the Biennale, despite feeling quite tame on first meeting, tackled some very important issues and have set themselves up as an arts festival for an exciting few years ahead. We definitely don’t need another hero, we just need a lot more cooperation.