The sixth Berlin Art Week opens across venues in the German capital today, running Sep 13 to 17.
In an effort to disentangle the vast, city-wide program for an AQNB audience, we’ve put together a list navigating the heady combination of festivals, fairs, exhibitions, performances and special events. Some highlights include, a Berlin Community Radio night of art, wellness and shopping the new BCR merchandise line on Thursday and the opening of the Harun Farocki retrospective at NBK, with an accompanying group exhibition, featuring Candice Breitz, Samson Kambalu and others, at SAVVY.
If an artist alias can serve as a hint, the slightly misspelled word ssaliva certainly evokes a clammy biological imagery. It belongs to François Boulanger, a seasoned producer from Liège, a middle-sized city in eastern Belgium. Boulanger has operated over the last few years under different monikers including Cupp Cave and Kingfisherg. In the past his watery sounds have leaned in different directions, from synth ambience through retrofuturist vaporwave to sample-based sci-fi. It’s often playful and makes you think of eating gummy bears. His output is prolific and has been released on labels like Brussels’ Vlek, as well as Not Not Fun, Ekster and Bepotel. For his latest record 4s4 —a limited release 12-inch 180 gram vinyl launched via Berlin’s Edition Société at the gallery space on September 15 —inaugurates a release and event series curated by Berlin-based producer Club Cacao.
The cover of ssaliva’s EP features a green jelly font sign spread across a hyperrealised bed of sand and minerals reflecting artificial light. It’s the artist’s joint effort with Brussels-based artist and sculptor Xavier Mary, who’s interested in the ever-evolving dichotomies of things like history versus modernity, online and offline, candor versus irony. These contradictions are reflected in a song like ‘spellbound’ premiering through aqnb, and sounding like a lazy lake cruise scored by an unknown string instrument sonically resembling drops dropping into water. ssaliva always keeps his listener in doubt of whether we’re dealing with the natural or the artificial, inviting us into a world of his own.
4S4 comprises four other-worldly tracks, viscerally organic and soft but at the same time mechanically cold. The title song sneaks in slowly like futuristic cyberbugs parasitizing a grand piano. ssaliva continues to explore a sonic world stretched between the human and non-human as he did in the past on his album Pantanin for Leaving Records. In 4s4, Boulanger fuses stone-cold voice synthesizers with the unbridled chaos of nature’s microcosm. ‘no’ rattles and shakes with motoric squeaks similar to the insectile sound-palette of Lotic’s ‘Agitations’. Then again, ‘protection 2’ simulates the gentle chords of an acoustic guitar, taking the listener back to the immediate here and now and the idea of human agency. ssaliva multiplies layers of the song with background noises akin to a hissing smoke machine. It fuels our imagination with visions of AI objects gaining human features and subjectivity, a suspended state of becoming.**
After a never long enough Summer break Berlin Art Week hit the city with the four day fair and gallery nights along with numerous other events. In a press conference a week before Avatara Plenara Zeitstipendia step forward as the main sponsor of the art week. Dressed in a grey tracksuits with pale faces they present themselves as the the parliamentary embodiment of the needs of the 10,000 artists living in Berlin, demanding more structural funding and support for them, and stating that this year would be the last of the city-wide art event. Performance artists and ‘avatars’ Sabina Reinfeld and Ulf Aminde are right, the number of artists in the city is always growing, while at the same time funding stays the same. Hopefully, though, it isn’t all over.
The weekend before that, curated by_vienna begins in the Austrian capital, where it’s galleries open with a series of exhibitions focusing on curators and a selection of artists outside the regular program. Myriam Ben Salah, curator of special projects at Palais de Tokyo, chooses selects a group of Middle Eastern artists for the Like the deserts miss the real exhibition in Galerie Steinek. Prints on the windows show the luxurious interior of Grand Emirates Hotel in Dubai. Shiny marble floors, chandeliers and palm trees are photographed and presented by the GCCart collective. In ’Saudi Automobile’ (2012) Sarah Abu Abdallah paints a wrecked car in light pink colour in the hope that she can one day drive to work in her home country.
Abdallah is also showing at abc art berlin contemporaryart fair in Germany, her digital prints and the video ’The Salad Zone’ (2013) showing at the Saudi Arabian gallery Athr booth. Nearby, ‘Field Walkers’ (2015) byLizzie Fitch/ Ryan Trecartin is presented by Berlin-, London- and now recently LA-based Sprüth Magers. A glossy organic shaped form with leaves sticking out stands on two iron-net platforms and accompanied by stretched tennis balls, along with prints of digitally modified faces and interiors in pattern frames. Other booths give an impression of being a merch table for the average art fan.Timur Si-Qin ‘Truth by Peace’ t-shirts are being soldat Société, along with Bunny Rogers’ Columbine Library artist’s book and other objects.
Digital images of hyperreal female body parts stick out of white foam, shiny female heads with surprised expressions fall through white cushions. Kate Cooper continues her study on gender roles and autonomy within image production and distribution in her new series of works presented at abc by Neumeister Bar-Am. Later during the week Cooper –along with her fellow Auto Italia organisers and ‘Refugee Phrasebook’ co-founder Paul Feigelfeld –takes part in a round table discussion at ACUD. Organised by Lensbased, the class of Hito Steyerl, and connected to their show IMAGE IS A VIRUS // ON ACTIVISM, conversation covers the possibilities and difficulties of activism in the internet age.
Steyerl herself opens Left To Our Own Devices that same week. It’s her first solo gallery show in Germany, which is surprising in light of the artist’s considerable success and the very fact she’s representing the country at this year’s 56th Venice Biennale. Steyerl’s ‘Liquidity Inc.’ (2014) screens in a dimly lit space scattered with comfortable fat boys, along with other recent videos as part of KOW’sOne Year of Filmmakers program. Partly fictional, the seven chapter performance lecture ‘Duty Free Art’ (2015) explores the development of Syria’s cultural landscape that never was due to civil war, along with issues of Free Port Fine Art storage services. Popping up in Switzerland, Luxembourg and most recently in Asia these free trade zones create platforms for art to be sold and exchanged, tax-free and behind locked doors.
Devoted to the area east of the former Berlin wall and all the way to China, Dschinn and Dschuice is the result of Slavs and Tatars’ ongoing investigation into the potential of language. ‘Alphabet Abdal’ (2015) is a woven carpet, elevated from the ground, connecting the two rooms of Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler. The Arabic characters on the carpet seem to be running in the same direction, heading straight to the bowl of bubbling red water in the adjoining room. The fountain, ‘Reverse Joy’ (Kha) (2012), addresses the role of a never-ending protest movement, inspired by celebration during the month of Muharram, that this year coincidentally started the same week as the Berlin Art Week.
Curated by Franziska Sophie Wildförster of Vienna’s Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Abjects group exhibition at Import Projects features new work by Eloïse Bonneviot, Emily Jones, Paul Kneale, Yuri Pattison and Andrew Norman Wilson.Future Gallery, which until recently shared a location with the Charlottenberg space, uses its old location on Mansteinstrasse for Matt Goerzen’s Low Floor, No Ceiling. One hundred dollar computers from the One Laptop per Child initiative are placed facing down on the Future II floor. Thick threads lead from the computers to sensitive fabrics attached near the ceiling, parachutes. The same threads lead to a child-like drawing, connecting those objects together. On the wall hangs a drawn print of networks, where connections have been made from computers, to clouds, to users. There’s something that’s dysfunctional though, as the press release mentions that the computers were highly secured, limiting the user’s permission and privileges.
Based on intercity friendship, Aaron Graham and Bryan Morello‘s Send Cycle plays with the internet that enabled their unofficial collaboration begun in 2009. With each artist based in NY and LA respectively, this communication becomes central to the joint exhibition at Neumeister Bar-Am. Along with images of their own set up scenes and material found online framed on the gallery’s walls, Graham and Morello construct a miniature apartment. Pixeled domestic images cover the walls and various objects are situated in the diorama, a microphone along with a glass of water is in one of them. Another mike is situated in a lit up corner, placed on an irregular pile of clothes, perhaps to emphasize the ongoing conversation circulating between the two artists.
In the same building, another space has been establishing itself during the last year, with The Composing Rooms opening its doors to the Windoes group exhibition. Mostly two dimensional works from Harm Van den Dorpel, Body by Body, Sofia Leiby, Miltos Manetas and more are attached to a fine wooden square-like structure in the space, with the placement of the works being set to change throughout the exhibition. It’s part of an art week the extends beyond just Berlin borders, with images, artworks and ideas circulating internationally, in spite of themselves and with the sort of resilience that a group like Avatara Plenara Zeitstipendia would hope for. **
Carla Scott Fullerton‘s If these walls had ears and Tyra Tingleff‘s I gave the postman your name exhibitions are on at Berlin’s Chert gallery, opening September 15 and running to October 31 and 17 (respectively).
The two exhibitions open as a part of the fourth Berlin Art Weekstarting the same night. The Norwegian Tingleff takes the poignant phrase by writer Gertrude Stein “emotional paragraphs are made up of unemotional sentences” and applies it to her layered paintings. Glasgow-based artist Fullerton’s If these walls had ears exhibition perhaps tellingly supplements its press release with no words at all.
The fourth Berlin Art Week is taking over the German city this week, running from September 15 to September 20 at various locations throughout Berlin.
Like every year, the city explodes with art, with the abc art berlin contemporary and Positions Berlin art fairs both opening on Thursday, as well as over 20 institutional exhibitions, project spaces and private collections, and a stacked lineup of ceremonies, gallery nights, performances, talks and screenings.
Alone and in silence is the perfect way to see Marguerite Humeau’s latest exhibition at Import Projects and I just got lucky, I guess, shuffling into the gallery as it closed and walking undisturbed through the whole brilliant spectacle. But what can words do to describe Humeau’s Horizons? Language falls flat when passions soar, and awe was the only emotion I could concretely feel walking through the haunting three-room installation. All too often, the story behind an exhibition ends up more fascinating than the work itself, the two appearing to have little in common, as though the true artist was the person responsible for the press release. In Horizons, however, the work and the story weave around each other flawlessly, for once telling the same whimsical story.
In the far right of the gallery hangs a massive black shape, a vibrating fighter jet blown up to life-size in black PVC rubber, suspended from the wall and looming diagonally across the room. Around the spaceship, a sound installation forms: a low, ominous hum that builds steadily and crashes ecstatically in unison with those filtering in from the next room. The fighter jet, the story tells us, is caught mid-flight in its fictional journey to Europa, the icy moon of Jupiter, and we catch up with it in the following room as an installation of an air cannon exploding black dust onto a crisp white wall simulates the jet’s crash into the moon’s surface.
The execution of the pieces is impressive enough, the emptiness of the gallery made stark by the harrowing sounds that bounce off the walls with frenzied insistence, but it is in the story that the installations find their value. Two years ago, in the underwater volcanos found along the ice caps of Antarctica and thought to be the closest earthly equivalent to Europa’s enigmatic climate, scientists discovered an unidentified species capable of surviving without light or oxygen, communicating only by a combination of sound, black powder, and light—the most alien-like creatures found to date. Humeau’s journey in Horizons is not to the moons of Jupiter per se but to the outer edges of our imagination, to the star-eyed notion that we are not alone and never have been.
Having travelled to future dimensions in the far corners of the solar system, the last of Humeau’s installations takes the viewer to primitive times with ‘The Opera of Prehistoric Creatures’. Two large white sound-producing sculptures are fastened side by side, abstracted from concrete shape but evocative of the long-extinct entelodont or “hell pig” and the ancient mammoth. With the help of palaeontologists, zoologists, surgeons and, among others, engineers, their imagined cries are re-constructed from old fossils, using everything from windpipes and synthetic larynges to AI systems and resonance cavities to give voice to these “frankenstinian sonic agents”. Combined with the grating trinkle of Humeau’s ‘Angelic Organ’, reconstructed from an 18th-century instrument banned due to its rumoured ability to drive listeners insane and marking the entrance to the gallery, the impression of Horizons is captivating, maddening. It is both senseless and completely coherent, a not-too-gentle push into the shadows of imagination and towards a knowledge generated only “through the impossibility of reaching the object of investigation”.
Perhaps it says something about me that I could have stayed for hours in Humeau’s dark, imagined universe but when confronted with Kate Cooper’s CGI-assisted show, RIGGED, at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, I wanted only to flee. Nothing is more discomfiting in our modern age than high-definition reality.
Like Humeau, who won the Berlin Art Week Jury Choice award for Horizons, Cooper’s two-storey exhibition won her this year’s acclaimed Schering Stiftung Art Award. Standing in front of a large screen on to which RIGGED’s only video work is projected, I can understand why, even if I don’t much enjoy what I’m looking at. A woman’s body, slipping in and out of HD realism, is seen from various angles, performing various tasks. She runs. She lies. She stares at the camera with dead eyes enhanced to flicker. In photographic works displayed on the higher connecting floor, she is seen exposing her teeth, around which silver braces and a grey plastic mouthguard are fastened. Despite the visible discomfort, her mouth rests in a soft smile.
The aesthetic of the show is repulsive to anyone who, like me, was raised in the age of high resolution. Why else would we filter every photo we take to show wear that was never really there? Looking at the fictional CGI-perfected woman, bought as a stock image by Cooper online and derived from no living human body, the commodification of the self as a reality of the modern world is unavoidable, especially if that self is a woman’s self. Her body, pore-less and hairless and smoothed of all error, is not ours, does not resemble ours, but is nevertheless meant to represent our own flawed bodies, implicitly widening the gap between the reality of our experience and its latent expectation.
The labour of this visual creation is the Auto Italia co-founder’s locus – the human labour inherent in the making of an animated character, but also the labour it relieves humans of as “expensive yet unpaid figures [begin] performing on our behalf” and purely fictional characters start to take on the roles of living ones. But walking through the dark exhibition room aglow with the impossible skin of an imagined body, all I can read in all this is the labour of being a woman. It is a woman, after all, whose body is used to sell everything from automobiles to lettuce and a woman who became the unattainable and idealized star of Spike Jonze’s latest film Her, which tells you a lot if you really think about it. It’s her body around which laws created by corpulent white men are based, this prescribed prison that artist Hannah Black rebels against in her video, ‘My Bodies‘. Though we can pretend that in this near-future, the idealized, commodified self could easily have been a man, Cooper’s show, almost despite itself, seems implicitly to answer: it only ever could have been a woman. **
Exhibition photos for Marguerite Humeau’s Horizons (2014), top-right.
Berlin Art Week is a collaboration between eleven of Berlin’s leading contemporary art institutions, this year running from September 17 to 22. With four of them joining up this year to present painting exhibitions under the Painting Forever! banner some may have felt that the event was skewed towards the more traditional arts. But elsewhere in the program it went the other way. At the art fair, abc – art berlin contemporary, painted canvases were a rare sight, with time-based and site-specific works rising to the fore. Moreover, the addition of ten new institutions to the program, the majority of them project spaces, allowed for a more diverse and experimental program, a noticeable trend being an abundance of performance-based works. With many of the major institutions simply opening their six-month long exhibition projects, performance allowed the art week to be what it purports –a temporary and experience based affair.
abc continues to maintain that it is not strictly an art fair, despite being an event which invites galleries to present artists. Its main point-of-difference lies in its sprawling interior architecture (which dispenses with traditional white booths), and encourages larger installations and site-specific works. This year more than ever, galleries seemed to respond to abc’s more experimental format, exhibiting more ephemeral applications. One such was Laura Lima’s work, presented byBrazil’s A Gentil Carioca) where a hand reached from underneath a white wall, struggling to grasp some keys placed just out of reach. Occasional passers-by kicking the keys closer only to have them thrown-away again, the hand continuing its fruitless search.
Meanwhile, performance was incorporated into the format with independent Parisian art-space Shanaynay curating an area where selected galleries staged two-hour-long exhibitions. While these shows ranged from more literal executions (a woman wielding a bull whip), to behind-the-scenes preparation (walls being painted), the nature of the display and its fixed duration, rendered all of these exhibitions performance. While this idea of a performed exhibition is not a new concept, it was a very fitting one for abc, which is seems to be encouraging and attracting time-based arts and innovative modes of display.
While abc displayed the exhibition-as-performance, Schinkel Pavillon, a space for contemporary sculpture, displayed the studio-as-performance. Over four-days the Viennese relational art group, Gelitin, created sculptures based on their conversations with twelve Berlin-based artists. Each evening the group exhibited a kind of open-studio where they would create the sculptures. Kicking aside some paint-splattered balloons, I entered the space late on a Saturday to see a stage strewn with garbage, half-formed sculptures and random objects. Minimal synth music played while a monotonous voice read from a German text. One artist was making hot chocolate, while another, a manly looking guy wearing plastic boobs, drilled together some broken chairs. A fourth, wearing an apron and a “Josef Boys” t-shirt, attempted to bring some order to the space, picking up rubbish and arranging objects. After Thursday’s performance, Bpigs’ Adela Lovric wrote: “if somebody wanted to make a cliché portrait of Art, it would look pretty much like Schinkel Pavillon yesterday.” But this total cliché also seemed more than a little tongue-in-cheek. Being performed was a kind of ultimate sculptors studio, a hedonistic space allowing maximal experimentation. And with the knowledge that Gelatin were making art-works based on other artists’ ideas, their sculptures seemed more performance and parody than original creation.
Worlds away from the tactile messiness at Schinkel, was the slicker and technologically savvy performance curated by MOMENTUM; a platform for time-based art in Berlin. In an interdisciplinary performance at the Collegium Hungaricum Berlin, ballet dancer Emi Hariyama interacted with projected light and digital animation created by Dr. Marcus Doering. In the first and most refined section, a shifting outline of Hariyama was projected onto her body, giving her a flickering neon halo. This trace then proliferated, so that various digital bodies moved in increasing delay from the original figure. As the performer moved through a variety of interactive effects, the performance began to feel like a series of increasingly novel tricks, each based on the premise that the dancer was triggering changes in the digital imagery. So while there were moments of innovation, it also fulfilled every expectation that might arise from the description “multimedia contemporary dance”.
The most pure forms of performance art were at a survey of Turkish artists, presented as part of a longer running project by the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.) and TANAS. Held inside the decadent Art Nouveau theatre of HAU 1, performances seemed to address conventions of classical theatre and performance. Ayşe Erkmen’s work ‘7 Times’ (2013), saw a large metal bar, the kind that would usually hold large set backdrops, lowered and raised seven times. The sound of the bar dropping managed to convey the promise of a scene-change without ever delivering one. Annika Kahrs’ work ‘Strings’ (2010), entailed members of a classical string quartet changing places during the performance, forcing each musician to play instruments they had little proficiency in.
Across the different forms of performance art at Berlin Art Week, there seemed to be a preference for cross-disciplinary works. In two instances, performance was treated as a condition that could be applied to something else: abc “performed” exhibitions, Schinkel Pavillon “performed” an artists studio. MOMENTUM presented the most obvious coming-together of different mediums, while pieces for n.b.k and TANAS used contemporary performance to reinterpret more traditional theatrical forms. As performance art becomes increasingly included in the kind of big art events that it used to be largely excluded from, there seems to be a tendency to show it in reference to other art forms. So while this year’s performance inclusions at Berlin Art Week proved interesting, it could also be presented as a stand-alone medium. **
Berlin Art Week runs across venues in Berlin, Germany, annually in September.
Header image: Emi Hariyama, Marcus Doering, Lower Order Ethics and Peter Kirn, ‘Thresholds’ (2013) @ Collegium Hungaricum Berlin. Photo byJessyca Hutchens.