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. **
Header image: Emi Hariyama, Marcus Doering, Lower Order Ethics and Peter Kirn, ‘Thresholds’ (2013) @ Collegium Hungaricum Berlin. Photo by Jessyca Hutchens.