The 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art wants you to scoff at the present. DIS, a New York based art collective the curated this year’s Biennale, chose the theme: The Present in Drag. The Present in Drag was less queer in nature (as one would assume with the title) and more minimalist and Internet-interested. Elements of product design, disorienting realism, and flippant critique were central to the curatorial handiwork. After seeing all of the work at the five venues I found three pieces to the most interesting:
Signals – Alexandra Pirici
(KW Institute for Contemporary Art)
Like some sort of sweet pale memory, or a lost key that reappears and is lost again, Pirici’s piece Signals links the distant with the near. In Signals, the disorienting ultra-personal space of the Internet is held in complexity and partnership with human contact and interaction. Greeted by three screens with lists of algorithms that calculate meaning and information; audience members at the KW Institute browse through and select content from the “Top 30 Most Relevant Stories” to be enacted live. Playing with space and imagination I was pulled into a relationship with mass content. The most intimate exchange of information during the piece, was when a performer enacted Playboy interviewing an Instagram model for their first less-nude magazine release. The performer looked me in the eye, tilted their head to the side, held up a pretend cell-phone, and whispered “hi”. Many of the pieces in the Berlin Biennale play with mass information, but Signals is an exquisite embodiment of the emotional aspects of so-called post-internet living.
Homeland – Halil Altindere
(Akademie Der Künste)
“My home is a mist and divided… it is possible for the sea to be a tomb… I have a homeland, I will return even if the time is prolonged” (Mohammad Abu Hajar).
Halil Altindere’s video Homeland addresses Berlin as a site of relocation and critiques the continued failures of Germany to respond in a humanizing way to the crisis of forced migration. Mohammad Abu Hajar, a rapper from Syria now based in Berlin wrote and rapped the song accompanied in Homeland. “I am resisting, I will be exhausted” says Hajar. When will the neoliberal nation state respond with urgency? There were many videos in the Berlin Biennale, but Altindere’s piece contained the most urgency and artistic vision.
Positive Pathways (+) – GCC
A voice comes from the speakers and delivers a speech about victory, triumph, and the need for a positive attitude as I look upon a running track, piles of sand, and 2 statues engaging in an energy-healing practice. GCC, the group that created Positive Pathways (+), is a collective that focuses on the ideologies, material culture, and state-corporate paradoxes of the Arab Gulf states. Their focus on “positive energy” movements in this piece critique the New Age California start-up culture that has pushed its way into the Arab Gulf states. The focus on this either/or, positive verses negative way of engaging with the world within the installation successfully points to the spread of global neoliberalism and New Age philosophies that ultimately decentralize the reality of oppression and warfare. The installation pulls the consciousness of the art-goer into a space of engagement the spread of philosophies filtered through the powers of the West.