The most engaging works in the KW aspect of the 5th Berlin Biennial were predominently videos. I have already posted on the best of these and from the hits on YouTube you appear to agree with me that Ania Molska, is especially praiseworthy, and I would add Patricia Esquivias‘ Folklore #1 which becomes more significant (from a socio-aesthetic standpoint) the more I think about it. David Maljkovic’s video Lost Memories from These Days also deserves honourable mention, because it is a little social-critical gem, especially as we approach the fortieth anniversary of May 1968.
In this post I will examine two more videos worthy of note, which brings the total of significant videos to five. Apart from these videos there were few other striking features at KW apart from the remarkable photo series Park by Kohei Yoshiyuki on which I have posted. The odd thing about Yoshiyuki is that Park is now an historical piece (1971-79) set in the middle of a contemporary exhibition; yet it was head and shoulders above most of the newer stuff on view in KW.
Chinese artist Zhao Liang’s video City Scene, 2004-5 was interesting but not to the extent of Molska, Esquivias, or Maljkovic. It is well-crafted and consists of a medley of striking videographic moments shot in Beijing such as a golfer on wasteground in the midst of a bleak industrialised towerblock housing project; a group of men shown from a distance walking across a grassy urban wasteland and punctuating their walk with urination, and the YouTube cliche of dogs copulating, but this one is cute because one is so large and the other so small. See a video of part of Kim’s video taken in KW below:
In terms of what one might call, for want of a better word, “sculpture” Katerina Šedá’s installation was better than the other “sculpture” in KW, but I was not overly impressed. There was much more sculpture in the other principal venue, the Neue Nationalgalerie but, again, it was distinctly underwhelming apart from Gabriel Kuri’s transposition of the cloakroom onto large, yellow, modernist-looking sculptural configurations, which was intriguing and ingenious; and Susan Hiller contributed an intelligent sound work concerning dead and dying languages. One should also mention the sculpture of Thea Djordjadze which are masterpieces of anti-art and abjection. It is as if her sculptures parody sculpture and scream “I am dying”.
As for the third Biennial venue, the Skulpturenpark, I didn’t see much of it because there are absolutely no directions when you get there, and I forgot the little foldout leaflet guide to the Biennial (above right) which I realise, in retrospect, is totally essential to finding things in the “park”, which is basically a wasteland surrounded by streets and buildings that the dedicated art tourist has to dutifully explore. As for the Schinkel Pavillon venue, don’t bother, unless you have a penchant for designer mirrors (I am not being funny). I thought there was something suspicious about the Schinkel Pavillon suddenly appearing as a venue on the Biennial website only days before the show began. There are also a lot of events going on a night that are not covered in the Biennial leaflet, but you can buy a little book for 5 euro, in fact you get two little books.
But back to the KW Institute: there is a another video, by Sung Hwan Kim, that is intriguing but not immediately engrossing. It is called a video “installation”, and it is remarkable that one can transform a video into an “installation” just by putting some text up on a wall. But in this case the description is accurate because the text is critical to understanding the work. You can read it by clicking the thumbnail above.
VIDEO REMOVED DUE TO COPYRIGHT COMPLAINT TO YOUTUBE FROM SUNG HWAN KIM
The video is not entirely successful, however, because Bergman’s anthropological text is not exactly beautiful prose, and it is read in a particularly flat and monotonous manner. In addition, the poetico-philosophical pretensions of the video—its references to the themes of memory, history, and modernist-postmodernist dictum “all that is solid melts into air” so perceptively articulated in the Communist Manifesto—seem a little laboured. What saves the video is when it relieves the boredom of its intellectual aspirations by using fast motion and introducing a dance routine, both with musical collaboration by dogr. Deconstructing deadly serious socio-political commentary in this manner is attractive and creative; and one thinks here of Jean-Luc Goddard. But although this is not a perfect work of art it is a great deal better than most of the rest of the work in the Biennial. I would certainly look out for Kim’s work in future; and apologies to the artist for uploading the video, but I was on a press pass and was not told I could not take the footage.
As for the rest of KW the best I can do is illustrate it and you can make up your mind for yourself. Personally I thought it was mostly poor, although Michael Auder’s video My Last Bag of Heroin (For Real), 1993, (see above) was at least mildly amusing although distinctly childish. Personally I prefer a little humour to the deathly seriousness that accompanies the post-conceptual art that current German curators seem to value. And there are significant ideological and aesthetic parallels between the apallingly boring Documenta 12, 2007, in Kassel, Germany and the 5th Berlin Biennial.
Of the less interesting parts of KW, the most engaging was an installation by Mona Vatamanu and Florian Tudor which addresses the now generic topic of the end of communism. It consists of two works: Appointment with History 2007 onwards, a series of eleven small paintings, oil on canvas, each 40 x 50cm. Seen by themselves each of these works would not be especially absorbing, but shown together they gain from the “installation” effect, which shows how effective this strategy can be.
The paintings are small and well-executed and show the usual communist cliches: crowds, demonstrations, industry; plus a few allegorical images such as a man holding up what appears to be a government building. These images, which are not especially engrossing in themselves, are significantly enhanced by being combined with an installation consisting of a soundscape of someone reading the Communist Manifesto (in German) and a row of chairs for the party members in front of a podium with a microphone. The chairs are empty unless we sit on them and their emptiness points to the victory of capitalism and the reduction of Marxism to an intellectually sophisticated theory of capitalism, not a recipe for revolution. What I found involving about this installation was that it functions as a reminder of communism in the wake of the collapse of the Berlin Wall which probably did not lead to the absolute utopia that those imprisoned behind the wall might have expected. Communism had its terrible aspects: the dictatorship of the party, the Gulag, the Stasi. But despite the dreadful failure of communism Marxism is still relevant and cannot be entirely forgotten. But if you want to see a more up-to-date and forceful take on the fall of communism and its wake, take a look at my post on the Russian artist group AES+F’s exhibit at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007.
Then we have Daniel Guzman’s offering which is eminently walk-passable, unless you are a fan of Devo. His work also consisted of two parts that might be taken as an “installation” but in this case that would be stretching the definition of installation much too far, there was little resonance between the two parts. And the drawings were as juvenile and uninspiring as the sculpture. This is art college work and not the best at that. Now that’s my opinion, and it may be yours. But how far off beam I am because Guzman (b. 1964, Mexico) has 16,600 hit on a Google search for “Daniel Guzman” plus the keyword “art”. A check on artfacts.net reveals a host of exhibitions. The guy is an art star which is really very worrying.
My personal theory is that we are witnessing what Walter Benjamin predicted in his 1936 Work of Art essay which is the withering away of painting and sculpture. The first assault on these fundamental categories defining artness was Duchamp and Dada, the second was the explosion of post-Duchamp, post-Dada explorations that took place between 1955 and 1975. The third assault was the total acceptance of photography and video as fine art forms in the 1970s and 1990s respectively.
But painting and sculpture, and drawing, will never die because they are perfect collectables. Painting is the perfect work of art because it can hang on the wall and it does not take up too much space. Photography is very good because it’s very like painting; and drawing also has this great advantage, which probably accounts for Guzman’s success. Video is a hassle unless the artist is canny enough to turn the piece into an integrated screen and player that can be hung on the wall like painting. So Guzman’s success can be put down to the fact that he makes collectable object-oriented works, after all the content is no longer especially important, especially because the most interesting and creative artists are making video or radical installation art (Guzman’s claims to make “drawing installation” but this was not apparent in KW).
There was more drawing on offer by the Israeli artist Jacob Mishori. Notice the Germanic, Documenta 12-like political correctness: Guzman is Mexican, Mishori is Israeli. It is as if the choice is primarily based upon political geography rather than on aesthetic impact. Which does not mean I am against political art, or positive discrimination regarding those on the margins of the Euro-American art world. What I do like is to see, however, is some visually compelling art. Mishori’s drawings are obviously praiseworthy from a political standpoint because they are against the right-wing Israeli elements who have caused so much trouble in the Middle East with the backing of the USA. But compared to a video like Doron Solomons’ Father—shown at the Venice Biennale in 2003, and the exhibition Art in the Age of Terrorism—Mishori’s drawings lack the potential for political impact and persuasiveness that cinematic and photographic media possess as inherent features. Painting and drawing used to be the weapons of choice for political messages, but things changed back in 1839 with the advent of the daguerreotype. On the other hand if Mishori is publishing his work as political cartoons in Israeli newspapers and/or magazines then my criticism is immediately invalidated. But seeing his work in an art gallery all I can say is that he is preaching to the converted: the art community.
There is one video artist, Babette Mangolte who I have not mentioned mainly because I found her work eye-wateringly boring. it was pretentious, overly precious, turgidly intellectual and self-consciously “poetic”. It was the worst work in the entire exhibition, which is saying quite a lot. As a fine art cinematographer Mangolte is a lover of the extremely long take. She is part of the genre of video artists who think that pointing a camera at a brick wall is interesting. I am sure the people who loved her work would have also loved Manon De Boer’s tedious homage to John Cage’s 4’33” which I have posted on (artintelligence). The high point of Mangolte’s suite of videos was a dark shot of a door that someone is banging on. Now that was marginally interesting, but as one looked on her work became increasingly painful until it was absolute agony to watch. I guess for some people that is a sign of quality.
Then there was Lili Reynaud-Dewar whose sculpture looked like something one would encounter in an up-market shop window. OK there there is a certain narrative trajectory in the work exhibited above, entitled Les garcons sauvages. On the right of the sculpture there is what appears to be a cape which appears again in the photographs stuck with de rigueur grunge-chic stylishness with electrical insulating tape onto the glass panel jutting out on the left. The close up top right shows this detail. I have seen better.
Lastly I went upstairs and saw Tris Vonna-Michell’s installation Studio A, 2008, which was given an entire floor to itself. When one thinks of the massive amount of installation art that has been produced since the late 1980s, I’m afraid that this particular contribution is insignificant. It was supposed to be immersive, but was fundamentally dark; it was supposed to be narrative, but was fundamentally superficial.