Berlin Art Week 2015 Press Tour Diary

I’m riding the U-Bahn. The train whirls snake-like beneath the streets of Neukölln. I blend in amidst the everyday commuters, though I feel like a fraud. I’m in this city but not of it – a recent arrival with inflated dreams and inadequate language skills. My shiny shoes and business jacket project a false image to the beggar who turns away with an expression of distaste when I hold out my empty hands. It’s my one good outfit, mate, and my change ain’t spare. It’s my train ride home. Really. Welcome to the glamorous world of freelance art writing.

 The fourth iteration of Berlin Art Week is here

Stadt/Bild press conference and Press Tour intro.

Stadt/Bild press conference and Press Tour intro.

The fourth iteration of Berlin Art Week is here. It brings together a host of exhibitions, fairs, projects, events, etc. This series of happenings is shoehorned into an affiliated package, which receives funding from public and private purses eager to market Berlin’s bohemian image. It makes for a compelling spectacle. The Press Tour kicked off at KW Institute for Contemporary Art on Monday 14th. Bringing together representatives of major institutions, curators, artists, and of course media representatives – print, television, and radio journalists, bloggers, freelancers, etcetera. The initial conference also marked the launch of Stadt/Bild, a cooperative venture between four of the participating institutions – Berlinische Galerie, Deutsch Bank Kunsthalle, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, and Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Stadt/Bild addresses the processes of museums, urban development, social cultural and aesthetic dimensions of the city as a thematic.

 

Killer piece of cutting edge contemporary art strategically placed in the gents

Killer piece of cutting edge contemporary art strategically placed in the gents

I’m sitting in the crowded conference room of KW. It’s burgeoning with an assembled throng of serious-looking people. I try to blend in, projecting dispassionate attentiveness

Though a lurking sense of not belonging, that rests somewhere in the depths of my psyche or in the marrow of my bones, could only ever be exacerbated by a room full of purposeful people. Why is there? That question belongs with others like ‘why are there mountains?’ or ‘why are there stars?’ The only answer I have is that now isn’t the time for an internal self-help monologue. I shuffle in my seat. A stylish woman introduces the assembled panel of officials with designer glasses and meaningful, pensive expressions. Right now, for one pulsing minute, this is probably the global epicenter of that nebulous entity referred to as ‘The Artworld’.

 “The subconscious, potentially dangerous counterpart of the controlled urban environment.”

Welcome to the Jungle is KW’s offering, and the first port of call for the press tour after the conference. According to a press release the jungle referenced in the title symbolises: “the subconscious, potentially dangerous counterpart of the controlled urban environment.” That inevitable shadow of the human psyche that bleeds around the edges of the best intentions of urban planners is perhaps the central factor in the impossibility of utopia. People, with all their chaos and unpredictability, are the city. It’s a collective dream, a heterogeneous jumble of intersecting experiences, myths, habits, and desires. This show could be similarly described. It’s a jungle. It’s impossible not to think of Axl Rose crowing, “You know where you are? You’re in the jungle, baby. You’re gonna die!” In the frenetic stimulus of Art Week, Klaus Weber’s Sand Fountain will remain one of a few stand out mental images.

 I’m afloat in a sea of incomprehension

The trouble with a language you barely understand is that individual words stand out like a baboon’s ass. Instead of just flowing through the dialogue your mind latches onto bulbous flashes of recognition, isolating them from context. The curator of me Collection Room’s selection of Cindy Sherman photographs is carefully describing biography, cultural context, philosophies of collection and so on. I’m afloat in a sea of incomprehension. Day to day I get through with phrases like: “Ich spreche Deutsch nicht so gut, aber ich verstehe ein bisschen.” My language comprehension is fine for the supermarket, the hairdresser, the café. Though Right now my bisschen of verstehen ain’t worth the neurons it’s stored in. Nonetheless, this is fun.

Some of Cindy Sherman's offerings at the Me Collector's Room.

Some of Cindy Sherman’s offerings at the Me Collector’s Room.

 Sherman has worked ceaselessly since the 1970s – the imagery on show displays an extensive range of content and technique

Cindy Sherman – Works from the Olbricht Collection is on display at Me Collector’s Room Berlin. There are 65 pictures all told, and they cover the span of the American photographer’s career. Sherman has worked ceaselessly since the 1970s – the imagery on show displays an extensive range of content and technique. Sherman herself was centrally involved in the curation of this collection of works – bringing her own focus and emphasis to her artistic trajectory. This is an extensive collection of posed photographs and self-portraiture with a visceral feel. The Collector’s Room is also right next door to KW, which makes checking out the two an easy and rewarding proposition.

 

 I ask if I can contact him in relation to an article and I’m quietly stoked when he passes me a card. It reads “The man without a job”

Mostly when people wear sunglasses inside they look stupid. Yet when Simon Njami does it somehow he just exudes cool. We’re at Deutschbank Kunsthalle and Njami is offering a perspective on the exhibition Xenopolis, which he curated. He talks about the inherently subjective experience of the city, how each individual encounters it uniquely, how a city is a labyrinth or a type of myth. It fits intriguingly with my own relationship to Berlin. This exhibition speaks to me more than the others. Perhaps it’s just the fact that Njami talks in English and I can actually understand. He cracks a couple of lines and asks for questions. I ask if I can contact him in relation to an article and I’m quietly stoked when he passes me a card. It reads “The man without a job”. Tomorrow I’ll interview Simon. He’ll give me 30 minutes of condensed thought, built on a lifetime of reading, writing, thinking. But that’s another story.

 

Simon Njami takes a question.

Simon Njami takes a question.

Njami explores the notion of a capital city as a free zone, an evolving, self-replicating myth, belonging to nobody but being lived by many

Xenopolis at Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle explores ideas of the city as a multicplicity, an evolving discourse, an organism. Curator Simon Njami brought together the work of a range of artists exploring the notions of belonging, home, and foreignness with regards to the contemporary urban metropolis. “The city is a discourse and this discourse is truly a language: the city speaks to its inhabitants, we speak our city, the city where we are, simply by living in it, by wandering through it, by looking at it.” This text fragment by Roland Barthes was a point of engagement for Njami in his development of the curatorial framework for this exhibition. Njami explores the notion of a capital city as a free zone, an evolving, self-replicating myth, belonging to nobody but being lived by many. In a time of increased global migration as a consequence of conflict and climate change this discourse is more relevant than ever.

 I’m amazed at contemporary art’s never ending ability to mine and repackage the past and compress it into a self-referential, elitist in-game.

In the courtyard in front of the Hamburger Bahnhof, it’s happening. What is it? Well if I were to put my finger on it I’d have to say it was a press conference. Though, evidently I’m mistaken. It’s a ‘Happening’. I quench my thirst with a bottle of what appears to be water, though ‘One Ordinary Happening’ is printed plainly on its label. A server brings a carton of such bottles to a nearby table. That’s a lot of ordinary happenings. Someone else is passing out colourful frozen lolly-water, another aspect of this ‘happening’. I grab one of those too, and have to tear it open with my teeth. Most undignified. This is an enjoyable enough happening, though in truth it seems kind of staged and self-conscious. I guess that’s inevitable to a point, though I wonder what Allan Kaprow would make of this. Perhaps he’d laugh. Perhaps he’d shrug. Personally I’m amazed at contemporary art’s never ending ability to mine and repackage the past and compress it into a self-referential, elitist in-game.

 

A lot of ordinary happenings

A lot of ordinary happenings

The 1967 event brought teams of volunteers together across Los Angeles to build rectangular ice walls that were left to melt as a form of participatory public engagement

The Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin Presents Fluids. A Happening by Allan Kaprow 1967/2015. This project sees Four Berlin artists engage in Contemporary interpretations of Allan Kaprow’s Fluids from 1967. This series of engagements with public space are both participatory and performative, creating new iterations of the American artist’s seminal work. The 1967 event brought teams of volunteers together across Los Angeles to build rectangular ice walls that were left to melt as a form of participatory public engagement. Fluids was also reinvented in Zurich in 2005 and LA in 2008, though Kaprow himself said: “While there was an initial version of Fluids, there isn’t an original or permanent work. Rather, there is an idea to do something and a physical trace of that idea. Fluids continues and its reinventions further multiply its meanings.”

The Press Tour went on. So does Berlin Art Week. This article on the other hand is done.

 

Article by Julian McKinnon, a New Zealand journalist and artist living in Berlin.

http://julianmckinnon.net/

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