Summer 2016: It is Berlin Biennale time!

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Evans oor
Cecile B. Evans, What the Heart wants @ KW

“Confusion is the new luxury”. It sounds like an advertisement motto. Or a life mantra.  Or both. But actually it is a series by the Canadian artist Shawn Maximo. For the Berlin Biennale,  which ran from June 4th- September 18th, he designed a bathroom slash kitchen slash info center slash meditation space. And it summarizes this 9th edition pretty damn well.

This summer Gallery Quest worked for and toured at the overal exiting and broadly debated ( contra, pro) Biennale, curated by the very happening New York art collective DIS. What are a bunch of NYC hipsters doing curating a biennale in Berlin, you might ask? Well, after the slow and more philosophical, whispering 8th edition in 2014, I guess it was time to shake it baby!

Rafman beer web
Jon Rafman @AdK

And so they did. DIS managed to capture the present time in statements like “people as data” (Alexandra Pirici@ KW), “nations as brands” (Christopher Kulendran Thomas @AdK, although I guess here”cities as brands” fits better), “the virtual as the real” (among others Jon Rafman @AdK, Amalia Ulman and Cécile B. Evans @KW), “culture as capital” (all the work concerning the sharing economy, like ayr @KW) ( and let’s not forget: the whole concept of the Berlin Art Week!), “wellness as politics” (Debora Delmar Corp., Timur Si-Qin, both @KW), happiness as GDP (GCC@ ESMT and Simon Fujiwara@ AdK).

These statements an sich are not new and we have been confronted multiple times with them over the last years. But put together they create a powerful… well what actually? It is nor a vision, an answer or a solution, it just is. And I guess that bothered people.

DIS titled the 9th Biennale “The present in drag”, which turned out to be equally confusing, because it actually hasn’t got that much to do with the drag part. It is about showing the facade, while at the same time we know that behind it hides a different message. Life was never so paradoxal, DIS says. We want wifi, even before we want water.


Cartoon by Argibald
Cartoon by Argibald

The advertisement term paradessence (paradox plus essence), which DIS uses,  is what life is made out of nowadays, (well, in the so called “western world” that is of course). It means that if you want to sell something, you need to integrate the total opposite. In that view, Donald Trumps hairstyle suddenly makes sense.

The ninth edition is a very young biennale. This goes for the curators as well as the artists. Most of them where born in the eighties, which means this is the first generation where internet access was a given by the time they entered high school.

This so called digital generation was apparently also frightening to some visitors/critics, which is a shame, because this is what the future looks like. And although the Biennale got overall very positive reviews, when the negative one, by the Guardian no less, came out, the grumpy generation awoke. But not understanding (and not wanting to)  is no excuse to call something superficial. And, as it is with all things negative, they stick.

I’d rather prefer Shawn Maximo.

Shawn Maximo web
Shawn Maximo @ KW