Lost in the Berlin Biennale: A First Look
Sonja Hornung and Richard Pettifer offer their first impressions of the exhibition.
Fifty artists is not so many for a biennial, and we were certainly looking forward to a concentrated and focused set of exhibitions. Spread across three venues, this Biennale sprawls, conceptually and physically.
Sonja Hornung: We caught the train out to Dahlem, west of Berlin, and got rained on. Once we made it into the exhibition you seemed totally uneasy, Richard—why was that?
Richard Pettifer: I couldn’t work out what was from the Biennale and what were pre-existing from the Ethnologisches Museum (Museum of Ethnology, Dahlem)—they were mixed together. It made for an unusual relationship with the space. In the labyrinth of the museum, visitors were constantly asking security to show them where the next artwork was.
SH: I enjoyed this game that the curators were playing with us. The Biennale exhibition in Dahlem is a kind of parasite. Most works occupied entire rooms, but some worked with the collection itself or its wall labels and vitrine displays (Mariana Castillo Deball's use of archaelogical methods in You have time to show yourself before other eyes, 2014; Wolfgang Tillmans' Eastern Woodlands Room, 2014). Other artists intervened far more subtly in the structure of the institution itself, tweaking, for example, the lighting system (7,8 Hz, Carsten Höller, 2001/14), or intervening in the catalogue (Danh Vo, 2014)...
This created some interesting clashes. Remember when we encountered the giant Döner Kebab, part of the museum display, and thought it was art? When we finally found the entrance and were confronted with a strange conflict zone of signage from both the Museum and the Biennale? This confusion was quite funny. What does it mean to situate a major art exhibition within the context of a museum? Especially THIS museum, which has its roots in German colonial past and Prussian pride?