9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art
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The 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, held in 2016, was curated by the collaborative project DIS and titled The Present in Drag. The 9th Berlin Biennale proposed to explore the present moment which, according to the official press release “[...] is unknowable, unpredictable, and incomprehensible—forged by a persistent commitment to a set of fictions.”
Projects and Artists
DIS chose to create a separate website for the 9th Berlin Biennale, in addition to the institutional website. Thus the internet is considered one of the venues within which the Biennale occurred and is now archived. Babak Radboy (of art collective Shanzhai Biennial) was invited by DIS to implement the communications strategy in general. The other venues were the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Akademie der Kunste, The European School of Management and Technology (ESMT), The Feuerle Collection, and a blue-star sightseeing boat.
Artists invited included Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch, South African collective CUSS Group, Cecile B. Evans, fashion brand TELFAR, Jon Rafman, Amalia Ulman, Wu Tsang, Anna Uddenberg, GCC, and others.
Anthem, the official soundtrack for the biennial, was released as a limited edition of vinyl singles released throughout the duration of the show, with collaborative tracks by artists and musicians, such as Isa Genzken and Total Freedom.
Artist Trevor Paglen collaborated with hacker and computer security researcher Jacob Appelbaum to create Autonomy Cube, a “usable sculpture” that is a router for the anonymous internet software Tor. The room where the piece is installed becomes a secure, anonymous hotspot, with the hardware that enables internet freedom at its heart. Persian Gulf based collective GCC filled a large room in an upper floor of the European School of Management and Technology with sand, a maroon track field, and the sculptures of a mother and son in contemporary attire from Arab States of the Persian Gulf. New Age aphorisms play over the speakers, and the mother’s pose indicates that she is practicing “quantum touch” on her child. A windswept scene of modern, globally hybridized beliefs, the installation expresses how capitalist and spiritual trends alike have been adopted in their highly traditional but swiftly modernizing home states.
Anna Uddenberg’s figures, part-human, part-cargo, and at times, part architectural elements, were also included.
A Blue-Star tour boat was the venue for Korakrit Arunanondchai and Alex Gvojic’s collaborative work for the Biennale, and hosted Boat Rage, a series of events that spanned musical performances, literary readings, and fashion presentations along the Spree.
Critical reception and Controversy
The 9th Berlin Biennale stirred some controversy among critics and audiences. James Farago, of the Guardian, wrote a scathing review, describing the art event as ‘an ultra-slick, ultra-sarcastic biennial, replete with ads, avatars, custom security guard uniforms, a manic social media presence disposed to hashtags like #BiennaleGlam, and a woman lip syncing to Trap Queen.
However, it is for these same reasons that the Biennale was equally celebrated. In the September 2016 Issue of Artforum, British artist Hannah Black wrote that “…They [DIS] have been greeted, just like the modernist avant-gardes were in their time, with accusations of bad politics and even worse taste. Perhaps these critics haven’t noticed: The world is a ruin, but we go on living in it…”
When reviewing the 2017 Documenta in Athens, art historian Susanne von Falkenhausen referenced her reaction to DIS’s 2016 Berlin Biennale 9: “That exhibition rigorously, to the point of cynicism, followed the web 2.0 world of digital prosumer reality and the moral ambiguity of its promises and aesthetics. In my view, it catered to a young, white, middle-class audience, but now it strikes me as more realistic than what we are seeing today: an outsourcing to the (post-)colonial other of the political, guilt, spiritual desire and collectivity that plague the Western-Northern self."
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