This year we took our museum curators to Berlin, visiting the Biennale, galleries and even artist’s homes to get a full flavour of the city’s artistic scene. The title of the Biennale, in its 10th edition, is We Don’t Need Another Hero; taken from a song by Tina Turner. It references broadly the idea of abandoning a single heroic or powerful or meaningful figure to embrace the collective and the multiple.
Many of the topics presented are relevant to our Museum Members, from notions of hospitality, the concept of the “other”, to the inclusion of many women artists and artists from wider geographical locations. There are no labels showing the artists’ age or where they are from. Their exclusion is a curatorial intention, but it impacts on the practicality of the visit.
At Kunst-Werke we encounter works by Cinthia Marcelle, whose show has just opened at Modern Art Oxford, an installation by Dineo Seshee Bopape, whose work we bought for the Towner Museum in Eastbourne, wooden structures by Mildred Thompson, and “the archive” of Liz Johnson Artur, who through photography documents the lives of the African diaspora. There are works that relate to the body; the ceramic and bronze sculptures of Julia Phillips and the photographs of Joanna Piotrowska. A film by Natasha A. Kelly gives an overview of the lives of some Afro-German women in the country. There are delicate paintings by Portia Zvavahera (who was briefly in residence at Gasworks) and symbolic elements in the work of Sinethemba Twalo and Jabu Arnell.
The Biennale continues in the Akademie der Künste with works that deal with the colonialisation of the Caribbean islands; Firelei Báez brings the histories of Haiti to the fore and Minia Biabiany’s video looks into the old crafts of Guadeloupe and the introduction of the slave trade by Christopher Columbus. The paintings of Lubaina Himid intersect the spaces as well as portraits by Lynette Yiadom Boakye, an artist the Contemporary Art Society has bought for Plymouth and Leeds art galleries. Oscar Murillo’s works are scattered and hidden across the venue, referencing the normalisation of aggression through labour, and delicate works by Sara Haq consist of reeds standing tenaciously through the cracks in the floor of the building – inducing thoughts about what is part of the building and what is not.
Finally, at the Center for Art and Urbanistics, a new film by Dineo Seshee Bopape was shown along with an impressive video installation by Heba Y. Amin. Anti-Control Room, part of her larger project, Operation Sunken Sea, presents the artist as the megalomaniac head of a plan to drain the Mediterranean Sea as a utopian solution to end the migration crisis and provide employment and energy alternatives.
The Biennale provided a platform for the curators on the trip to discuss the ways in which certain topics relate to their collections. There is immensely stimulating research to be done within the artists presented, topics included, and in general what such an exhibition should do.
It seems that an opportunity had been missed in relating works to each other in a meaningful way, or to create visual dialogues between them. However it runs until September, with masses of other events happening around the city, so plenty of time to find that excuse to go to Berlin and see for yourself.
Ilaria Puri Purini
Curator of Programmes
The Berlin Biennale runs across multiple venues until 9 September 2018. See website for details. www.berlinbiennale.de