By Hans Kuiper
Installed in the atelier of fellow artist Bernd Trasberger in Berlin, where I can stay a couple of days, today it's the day of the Berlin Biennale opening. For June, it's quite warm, around 30 degrees Celsius, but I am lucky to be able to take the bike to visit all the Biennale venues.
First, the official preview for the press and other invited guests of this event that will last for 3 months. After a word of welcome by the organisation the curatorial staff explains the approach of this years show with the theme 'We don't need another hero', a title taken by the Tina Turner song of the 80's. Main curator is Gabi Ngcobo, a South African curator, her cv you can find here.
She formed a curatorial team existing of Nomaduma Rosa Masilela, Seruberi Moses, Thiago de Paula Souza and Yvette Mutumba.
'We don't need another hero' has been chosen as a title for what the curators consider a strategy to deal with the 'actually spread condition of a collective psychosis', referring to probably international racial and immigrational fixations in current politics and media (this is not so clearly mentioned in the curatorial statement). "The participants face the current ongoing fears and worries in our time - fears that are multiplied by the neglect of complicated subjectivities". To deal with inner conflicts and accepting them as enduring entities is one of the themes of the Biennale of 2018. The "School of Anxiety" is one of the curatorial projects by Serubiri Moses, next to 'Strange Attractors' by Nomaduma Rosa Masilela, an "exercise in uncertainty". How to deal with these fears and anxieties? The longing to solve it by clinging to an international heroic figure is rejected, instead of that wish, the curators state 'the political potential of strategies of self preservation'. "Strict knowledge systems and standardised historical narratives" though are rejected not to be the solution also. "Alternative configurations of knowledge and power, that accept contradictions and complications" are preferred.
I know more or less what is meant and there will be a whole body of thought and theory behind it (unfortunately I didn't see a literature overview), maybe rooted in experience that will be practically unknown to me, as a 'white' European male, university schooled, with a degree from a prestiguous art academy in Europe, who was able to travel and develop a vision on contemporary art and democratic politics, from a Western perspective, and always having lived in a reasonable affluent society, with many opportunities to be grabbed for a middle class kid at 18.
But why do I get a feeling at the presentation that the curatorial narrative of the current Biennale is rather aggressively blaming the exclusive mindsets of a Western professional artistic class that I do understand but of which, even as an artist, am not really a part of? Ngcobo is even using the phrase "We are in war", seemingly meaning a war of narratives battling for dominance in the professional, institutional art context and thereout, a battle between a postcolonial, African or Euro-post-African (art) elite, trying to conquer the art discours and fighting a class of Western curators that might have had a one eyed view on art slightly too long, being embedded too much in the dominant worldview on accumulation and exploitation on a world scale (as in a famous book of sociologist Samir Amin) and its concomitant symbolic systems, in jargon: 'narratives'?
The claim seems to be stretched to the whole Western , colonial, civilisation, in its past Eurocentric narratives (that need to be reappropriated) and the current post colonial "West", though. Or course I know, in economy and politics, there are still multinational companies, backed by their governments, intervening on a permanent big scale to grab natural resources and waging war when necessary and using cultural dominant narratives that deny the articulation of oppressed groups. Attacking these classes and mind sets would be a bit more specific of the curators although those narratives may be omnipresent in media, educational institutes and even contemporrary art. Now, even a struggling artist or curator who happens to be born in Europe or the Usa, might be part of 'that' mind set, so the not outspoken assertion suggests, as if no resurrections and oppositional movements ever took place in 'The West' and 'revolutionary' views and approaches in the artistic realms never were there. Or is the statement of curator Ngcobo in particular directed against neo colonial mind sets? I guess so, but how do I find out? Not in the curatorial statement which uses terms that are not specified too much.
Luckily, when you roam through the exhibition spaces, the artists themselves seem to have focused on their work, not seeming too busy with the discours or narrative battle of Ngcobo's fight going on over their backs. Of course 'we', and I mean we, the artists, whether we are European or African rooted, or both, we, in the end have to make the works that fit our minds and, in the end, are more or less influenced by this 'war'... I think the curator's statement at the press and invited's preview was more of a provocative media statement and I am eager to find out more on the intellectual background of it.
ZK/U is a relatively recently subsidized art space in a former industrial area in the Moabit neighbourhood.
THe Berlin Biennale opens Friday June 8th in the night and runs till September 6th 2018. More information via the Berlin Biennale website.