English / Deutsch

The Present In Drag


That was great. You learned that ... ​you exist online, but your ass still hurts and grinds. Whenever you feel closest to “you,” you’re actually in drag. You practice mindfulness, but you are in deep debt. The promotional emails in your inbox contain the emotional language that’s missing in your personal life. Official narratives stopped working for you, so you built your own. You wonder: Can markets emote? Are corporations people? You’re a discerning consumer of culture, but you know that none of this will last.

Titled The Present in Drag and curated by the New York collective DIS (Lauren Boyle, Solomon Chase, Marco Roso, and David Toro), the exhibition made tangible the digital conditions and paradoxes that increasingly impact the world in 2016. At the four stationary venues—Akademie der Künste on Pariser Platz, ESMT European School of Management and Technology, The Feuerle Collection, and KW Institute for Contemporary Art—along with the mobile Blue-Star sightseeing boat, artists and influential figures from other disciplines such as music, philosophy, hacktivism, design, politics, and economics examined and engaged with the conditions defining the post-contemporary. Collaborative partnerships and collective processes played a quintessential role. Almost all works in the exhibition were specifically produced for the 9th Berlin Biennale.

The 9th Berlin Biennale featured additional platforms to the exhibition venues: The Fear of Content section on the website enabled interested viewers to follow the Berlin Biennale from abroad through a continuous feed of articles, interviews, and digital projects. The website of the 9th Berlin Biennale remains accessible. As the soundtrack of the 9th Berlin Biennale, Anthem features collaborations between artists and musicians, which are available as vinyl singles and can be streamed online. LIT, based on the advertising panels of large-format light boxes and the visual codes of duty-free shops, formed one of several “exhibitions within the exhibition.” Contributions to Not in the Berlin Biennale were not on display in the exhibition, but were elements of a comprehensive communications strategy conceived to operate as a protective skin around the vital organs of the exhibition.

A total of 288 participants presented their contributions within the 9th Berlin Biennale, which received widespread national and international media attention throughout the entire run of the exhibition.


DIS: Lauren Boyle, Solomon Chase, Marco Roso, and David Toro

9th Berlin Biennale, 4.6.–18.9.2016; DIS, curatorial team; photo: Sabine Reitmaier

Visual identity
Meiré und Meiré

From the catalog

The Present in Drag

As a theme, “the present” strikes a slightly desperate tone. Like a spin-class instructor trying to power through a massive hangover. Exhibitions have increasingly come to resemble TED Talks—theaters of competence. There is a pleasure principle at play, not too different from disaster films or horror movies. People clutch their tote bags a little tighter when they hear the phrases “big data,” “filter-bubble,” “post-internet,” and “anthropocene” amplified through the venue speakers.

Welcome to the post-contemporary. The future feels like the past: familiar, predictable, immutable—leaving the present with the uncertainties of the future. Is Donald Trump going to be president? Is wheat poisonous? Is Iraq a country? Is France a democracy? Do I like Shakira? Am I suffering from depression? Are we at war?

It is the present that is unknowable, unpredictable, and incomprehensible—forged by a persistent commitment to a set of fictions. There is nothing particularly realistic about the world today. A world in which investing in fiction is more profitable than betting on reality. It is this genre shift from sci-fi to fantasy that makes it inspiring, open, up for grabs, non-binary. The supergroup(s) of artists and collaborators that we have mobilized are not fatigued but energized by this uncertainty. In this climate anyone can begin to build an alternative present, reconfigure failed narratives, decipher meaning from continual flux.

So we imagine the city of Berlin driven by these energies. Pariser Platz is our point of departure. An iconic tourist trap, it is the site where Michael Jackson once dangled his baby from his Adlon Hotel balcony in a private-public performance that anticipated the throngs of selfie sticks that now frame every historical site in Berlin. This square is surrounded by largely unseen networks of corporate and national power: it’s where Lockheed Martin, Allianz Stiftungsforum, DZ Bank, and BP Europa SE reside alongside the US and French embassies.

The common tools of visual and political persuasion—variously employed by state and market, left and right, art and commerce—swarm both the biennial as institution and “art” as a category of cultural production. The 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art materializes the paradoxes that make up the world in 2016: the virtual as the real, nations as brands, people as data, culture as capital, wellness as politics, happiness as GDP, and so on.

The age of the customizable sneaker, political narrowcasting, algorithmic taste, and individuated diet regimes has splintered the universal into a multiplicity of differences. Just as the figure of the individual seems to loom larger than ever, her individuality has been busted up and shattered into fragments by countervalent, contradictory forces. The 9th Berlin Biennale will create a stage for this actor of the self to roleplay her own obsolescence.

Our proposition is simple: Instead of holding talks on anxiety, let’s make people anxious. Rather than organizing symposia on privacy, let’s jeopardize it. Let’s give a body to the problems of the present where they occur so as to make them a matter of agency—not spectatorship.

Instead of unmasking the present, this is The Present in Drag.




State: 18.9.2016, further information