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With this Berlin Biennale, the curator, Juan A. Gaitán, wanted to keep the curatorial approach to Berlin on a tentative level, while focusing on the unstable relationship between experienced history and scientific historiography. Thus, this edition focussed on the artwork as a propositional gesture that offers different readings of history and the mechanisms of its current representation.

58 artists from all over the world were invited to mark and investigate history and its fragments. The exhibition referred to the historization that can be noticed in Berlin and in other cities. Berlin can be considered representative for a larger tendency of incorporating biased historical narratives in the contemporary city, through its architecture, urban planning, monuments, and spatial distribution of tourism, commerce, and cultural capital.

The Berlin Biennale has the continuous ambition to examine the parameters of the city of Berlin. Heightened urban centrality and rapid socio-political and municipal recreation of Berlin’s inner city lead this edition of the Berlin Biennale to stir away from Berlin Mitte towards the art and culture institutions Museen Dahlem and Haus am Waldsee. This curatorial decision bridged KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin Mitte, Berlin Biennale’s traditional venue, by drawing renewed attention on these significant places of cultural production that waned attention in the course of the political and geographic redefinition of Berlin. The works of the 8th Berlin Biennale were exhibited in already existing cultural institutions, also because this strengthened Berlin’s present cultural infrastructure and brought these practices to the attention to a broader spectrum citizens as well as visitors of the city. Several artists used this as occasion to deal with institutions directly by intervening with and reacting to their approach to collections and forms of presentation.

In the preparations for the 8th Berlin Biennale Juan A. Gaitán invited Tarek Atoui, Natasha Ginwala, Catalina Lozano, Mariana Munguía, Olaf Nicolai, and Danh Vo into his Artistic Team. Its members not only worked alongside Juan Gaitán in conceiving the 8th Berlin Biennale but also developed their own projects: Tarek Atoui, Olaf Nicolai, and Danh Vo exhibited their own practice and Natasha Ginwala presented her research project Double Lives. Mariana Munguía’s publication Excursus – produced in collaboration with Maricris Herrera– assembled a selection of visual contributions from all participating artists and Catalina Lozano developed a program of events at the Crash Pad c/o KW. Additionally, each member of the Artistic Team made a contribution to the shortguide.


Juan A. Gaitán with Tarek Atoui, Natasha Ginwala, Catalina Lozano, Mariana Munguía, Olaf Nicolai, and Danh Vo

8th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, 29.5.-3.8.2014; Juan A. Gaitán, curator, and the artistic team, from left to right: Catalina Lozano, Juan A. Gaitán, Mariana Munguía, Olaf Nicolai, Natasha Ginwala, Tarek Atoui (not seen in picture: Danh Vo); photo: Thomas Eugster, 2013

Graphic Design
Zak Group

From the catalog

Curatorial statement

Throughout the process of constructing the 8th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, I have wanted to keep the curatorial approach 
to Berlin on a tentative level, watching and listening to what goes on in the city before proceeding to confirm (or disconfirm) my suspicions. Over previous visits and during my time being based here as curator of the Berlin Biennale, I’ve been able to observe the city develop in a rather interesting way—interesting both in terms of what the city has become, and how this process reflects a larger tendency around the world to mobilize history in order to reinforce the hegemony of certain dominant narratives. 
Not to stray too far from “home”—where at the moment home is Berlin-Mitte, in the complex of buildings that houses KW Institute for Contemporary Art—take for instance the current construction of the Humboldt-Forum on nearby Museum Island, which will feature replicas of three of the original façades and the dome of the former Stadtschloss. According to an official statement, the project was suggested by an “international commission of experts on ‘the Historic Heart of Berlin’”, who thought that with the restitution of these façades “all the surrounding historic buildings will be regaining their points of reference, in terms of both scale and appearance.” The Humboldt-Forum is being erected at the eastern end of Unter den Linden, a grand, tree-lined boulevard that is the product of Prussian city planning in the neoclassical period, and so underlying this reconstructive impulse is a clear desire to memorialize not only the architecture, but also the city itself, as an artifact. Opposed to this is the contemporary architecture that emerged after the fall of the Berlin Wall and is concentrated in areas like Potsdamer Platz, whose main purpose seems to have been to thrust the city into the twenty-first century posthaste, and to just as quickly bury the traumas of the twentieth.

But Berlin is only a starting point, one example of a larger tendency to move history onto center stage and to disavow the last century. This renunciation might be primarily aesthetic, grounded in the demolition of twentieth-century architecture and the erection of either contemporary crypto-corporate buildings or the reconstruction of historical or historical-looking ones. Yet, this aesthetic disavowal echoes the present crisis of the nation-state on a global scale, which in its neoliberal guise has turned its back on some of the most significant, if incomplete, projects of the twentieth century: the attempted reformulation of citizenship as an inclusive construct; the creation of
 a socially responsible urbanism; and, to paraphrase the quintessential propositional architect Yona Friedman, an architecture for the people, by the people, and of the people.

Of course, a biennial can only respond partially to these concerns, yet I think they must be registered here as part of a process
 of engagement with the city; they have also been essential to the formulation of the cartography of the 8th Berlin Biennale. It is 
a proposition embedded in the choice of exhibition venues, two
 of which—Museen Dahlem in Dahlem and Haus am Waldsee in the contiguous neighborhood of Zehlendorf—are located in the West.

The third venue is, naturally, KW. Traditionally the main Berlin Biennale venue, for this edition it must compete for its position of centrality. The exhibition proper has been overlaid onto this cartography in the hope that each venue elicits a distinct relationship between contemporary art and its surrounding environment. In Haus am Waldsee, the exhibited works are meant to highlight the building’s original function as a private villa. They ask the visitor to engage with the relationship the space continues to establish with its surroundings 
as an allegory of the untimeliness of the Romantic landscape.
 In Dahlem, the installation’s fragmentary distribution alongside the existing collections of the Ethnologisches Museum and Museum für Asiatische Kunst constantly asks the visitor to choose whether to remain within the contemporary art presentation or to undertake short excursions into the museums’ historical holdings. At KW, on the other hand, the decision was to construct a more inward, absorptive experience, underlining the tendency of contemporary art spaces to separate art from the immediate environment.

There are also a few parallel statements that we have called “surplus venues”: the Crash Pad, which is the designated discursive space; the book Excursus, which contains visual propositions by
 the artists in the 8th Berlin Biennale, and 9 Plus 1, a poster series. The Crash Pad is an installation in itself and can be found in the front house of KW. The latter two represent different kinds of outputs of the printing press (that nearly obsolete machine). While Excursus, a book of images, is intended to be engaged with privately, intimately, the other format—the poster—is designed to appear publicly, calling for a congregation.

Together with the exhibition locations mentioned above, the surplus venues are another mode of establishing a dialogue about the privileging of visual representation 
over other forms of sensory experience.

One of the most exciting challenges faced by the 8th Berlin Biennale and its team relates to the decision to invite such a broad and international group of artists to take part in the exhibition and to develop newly commissioned works. This approach has certainly exerted considerable pressure on the Berlin Biennale’s structure, yet it has been essential for our process. As responses, the works have also contributed to the development and formulation of the exhibition and its themes. Several of the works, for instance, were conceived in direct connection to the museums in Dahlem and to the colonial and imperial logic that it embodies in the collecting and display of artifacts belonging to other cultures. Other works in the exhibition have to do with the contemplative regime that is established in the display of the contemporary museum, which emphasizes the semblance of things and privileges a Western form of aesthetic appreciation. Following this discourse, other works engage directly with the mechanisms of the image, its production, and myriad functions. In terms of media, there 
is also a conspicuous presence of drawing and drawing-based practices in the exhibition, which I think affirms the artwork’s propositional quality and, in this sense, asks the viewer to engage with the works as conditional statements—conditioned by the fact that contemporary art performs two simultaneous, if aporetic, tasks in exploring reality and critiquing the mechanisms of its representation. A strong emphasis on sound and composition also runs through the exhibition. Beyond the way that individual works on view make use of sound, perhaps this can also be read as a gesture that takes something away from the privileging of the image so dominant in contemporary culture today.(...)

The museum and the image—not just the museum and art—belong together to the history of the twentieth century, in their mutual development as ideological tools and at least in the late capitalist century, as signifiers of wealth, whether private or that of the state. The aura of the museum as the place where a society’s cultural and symbolic capital is or will be preserved is summoned in virtually any image;
 by contrast, the museum tends to enclose everything it contains 
in a space of contemplation. The works in this exhibition are brought together in an effort to transcend the limits of art as a field of self-reflection. In the space of such engagement, artworks resist their incorporation and narration in terms of a history of art; they are primarily propositions set against the current social and political functions of the image as the dominant form of representation. The emphasis that the 8th Berlin Biennale places on artistic processes is meant to foreground the vital need in contemporary artistic practices to perform a simultaneous, and perhaps aporetic, exploration of reality and the mechanisms of its representation. Political expediency is not art’s purpose; art aims to generate a counter-image that is able to distinguish truth from power.




State: 3.8.2014, further information