“What is the reason behind the failures to repair collective traumas that haunt our society like a phantom limb of an amputated body?” The question is presented by the artist and artistic director of the 12th edition of the Bienal, Kader Attia, in the catalog of show. In his diagnosis, he argues that the wounds of current society are not repaired because they have become invisible by colonialist narratives “still present”, as is the title of this biennial.
still present, however, does not only refer to the European colonialist past, which generated all the wealth of modernity, but is also an affirmation of resistance: being alive and “still present”, despite all the perversions that follow in the world, is, therefore, a necessary act.
Occupying six spaces in Berlin, now including an entire wing of the Hamburger Bahnhof, in addition to the original headquarters, the KW, the show, on view until September 18, is carried out by Attia together with Ana Teixeira Pinto, Đỗ Tường Linh, Marie Helene Pereira , Noam Segal and Rasha Salti.
It is not a biennial that can be seen without a strong impact. At KW, for example, Ariella Aïsha Azoulay presents The Natural History of Rape, an investigation into the thousands of rapes that German women suffered after the Second World War, which were practically erased from the books of the time. According to Azoulay, in one of the texts in the installation, of thousands of photos taken in April and May 1945, there are no mentions of rape and, in 9.558 pages about the period, only 161 address the massive rapes of women.
A table presents the books that deal with the subject, but the images are covered with a black stripe, as if to protect the victims. The artist presents a complex documentation on the subject also on a wall. Next to this set is the Great Anti-Fascist Collective Painting, by five artists in Milan in 1960, a denunciation of the torture and rape suffered by Djamila Boupacha, a leader of the National Front for the Liberation of Algeria, unfairly accused of having carried out a bomb attack in Algeria in the same year.
When exhibited for the first time, the painting was confiscated by the Italian police and was returned only 27 years later, circulating since then in several countries. Still in the same room, cold cases (cold cases), by Susan Schuppli, presents in impressive videos reports of how in Canada and the USA the police use low temperatures to torture and even kill indigenous people, in the case of the first country; and scare Latino immigrants, in the second. These are truly unbelievable stories. On the border between Mexico and the United States, for example, there are detention cells with temperatures close to zero degrees, to discourage asylum applications.
If the stories behind these works in different environments and times are so absurd, another section, in the same space, manages to show how art resists difficult times. This is a small overview of the collection. Vanguard Archive, by Egidio Marzona, from Dresden. This collection brings together 1,5 million documents and objects gathered by Marzona since the 1960s, recently donated to the Dresden Public Museums Collection. Publications include everything from German anti-Nazi magazines to anti-Vietnam War pamphlets, as well as anti-racist manifestos from the 1960s.
Throughout the Bienal, the curatorial team includes other research works, which did not necessarily arise in the field of art, such as the recently released book toxic date, by mathematician David Chavalarias, from the National Center for Scientific Research in France. From the publication, he created the installation Shifting Collectives (shaping collectives), at the Hamburger Bahnhof, where he presents, through videos, images and sounds, how French democratic values collapsed with the strengthening of xenophobia and nationalism. All this from a tool that analyzes hundreds of thousands of comments on Twitter. Among the facts that helped to collapse democracies, Chavalarias points to the election of Bolsonaro in Brazil.
Also in the same museum, one of the Bienal's most controversial works touches on another wound: the violence of the 2003 invasion of Iraq by US troops. It is an installation in the form of a labyrinth by Jean-Jacques Lebel, composed of images of scenes of violence, many of them publicized by the media, in which soldiers abuse the aggression against Iraqis. The controversy lies in using such strong images that they end up reinforcing stereotypes of violence instead of questioning them, a very current debate that seeks not to re-victimize the pain of others.
The counterpoint in this group is Clément Cogitore's infectious video, in which dancers of various races engage in a Krump-style battle, set to the 1735 opera, The gallant Indies (the amorous indians), by Jean-Philippe Rameau, which also gives the title to the work. The opera, in its original staging, brought Africans to perform on French stages for the first time. The performance in the video is a contrast to the formality of opera – for many the most sophisticated style of art – bringing the spontaneity of the manifestations of these battles. "
still present accumulators is a biennial which focuses on known problems from the perspective of art, often bringing up rather frightening revelations, such as low-temperature torture. Many works, such as Azoulay or Lebel, start from real issues to create files and devices that seek to avoid erasure and oblivion. It may not be easy to live with, but it's a necessary confrontation, as it doesn't take place in many other fields.