Poster for the 11th Berlin Biennale. Photo: Disclosure.

By Nuno de Brito Rocha*

Asome time before covid-19 forced us to be in a different way in the world, the curatorial team of the 11th The Berlin Biennial was already discussing and proposing new ways of being together and other possibilities for encounters. Renata Cervetto, Agustin Pérez Rubio, Lisette Lagnado and María Berríos opened the biennial exactly one year ago in the Wedding district to the north of the city, predominantly characterized by a heterogeneous population with diverse ancestries. There, experiments / exhibitions / experimentation / expansions / expectations began, cleverly abbreviated as exp. 1, 2 and 3 in the ExRotaprint building. The curatorial team took over the space from September 2019 with a dynamic program in different languages, which presupposed not only dialogue, but more importantly: listening. Listening takes time, respect and care. Thus, a solidary platform was created with the people from the surroundings, based on the exchange and deceleration of relationships and events such as those of the biennial – what was called slow opening. Some of the works, ideas and processes that began there are part of the last part of the exhibition, the epilogue, entitled The Crack Begins Within and which opened, after being postponed three months because of the pandemic, last weekend.

The four expository spaces of the epilogue suggest four chapters: The Antichurch (KW Institute of Contemporary Art), Storefront for Dissident Bodies (daadgalerie), The Inverted Museum (Gropius Bau) and The Living Archive (ExRotaprint). In each of them, the sensitive and coherent curatorship listened to different perspectives of the history and the system, but that are rarely told and usually considered outside the system itself. The inclusion of collectives, theaters and museums in the list of participants points to the subjective change from the point of view of Eu protocols for About and places the feminist movement and its developments in art and society at different times, being care/queer, as well as rituals, religions and stories at the center of a resilient, vulnerable and alternative reality. Considering only the titles of the four parts, the suggestion is one of resistance: anti, inverted, dissident and a living archive.

The first works in KW are “Reverse”, by Teatro da Vertigem in partnership with Nuno Ramos, and “Movilización“, by Argentine Mariela Scafati. “Reverse gear” is the documentation of an action – which took place on August 4, 2020, on Avenida Paulista, in São Paulo, amid the pandemic – in which 120 cars move in the opposite direction of the flow, reversing towards the Consolação Cemetery, where there was a reproduction of the work “The tragic series – My mother dying” by Flávio de Carvalho, which shows the last sighs of the artist's mother. The deeply agonizing and sad image is emblematic of the current contemptuous Brazilian public health policy. On the opposite side, Mariela Scafati creates 65 anthropomorphic figures in real scale and lays them on the floor of one of the rooms. Despite the apparent passivity transmitted by horizontality, collective mobilization protests the space for itself and prevents the public from entering it.

Berlin Biennale
Works by Pedro Moraleida Bernardes, Young-jun Tak and Florencia Rodriguez Giles, at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art. Photo: Silke Briel

Further on, in the center of KW, the works of Pedro Moraleida Bernardes, Florencia Rodriguez Giles, Young-jun Tak and Carlos Motta exemplify the announced “anti-church”: it is feminine, diverse, queer, gay, fluid. The psychological conflict, which has no place in our system, is the protagonist: “feeling deathly tired of representing the human without being part of the human” reads on the altar of Pedro Moraleida Bernardes. Or is this a question of the religious, who has completely moved away from the diverse and plural reality, that is, who is completely part of the human? In most of the works on display, people actively contribute to the maintenance of their memory and tradition and, even if they exist only subjectively, they do exist. In addition, these people are protagonists in the survival of their surroundings and are resilient to external opposing factors. Works by Polish artist Małgorzata Mirga-Tas and Spanish collective El Palomar can also be seen until November 1 on KW. 

With precise and brilliant work and transitions between exhibition rooms, The Inverted Museum in Gropius Bau he also looks for alternatives to what is called the canon and tells universal stories through biographies and personal works. This is what the Peruvian artist Sandra Gamarra Heshiki shows at the beginning of her research on the logic of European museums and collections called “anthropological” or of non-Western origin. Four new paintings in the series cryptomnesia (or in some museums the sun never shines), since 2015, show the conflict between the global north and south regarding the objectification of the Other, in dialogue with the installation The Museum of Ostracism, 2018, in which the from other cultures, here pre-Inca ceramics and of Inca origin, is also made in an objectifying and alienating way. Andrés Pereira Paz's installation, composed of filigree metallic sculptures, a sensitive game of light and shadow and sound, tells about a bird that escapes from the fire in the Amazon in 2019, and which is discovered in La Paz, Bolivia, suggesting an identity latina marked by the displacement of people, the impossibility of returning, natural destruction and resilience. There are clever parallels in the works In the antique shop I traded time, 2018, by Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro and The Perfect Human, 2018, by the collective La Rara troupe, placed side by side, in addition to the beautiful room where works by Flávio de Carvalho, Käthe Kollwitz and Katarina Zdjelar dialogue. The last room of Gropius Bau is dedicated to the Museo de la Solidariedad Salvador Allende and consequently closes the exhibition with questions about collecting, truth, geopolitical monopoly and solidarity.

Berlin Biennale
“EGO FVLCIO COLLVMNAS EIVS [I FORTIFY YOUR COLUMNS]”, by Andrés Pereira Paz. Photo: Mathias Völzke
The daadgalerie focuses on works by collectives or that, in a way, are rooted in the possibilities presented by the feminism of the 60s: groups, actions, performances, happenings and urban space gain a leading role in structuring the discussion around occupation and presence in the city – often in the form of theater and collective experimentation – in which fabric, clothing and fantasy have a transformative role in the expression of identity. Here, the continuation of Osías Yanov's research that began in exp. 3, this time together with the collective Sirenes Errantes, collages by Francisco Copello from the 90s and the work of FCNN – Feminist Collective With No Name. ExRotaprint remains the exhibition space of the biennial and works in the epilogue as a memory of this more than a year of process and experimentation.

Visual identity for the 11th Berlin Biennale, by Till Gathmann. Photo: Disclosure.
Visual identity for the 11th Berlin Biennale, by Till Gathmann. Photo: Disclosure.

It's impossible not to wonder what this biennial would have been like without the pandemic. Perhaps full of programs, visits, conversations, speeches, committed to getting closer and closer to the city and people in a long and deep exercise of listening and change. Despite this, the pandemic has also shown the discrepancy in the life situations of people everywhere and has made all the discussion that the curatorial team brings to Europe even more urgent. Careful and intelligent without being dogmatic, the 11th Berlin Biennale brings us programmatic relief. The beauty of Till Gathmann's ever-changing watercolor visual identity reflects the lightness with which the curator introduced itself to the city and brought it up in the epilogue. In one of the texts, the team warns: life, especially now, is difficult. But she is also rich and wonderful. It is necessary to give space and know how to listen to other realities.

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*Graduated in Architecture and Urbanism from FAU-SP, and Master in Art History from the Humboldt University of Berlin, Brito Rocha has been a curator at the Berlinische Galerie, Berlin Museum of Modern Art, since November 2019.

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