Periodic Art Event (biennale, triennale, etc)

‘And Europe will be stunned’, Yael Bartana, 7th Berlin Biennale @ KW, April 26th, 2012

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The Jewish Renaissance Movement calls for the return of 3,300,000 Jews to Poland in order to re-establish the annihilated Jewish community. The movement was initiated by Israeli-born artist Yael Bartana in 2007 and has since spread internationally. It aims to create an atmosphere for a Jewish appearance in Europe. The Jews of today are not the same people who were expelled from Europe—the Europeans of today are not the ones responsible for the ethnic cleansing. This may be the appropriate time to unite again—and change Europe and Israel for the better.

The JRMiP is a response to these times of crisis, when faith has been exhausted and old utopias have failed. The aim of the First Congress of the JRMiP is to ultimately formulate the concrete platform of the movement and collectively imagine the future. The three-day long gathering departs from a letter of the late leader of the movement, Sławomir Sierakowski, found after his assassination, and considers the following questions:

  • What should be changed in the EU to welcome the Other?
  • What should be changed in Poland to become part of the revived EU?
  • What should be changed in Israel to become part of the Middle East?

For the first time since its foundation, JRMiP members assemble, joined by international speakers, to reflect upon particular demands. The movement needs all of you who sympathize with the issues of different Diasporas in general.

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‘Self # Governing’, Marina Naprushkina, 7th Berlin Biennale @ KW, April 26th, 2012

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Known in Western democracies as “the last European dictatorship”, Belarus became an independent country after the collapse of the USSR. It has been under the authoritarian rule of President Alexander Lukashenko since 1994. For years now he has used repression as a political tool against the opposition; civilians are at the mercy of the whims of the military, the Internet is under surveillance, and there is barely any free press. This is arguably the high price that the population has to pay for Lukashenko’s alleged, much-touted “stability” for the entire country.

Marina Naprushkina works in close collaboration with key figures of the cultural and political scene in Belarus in order to strengthen democratic processes in the country. 2011 saw the first edition of Naprushkina’s newspaper, Self # governing, whose aim is to develop future models for Belarus outside of the bloc-building confines of the EU or Russia. The newspaper’s Russian edition was widely circulated in Belarus thanks to the efforts of many activists. The second edition of the paper analyzes the patriarchal, masculinist system of government in Belarus. It shows how women themselves unwittingly perpetuate this model, and possibilities for changing the situation. Considering the recent wave of protest and resistance across the globe, Self # governing can be read – and used – as a guide for daring to think about political alternatives worldwide. Text by Martin Schibli.

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Project partners: Kalmar Konstmuseum, Sweden; Krytyka Polityczna, Poland; Olga Karatch, Nash dom, Belarus; Marina Naprushkina and Irina Solomatina, Institute of Future, Belarus; Tobias Weihmann, Germany; Utrikespolitiska Institutet, Sweden.

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‘New world summit’, Jonas Staal, 7th Berlin Biennale @ KW, April 26th, 2012

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The New World Summit is an alternative parliament for political and juridical representatives of organizations currently placed on international terrorist lists. The nontransparent procedures by which these lists are created are considered a threat to democratic politics by numerous political parties, human rights organizations, lawyers, and philosophers. Often political prejudices, diplomatic relations, and economic or military interests play a decisive role in labeling an organization as a “terrorist group.”

The parliament of the New World Summit forms a democratic supplement to the existing political order. The event questions those politics that are based on exclusion and deny any form of true political participation to those groups that have been listed. The New World Summit aims to articulate a new kind of public political space where representatives of the organizations debate the limits of the current democratic system. The referents who are participating in the summit are not prosecuted, but see themselves as agents of fundamental democratic principles. The event itself is based on a notion of fundamental democracy pursuing the ideal of an open, egalitarian society.

The New World Summit is a project by Rotterdam-based artist Jonas Staal in collaboration with Younes Bouadi (producer), Robert Kluijver (curator), Paul Kuipers (architect), Vincent W. J. van Gerven Oei (editor), and Sjoerd Oudman/the NWS Design Collective (design). Please visit also

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1.The struggle of art in the twentieth century is characterized by an aspiration for freedom. It has battled the church, the state and the wealthy bourgeoisie in order to no longer have to serve a religious, political or economic agenda. Politics in The Netherlands took that battle seriously. In our post-war era, politics had assigned to art the financed duty to be free. Any direct ideological commitment had become suspect, as a result of the role played by art in the Nazi and Stalinist systems. The conclusion of both politics and the art world was that it was better not to be engaged at all, than to be engaged with the wrong parties. A generic politics – a politics that exchanged ideology for management, out of fear for dirty hands – sponsored an equally generic art. An art that does not dare to serve a larger political project is thereby nothing but entertainment for the voter-consumer and his managers.

Without making explicit their ideals, both art and politics have fallen prey to demagogues and populists, who utilize the spineless landscape of capitalist democracy and its art as an open field for ideas. Ideology is back, yes, but it is in the hands of racists such as Dutch far-right Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders. And art is political again: but only because those same agitators discard it as a plaything of the elite. We are in need of a proactive politics and a proactive art, which dare to serve a truly ideological project. The outlines hereof have become visible in recent times. From activists for Internet freedom, such as WikiLeaks and Anonymous, to the worldwide Occupy Movement: democracy is being defended fundamentally as an open, non-exclusive space. A movement such as Occupy, for instance, is not a readymade ideology, but an instrument, through which politics is brought back to the streets, and democracy is shifted from representation to action. Fundamental democracy is thus an ideological project that does not compose a political system by itself, but actually makes it available for society as a whole.

What can be the role of art within this political movement? According to the Polish artist, Artur Żmijewski:

“By becoming once again dependent, art may learn how to be socially useful, even at an operational level.”

Art may only become of social significance again if it dares to make the ‘freedom’ it has gained in the 20th century serve an ideological project. The movement in service of fundamental democracy is in search of a truly new visual language, a form that effectively makes the democratic instruments available for the people as a whole. This is where art can demonstrate its power, namely: its imagination.

2. My answer to Żmijewski’s call is manifested through my project New World Summit; a two-day conference that will take place in Berlin on the 4th and 5th of May. Political and juridical representatives of organizations that are included in the so-called international “terrorist lists” have been invited to speak within the framework of an alternative parliament. These lists include organizations that are internationally considered to be state threats. In the European Union, a secret committee, the so-called “Clearing House”, draws up this terrorist list. This occurs in a highly undemocratic manner: “The process for adding or removing names from the terrorist list is done in secret by a committee which generally meets bi-annually, and there are no public records of these proceedings.” (Source: “Adding Hezbollah to the EU Terrorist List” – Hearing before the Subcommittee on Europe of the Committee on Foreign Affairs House of Representatives, June 20, 2007).

The consequences for these organizations and people who are in contact with them includes a block on all bank accounts and a travel ban – whereby in the latter case we have managed to make a few legal exceptions. History is written by the victors. Whoever gets hold of the monopoly of violence in our society, ultimately decides who is a terrorist and who is not. The terrorist thereby is not only excluded from the political process but is also excluded from the rule of law. Think of prisons such as Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, or the extraordinary rendition program of the C.I.A., wherein terror suspects abroad are kidnapped in order to be interrogated in the prisons of allied countries, and generally also to be tortured.

One consequence hereof is the overall weakening of constitutional law. Since everyone is a potential terrorist, civil rights (such as the right to privacy) are restricted, while the power of the state over the citizen and the judicial system is strengthened. The proposal put forward by the Freedom Party for the arrest of potential terrorists upon suspicion (i.e., without actual proof) is in that same line. The justification for this is invariably that democracy must be resilient against its enemies: terrorists supposedly hate the free Western world and its acclaimed democracies.

But these organizations – which are characterized by a range of different ideological currents, from communist to socialist, from Marxist to anarchist, nationalist, racist, religious-fundamentalist and sectarian – are not by far all opposed to democracy as such. There are organizations that support free elections and advocate equality between men and women, rich and poor, majorities and minorities. Many of them struggle for self-determination and against military occupation or other forms of oppression. For what the West has imposed upon the world as “democracy” in the last decades, has not exceptionally led to corruption, injustice and subordination of local interests to those of a Westernized local elite and their foreign patrons.

The organizations on the terrorist list are accused of terrorizing civilians with violence. 9/11 is the most extreme and frequently cited example thereof. But they are themselves terrorized by Western military operations. What is the fundamental difference between the 3000 victims of the Twin Towers and the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq, as a result of the Western “liberation”? Terror and state-terror thus constitute two sides of the same coin.

These examples are not intended to legitimize these organizations’ employment of violence, but to make clear that the qualities considered to be ‘distinctive’ of democracy – such as free elections, equality between men and women, gay marriage or even policies against terrorism – can also be found in a variety of organizations on these terrorist lists. Hence these symbolic qualities do not constitute a democratic organization or state per se.

The violent policy of the so-called “terrorists” therefor reflects the violent policy of the so-called “democracies”. The purpose of the New World Summit is to bring these together, by creating a new political space. A space where the boundaries of our current system are mapped out. A supplement to our parliamentary democracy: a platform for its ‘shadow side’. Only together do they constitute the world order in which or against which we have to take a position today. Together they constitute the conflictual field wherein we must define what we actually understand under the notion of democracy.

3. And this question – what is the democracy that we stand for? – denotes the project in which I see art and politics united in a significant manner.

Fundamental democracy is the project I wish to defend. Not as an exclusive good for the nation state on the one hand, or the “terrorist” on the other, but for everyone, always, under any circumstances. I believe in democracy as a universal movement. A movement that fights for a non-exclusive political space where every voice can make itself heard, seen and felt, without a ‘state of exception’.

As an artist I want to create the conditions for this political space. I do not want to create art within a so-called democracy; I want to help shape democracy myself. And as it has become apparent globally, I am far from alone therein.

Also signed by: Artur Żmijewski and Joanna Warsza (curators 7th Berlin Biennale), Robert Kluijver (curator New World Summit), Younes Bouadi (producer New World Summit), Paul Kuipers/EventArchitectuur (architect New World Summit), Vincent WJ van Gerven Oei (editor New World Summit), Kasper Oostergetel and Geert van Mil (build-up New World Summit), Sjoerd Oudman and the New World Summit Design Collective (design New World Summit).

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‘Berlin-Birkenau’, Łukasz Surowiec, 7th Berlin Biennale @ KW, April 26th, 2012

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The project Berlin-Birkenau brings a few hundred young birches from the area around the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp to Berlin, where they have found new places to root all over the city. These trees, taken from soil that contains the traces of countless deaths, become a “living archive” that shifts something growing and breathing to Berlin. The birches have been planted from autumn 2011 through spring 2012 in public parks and spaces such as Wuhlheide Park in Treptow-Köpenick or the newly established park in Spandau, on the grounds of schools, and also in places that have a historic connection to the Holocaust and deportation, like the memorial site Gleis 17 in Grunewald. In each location, a plaque with the following inscription can be found:

“In November 2011, the Polish artist Łukasz Surowiec brought 320 birches from the area around the former concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau to Berlin, to work against forgetting. The trees are spread over the whole city. They were planted with support from the 7th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art.”

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Surowiec’s project performs a symbolic gesture of bringing back to Germany a part of its national heritage. Visitors can travel to the sites where the birches are located, as well as see the installation of thousands of seedlings at KW, which were grown for the exhibition. If you promise to take care of a seedling, you can bring one home with you. The birch seedlings create an intimate and self-initiated memorial, which depends on its owner for survival. Instead of a monument made from steel or stone, there is a living entity next to you, which embodies a part of the traumatic past. Text by Artur Żmijewski and Zdravka Bajović

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‘Breaking the news’, 7th Berlin Biennale @ KW, April 26th, 2012

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Over the past couple of years, what was one dominant media language is being enriched by reports from civic initiatives, social media, and other platforms where non-official pieces of information also have their place. Artists are contributing to different media coverage with political and activist expression, constructing parallel narratives and reporting additional stories, which can be commonly found on the Internet. Breaking the News presents the activities of a number of artists whose documentary practice, readiness to act, civic disobedience, and willingness to put themselves on the front line exemplify how they can go beyond their individual self-interests and work toward real political relevance.

Breaking the News refuses to recognize the common limit where art ends. These art-journalists speak from the position of citizens who take responsibility for the realities around them and make clear where they stand. It is on view in the exhibition in the form of screenings, the content of which changes every couple of hours or days as an immediate reaction to political events worldwide. The installation is also presented in virtual space on the 7th Berlin Biennale website, YouTube, and Facebook. These artists, acting as researchers, journalists, and witnesses, practice what Hannah Arendt described as the core of citizenship itself: the right to have rights.

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Text by Artur Żmijewski and Joanna Warsza, source

Three pieces around the statue of “Christ the king”, VV.AA., 7th Berlin Biennale @ KW, April 26th, 2012

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In 2001 Polish priest Sylwester Zawadzki came up with the idea to erect the biggest statue of Jesus Christ in the world on the outskirts of Świebodzin. The local authorities, church and citizens of the town mobilized to create this religious monument, and sculptor Mirosław Patecki was commissioned to design it. The statue Christ the King was inaugurated ten years later in November 2010, about sixty kilometers from the German-Polish border and not far from the highway and train tracks of the Berlin–Warsaw line. The figure and its base reach over fifty meters, roughly the size of a ten-story housing block. It has already attracted thousands of worshipers and pilgrims and thus contributes to bringing tourism and economic development to the structurally weak border region. There are future plans to establish a modern pilgrimage center, and to promote the statue worldwide—something that we also contribute to within the 7th Berlin Biennale.

During the exhibition the artist creates a replica of Christ’s head and turns the first floor of KW into his studio. Patecki doesn’t celebrate his artistic autonomy; rather he offers his services to the church, and that gave him the opportunity to create the giant figure of Jesus. Yet he is not really satisfied with the result. Lack of money, shoddy materials, and an unprofessional team transformed it into a dummy rather than a finished art object. But still it is able to induce religious enlightenment, and according to Patecki this is one of the roles of good art.

In the Berlin Biennale, the sculptor is given full control over the process of creation and hopefully a perfect face of Jesus will be presented to the public. The Christ the King statue confirms the institutionalized power of the Polish Catholic Church and its use of art. Bringing Christ the King into the realm of contemporary art, we try to do what the Vatican planned with its announced participation in the Venice Biennale—to show how powerful, ideological, and impressive religious art, and art in general, can be today. Not only in the new global churches in Nigeria or India, but also still in Central Europe, 100 kilometers from Berlin.

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BEYOND by LOU CANTOR (collective)

Beyond documents the final phase of the construction of Christ the King in Świebodzin, when it was still not clear if the combination of compromised engineering techniques and the parish priest’s faith in the project would actually lead to its completion. For example, an unanticipated change in the dimensions of the figure caused problems with its placement, forcing it to be rotated thirty degrees to the left, so that Christ’s gaze turned away from the town toward its periphery and the outlying TESCO supermarket. The effort to erect such a monument in the middle of nowhere recalls the old saying: faith can move mountains.

7-berlin-biennale-beyondFilm still from “Beyond”, © Lou Cantor (Lou Cantor is a Berlin-based artist collective whose main scope of interest is grounded in intersubjectivity and interpersonal communication)


Facing the Scene was shot in November 2010, depicts the inauguration of the statue Christ the King. It concentrates on the logistics and preparation for the event, as well as its dismantling at the end of the celebrations. Meticulously observing the church community gathered for this ritual, the film shows everything from health and safety measures to people’s genuine awe and the public manifestations of belief embodied in the sculpture. It’s a kind of anthropological investigation of how the consumption of holiness is packaged.

Film still from “Facing the Scene”, Courtesy Anna Baranowska and Luise Schröder (Anna is an artist whose work deals with collective social phenomena and the mass media landscape of our time. Luise is an artist, art mediator, and activist who is interested in aspects of history in the making and its reconstruction).

‘Network map of artist and political inclinations’ & ‘Open Call’, 7th Berlin Biennale @ KW, April 26th, 2012

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In November 2010 Artur Żmijewski announced a call to artists from all over the world, asking them to send in artistic material as part of the research of the 7th Berlin Biennale. In addition to the standard information usually requested in such a call (documentation of art works and projects, CVs, etc.), it included the following addition, which generated attention in and of itself: as the research also focuses on the question of whether artists consider themselves to be political, please inform us about your political inclination (e.g. rightist, leftist, liberal, nationalist, anarchist, feminist, masculinist, or whatever you may identify yourself with) or whether you are interested in politics at all.

The call was published in various languages. The Berlin Biennale ultimately received over 5,000 submissions in reaction to the Open Call and all these artist were represented in a graphic which is shown in the Biennale under the name of  “Network map of artist and political inclinations” and you can see below. Also all the dossiers are standing in various shelves in the same room as the graphic.

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In response, we invited all those who sent materials to become artists of the digital venue of the Berlin Biennale. Together with Berlin-based media activist and writer Pit Schultz it was developed ArtWiki, a digital art library based on the model of Wikipedia, which is a sustainable project that will continue into the future. It aims to present artists as political and social entities, to lay open the artistic resources of our society and abandon the typical curatorial stance of a politics of selection and exclusivity. Furthermore, art representation on the Internet has been strongly dominated and positioned by market speculation and financial interests, and artists are often hesitant to upload their work for fear of it being misappropriated or even stolen. ArtWiki is the tool through which there is the desire to extend the Biennale exhibition and create an open, not-for-profit platform for information exchange for artists, their activities, and their political standpoints, to show today’s spectrum of artistic attitudes. ArtWiki is also a form of social contract, which is about free exchange of information and trust—something very unusual in times when the art system is based on fully controlled access to art works, images, and even ideas. Text by Joanna Warsza

ArtWiki went public on April 26, 2012 – the opening day of the 7th Berlin Biennale.

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