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Culture

Berlin Biennale Brings Together Mice and Men

The fourth Berlin Biennale is underway in the German capital. This time, it has more to show than interesting art.

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Burning for art at the Biennale

Not a pew is free in St. Johannes Protestant Church. The grand brick building is the location for Georgian artist Andro Wekua's installation: a room-sized cube from the top of which a plastic woman stares into space. As befits the atmosphere of being lost, the blank flaps of a display panel, such as is found in airports and train stations, flip without stopping, filling the air with the sound of clattering.

"Life from the cradle to the grave is the topic of this year's Biennale in Berlin," German State Secretary for Culture Bernd Neumann told journalists of the contemporary art show. "'Of Mice and Men' is an exhibition which, opening elective affinities and unexpected associations, creates returning moods and tensions."

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Curator trio: Maurizio Cattelan, Ali Subotnick, Massimiliano Gioni

Curator trio Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni und Ali Subotnik present their audience with a concentrated lesson in desolation, sadness and loneliness in works from 70 international artists exhibited in numerous buildings along Berlin's Auguststrasse in the trendy Mitte district.

From poverty to galleries

The street has a rich history. Poor eastern European Jews populated the area before World War II. Authors Alfred Döblin and Gerhard Hauptmann wrote books here; Josef Sternberg filmed "The Blue Angel" here. After German unification, artists and galleries settled here en masse. Today they are the dominant presence on the street.

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Gillian Wearing, Drunk, 1999, video still

During the Berlin Biennale works are being shown in apartments, offices, a former stall, a cemetery, a one-time Jewish school and traditional art venues all along Auguststrasse. The locations themselves have become part of the show with the subtle backing of the artists' works.

Melancholy metaphors

"We chose what appealed to us," said curator Massimiliano Gioni.

The works shed light on everyday illusions but in differing ways, such as the 387 miniature Austrian houses made by Viennese insurance company employee Peter Fritz and Gillian Wearing's videos of alcoholics. In Paul McCarthy's 1992 house, the banging doors and opening and shutting walls refer to constantly rediscovering life, which is never really safe.

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Mircea Cantor, Deeparture, 2004, film still

In search of artists who express life's difficulties, the curators came upon many from central and eastern Europe, some of whom explicitly conveyed the exhibition's title, "Of Mice and Men." Albanian artist Anri Sala filmed a paralyzed horse at the side of a highway. Romanian artist Mircea Cantor captured the claustrophobia on the part of a wolf and a deer in the middle of a gallery.

Their works are melancholy metaphors that have nothing to do with the trend in cerebral, theory-focused works of contemporary art. And, as if to sum it all up, in the courtyard at KW Institute for Contemporary Art -- which puts on the Biennale -- nasty laughter chimes from loud speakers.

The Berlin Biennale runs until May 28, 2006.

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