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Art versus reality

June 12, 2010

The sixth Berlin Biennale, one of the most significant forums for contemporary art, doesn't look much like an art event this year. Rather than offering artistic fictions, it presents alternative perspectives on reality.

Work by Minerva Cuevas at 2010 Berin Biennale
Minerva Cuevas looks at political resistance in MexicoImage: Biennale Berlin / Minerva Cuevas

The Berlin Biennale, which opened on Friday, June 11, is taking place for the sixth time this year since its founding in 1996. It showcases top names like Mark Boulos (US), Phil Collins (UK), Marcus Geiger (Switzerland), Nilbar Gures (Turkey) and Michael Schmidt (Germany).

Curator Kathrin Rhomberg of Vienna delves into the relationship between art and reality, with this year's show offering a heavy dose of reality. Rhomberg was responsible moving the Biennale from its previous location in Berlin's trendy and expensive center to the rougher Kreuzberg district.

"Kreuzberg is an interesting place because since the fifties, it has been largely shaped by working migrants and the consequences of the migration have become visible in many ways and have found an interesting coexistence with the so-called social majority," said Rhomberg. "Seen in this way, Kreuzberg is an area that represents the European societies of the future."

Work by Petrit Halilaj at 2010 Berlin Biennale
Petrit Halilaj made a model of the house his family built after the Kosovo WarImage: Biennale Berlin / Petrit Halilaj

Art versus reality

For the Berlin Biennale, Kreuzberg's typical mixture of Turkish immigrants, young left-wingers, students, academics and unemployed persons could itself practically serve as an exhibition in the festival under the motto "What's waiting outside." Rhomberg aims to show how current art reacts to the present world, with all its upheavals, terrorist attacks, migration, war and financial and environmental crises.

Young Kosovar artist Petrit Halilaj managed to capture this theme particularly well. He created an authentic-looking copy of the frame of the house that his family built after the end of the Kosovo War.

"It is also a project for the future, because the family home was destroyed in the Yugoslavian war, with all the traumas and migration stories that are connected to this," said Rhomberg. "[Halilaj]is now building a house in Pristina that has no history and is future-oriented, and he has brought the insulation lumber to Berlin to build a kind of negative of his family house."

Family ties

Many of the works uncover the human relationship to the urban landscape. Algerian artist Mohamed Bourouissa, for example, shows a side of Paris' poor suburbs that doesn't turn up in the news, while photographer Minerva Cuevas collects examples of political resistance in her native Mexico.

The theme of family ties also runs through the exhibition, including a film by artist Anna Witt, who convinced her mother to re-enact her birth. The artist plays herself in the short video.

Work by Anna Witt at 2010 Berlin Biennale
Anna Witt and her mother re-enacted her birthImage: Biennale Berlin / Anna Witt

It was Berlin's lack of an exhibition venue for contemporary art that led Klaus Biesenbach to found the Biennale in 1996. Biesenbach is credited with having a strong instinct for new trends, which allowed him to position the Biennale firmly on the international art scene. He is now the director of the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York.

It is still important to maintain this artistic outlet in Berlin, said Biesenbach.

"It has attracted international interest; 800 accreditations on the press conference day. They are reporting on it everywhere. I believe it has a lot of influential strength and is the start of many careers."

Visitors can view the Berlin Biennale through August 8, 2010. Click on the picture gallery below for examples from the exhibition.

Author: Silke Bartlick (ew/kjb)

Editor: Toma Tasovac