Research Log | Dispatch from Berlin

Berliners refer to the past weekend as the "crazy biennale weekend," as they filled up their diaries with art openings, conferences, performances and meetings. The fourth Berlin Biennale, titled "Of Mice and Men," opened on March 25th. Borrowing its' title from John Steinbeck, the biennale aptly fit the content of its exhibition into 12 venues, including both public and private places such as apartments, offices, a ballroom, the former Jewish school for girls, a church and cemetery, along August st. in Berlin's gallery area.

The three curators, Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni and Ali Subotnick, the innovative team behind the reputable Wrong Gallery in New York, have given this biennale its' highly elastic and meaningful form and created an energy that was infectious. To view the entire biennale required more than one or two trips. Exhaustion apart, one left with less of an impression of any particular artwork or artist than the whole experience of waiting in queue outside a regular apartment building to enter into one of the exhibition venues inside, climbing up a rundown staircase to the ballroom, and getting into a roadside container to see a video. All was very lively and personal. Elsewhere in town, Berlin galleries scheduled their openings to coincide with the biennale in order to catch the large number of visitors in town.

What further congested the schedule of Berliners and visitors this past weekend was the opening of "China – Between Past and Future", a festival organised by the House of World Cultures running from March 24th to May 14th. The program is packed with symposium, exhibition, literature readings, operas, and music performances, which has been met very well with an increasing fascination of China in Germany. The festival kicked start with a three-day international symposium where Chinese contemporary artists, curators, critics and writers presented papers and discussed the topic of cultural memory in relation to the dramatic social and cultural transformation in China with their German counterparts and sinologists. Professor of art history, Zhu Qingsheng, from Beijing University, Chinese artists Zhang Dali, Wang Qingsong, and Huang Rui, curators Leng Lin, Hou Hanru, Pi Li and Zuo Jing, as well as writer, Mo Yan, and poet, Xi Chuan, each delivered a speech and participated in the discussions during the conference. I also participated with a paper.

Chicago based Chinese curator, Wu Hung, and Christopher Philips, curator of the International Center of Photography from New York, have contributed to the festival with an exhibition of the same title, which had previously been shown in the International Center of Photography in New York and the V & A Museum in London. Featuring photographs and video works by 48 contemporary Chinese artists, "China – Between Past and Future" offered a panoramic view of not only photography and video based practice of Chinese contemporary artists, but also the physical and psychological transformations currently taking place in Chinese society. This exhibition received both critical acclaim in Berlin as an introductory show but also criticism with regards to some of the works, which some believed were overrated and overexposed.

 Organized by Shu Yang, Beijing based Chinese performance artist and curator, artists Yang Zhichao, Li Wei and Chinese performance artist duo from London, J.J.Xi and Cai Yuan staged a number of performances during the symposium. At a panel discussion with Wu Hung, Christopher Philips, Manray Hsu and Hou Hanru, J.J. Xi and Cai Yuan showed up unannounced wearing the make up of Monkey King. They literally took over the stage by marching and chanting slogans such as "To overthrow imperialism". They proceeded to kidnap Hou Hanru by covering his head in a white pillowcase and capturing him from behind. They had previously hijacked Hou Hanru in an invited performance during the Shanghai Biennale in 2000. The panel discussion thus ended in laughter and ridicule as some audience members dismissed their act as "superficial and absurd."




Carol Yinghua LU, 盧迎華

Sun, 25 Mar 2007

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