BY Ana Teixeira Pinto in Reviews | 05 MAY 16

Gallery Weekend Berlin

A round-up of the best shows in the German capital

BY Ana Teixeira Pinto in Reviews | 05 MAY 16

By all accounts the 12th edition of Gallery Weekend Berlin was a success: 54 participating galleries and an estimate of 25,000 thousand-strong attendees. But the choice of exhibited artists and artworks did not match the frenzy in the streets. Inside most galleries the mood was tame, conservative even. Older artists, and artists with solid career paths, were strongly represented, like KwieKulik at Żak | Branicka, Verena Pfisterer at Exile, or Pat O’Neill at Veneklassen/Werner.

Whereas the latter two could be described as survey exhibitions, KwieKulik’s – a Polish artistic duo formed by Zofia Kulik and Przemysław Kwiek, who worked together from 1971 to 1987 – show revolves around a single project: their performance protesting being denied a passport to travel outside of Poland, in 1978, to take part in an arts festival in the Netherlands. Documented in black and white photographs, the performance begins with Zofia Kulik poking her head through a tabletop, then standing up and bending forward, turning the table onto a projection screen. After returning to the seated position her feet are encased in plaster. Immobilized, the artist raises her hand holding a folder whilst Przemysław Kwiek unfolds a banner titled ‘Monument Without a Passport in the Salon of Visual Arts.’

KwieKulik, AMERYKA, 1972-85, 17 archival inkjet prints, 1.2 x 1.7 m. © ŻAK | BRANICKA, Berlin; photograph: Martin Müller

Throughout the performance the body is, literally, a semiotic support; the circulation of signs predicated on its confinement. This visceral staging of revolt is echoed in Adriano Costa’s ‘StorytellingCaipira’ at Supportico Lopez: in the gallery’s windowsill a group of dead flies spells out ‘NOT WELCOME’. In Costa’s makeshift installation the bodies of the destitute also emerge as a support, bearing the weight of financial flows, as providers of cheap labour and consumers of cheap products. Even more hands-on, Wolfgang Tillmans designed a set of pro EU posters, aiming to impact the British referendum. The poster are plastered all over the entrance of Galerie Buchholz, in which Tillmans is exhibiting, and at his own project space Between Bridges, which is partially devoted to the pro EU campaign. With his double presence, Tillmans also contributes heavily to the predominance of photography, the medium, which seems to mark this edition of Gallery Weekend: Ketuta Alexi-Meshkishvili at Micky Schubert, Anne Collier at Galerie Neu, Heinz Peter Knez at Silberkuppe, Jochen Lempert at BQ and Christopher Williams at Capitain Petzel all notable examples. At BQ, Lempert’s photographs the textures of animal skins, follicles or feathers whose ambiguity hints at the morphological mimicry Surrealist writer Roger Caillois described as a surrender to the ‘lure of space’, a kind of ‘scattering of self across landscape.’

Showing at Micky Schubert, Ketuta Alexi-Meshkishvili’s images are also interstitial, suggesting a pre-linguistic confrontation with the abject, which Julia Kristeva defined as ‘death infecting life’: that which ought to belong to the subject, but has since become an object, which, in its estranged autonomy, foreshadows the death of all subjectivity. Aleksandra Domanović, in an exhibition across both of Tanya Leighton’s spaces, also presented a new photographic series, ‘Bulls Without Horns’, depicting bull calves genetically modified to be just as the title suggests. I must admit I found the large-scale glossy prints hard to reconcile with the symbolist character of her sculptures, which extend the multivalence of the cyborg-body beyond the technological field, to include aesthetic and spiritual registers, three of which are also on show.

Aleksandra Domanović, Votive: Partridge, 2016, laser sintered PA plastic, polyurethane, Soft-Touch, aluminum, copper and Kevlar-carbon fibre coating, Corian and foam, 175.5 x 63 x 38 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Tanya Leighton, Berlin

Perhaps most telling about this edition of Gallery Weekend, is the near total absence of that thing which has become synonymous with Berlin’s expat art scene over the past few years: the post internet mode and its ‘aesthetics of liquidity’. Rather, everything is rough, gritty, textured: Rachel Harrison’s lumpen gym- and office culture-citing sculptures at Kraupa-Tuscany Zeidler, Thea Djordjadze’s rugged surfaces at Sprüth Magers or Stephen G. Rhodes manic assemblages and frenzied video works at Isabella Bortolozzi’s second space, Eden Eden. If liquidity as style was born from an excess of financial liquidity does this mean the market is dwindling? Either way the idioms of consumer culture – still present in the works of Ed Fornieles at Arratia / Beer or Petra Cortright at Societé – seems to have been displaced by a preoccupation with the conditions of phenomenological experience, firmly rooted in photographic indexicality and a renewed obsession with materiality. 

Also engaged with culture’s material aspects, Michael Rakowitz’s ‘The Invisible Enemy Should not Exist’, at Barbara Wien, is an attempt to bring back to social life the thousands of stolen artefacts that were looted from the National Museum of Iraq, following the American invasion, in 2003. This process of plundering was described by Peter McPherson, the senior economic adviser to Paul Bremer, the US diplomat who headed the Provisional Authority in Iraq following the 2003 US invasion, as a form of public sector ‘shrinkage’ or ‘sort of naturally occurring privatization’ (quoted in Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, 2007). ‘The Invisible Enemy Should not Exist’ was the name of the street, which passed through the Ishtar Gate in Babylon ––now in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum. Archaeology is implicated in the narratives of nation building, no wonder the process of dismantling a nation would entail the ‘privatization’ of its cultural heritage and collective history. Rakowitz’s ongoing project aims at undoing this erasure, reconstructing one-by-one the looted artefacts with papier-mâché and US import leftovers. The result is a table full of colourful, free-standing miniatures, each of which represents a lost artwork.

Michael Rakowitz, 'The invisible enemy should not exist', 2007–ongoing, tables with artifacts from cardboard, Middle Eastern packaging, newspaper, glue, museum labels, sound and drawings, dimensions variable. Courtesy: Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin; photograph: Nick Ash

Exhibiting at Carlier/Gebauer, Iman Issa also takes cultural heritage as a point of departure. Her objects however are not attempts at recovering a lost legacy but rather a repurposing of their formal grammar. Together with Hiwa K at KOW, who also thematizes post-war Iraq, Issa and Rakowitz also stand out as the only artists dealing with extra-occidental references, and, in Issa and Rakowitzs’ case, the only artists reflecting on the type of subjectivities, which get activated or extinguished through the construction and deconstruction of collective history.

If you were to drive down Leipzigerstrasse on Sunday, 1st May, the last day of Gallery Weekend Berlin, International Worker’s Day, you would see a steady flow of BMW’s emblazoned with the GW logo, cruising towards Potsdammerstrasse. Driving in the opposite direction, you would find a completely different fleet of vehicles: riot police heading towards Kreuzberg. As US political commentator Robert Reich noted, under the conditions of globalization, members of the same society no longer inhabit the same economy. Increasingly these partitions also seem to manifest themselves aesthetically.

Lead image: Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili, Invisible Majority (Eliza), 2016, archival pigment print, 
48 x 38 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Micky Schubert, Berlin

Ana Teixeira Pinto is a writer from Lisbon who lives in Berlin. She is currently finishing her PhD at Humboldt University, and is a regular contributor to frieze d/e, Art Agenda and Mousse, among other publications.