Petrit Halilaj’s model of his house in Kosova which was rebuilt after the war: They Are Lucky to Be Bourgeois Hens, 2008, mixed media, iron & wood; image held here.
For the 6th Berlin Biennale, curator Kathrin Rhomberg presents us with the title What is Waiting Out There suggesting a division between contemporary art and the world outside of contemporary art concerns. Rhomberg presents artists with different positions, frames of reference, and their different relationships with reality from the literal to the abstract. This curatorial aim manifests itself in the works, ranging from the banal to the momentous, from the domestic to those of wars – both known and unknown to us.
Avi Mograbi’s video of Israeli soldiers Details 2 & 3 is illustrative of this, as is Mark Boulos’ aggressive video addressing the local resistance to the invasion of the Niger Delta by Western oil companies in a two-channel video piece titled All That is Solid Melts into Air (2008). The title of the latter is taken from an oft-quoted section of the Communist Manifesto and was also the title of a book by Marshall Berman examining social and economic modernization and its conflicting relationship with modernism: “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”
Mark Boulos: All that is solid melts into air, 2008, 2-channel installation, HDV, colour, sound, 14′ 20″, installation view, photo: Uwe Walter; image courtesy the artist.
The curator’s question we must consider: how does art affect reality? This is best approached in the Biennale by those works where reality is not taken on in a literal sense but where this gap between the art world and reality is nebulous and ever-changing.
In the basement of the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Petrit Halilaj’s delicate, well-considered drawings contrasted with his large wooden house structure and his futuristic-looking chicken houses (They Are Lucky to Be Bourgeois Hens, 2008). His drawings were as much about the actual medium as his subject matter of the everyday, the domestic and the familiar.
Ruti Sela and Maayan Amir’s uncomfortable Beyond Guilt #1 (2003) – from the video trilogy Beyond Guilt (2003–2005) – blurs the boundary of the artists’ position in the work. They use sex and the promise of it to communicate with young people in the toilets of nightclubs in Tel Aviv. There is an obvious link here between sex, power and violence. Those who saw the artists’ work in the recent Istanbul Biennale will have seen this at play in a much more voyeuristic and sinister fashion with young men. With the work here, we become part of the piece by being witness to events. This is a reality where sex rules. The artists, in order to be a part of this reality, take on personas and the notion of the artist being a separate entity from their work disappears.
Ruti Sela & Maayan Amir: Beyond Guilt #1, 2003, from the video trilogy Beyond Guilt (2003-2005)DVD, Farbe, Ton/DVD, color, sound, 9′30”; image courtesy the artists.