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  • Christian Hain

BAW'18 - Berlin Art Week Returns

(Berlin.) Let’s start our tour of this year’s Berlin Art Week at NG...something - one of those Berlin Kunst-Verein-Gesellschaft thingies that you could never tell apart. This is the one in Oranienstraße, not far from Kottbusser Tor, and they have a group show on offer. You’re welcomed by photos of people in Yoga poses, one of them caught in the act of silent symbiosis with a chair (rather not by Erwin Wurm). To your left, gay interracial soft porn photography, to your right, a photo novel (rather not by Jürgen Teller). The latter seems, no it is indeed set in Antwerp as confirms the appearance of a “National Paritair Committee Workboek”. The images follow the ways of a binman in his fashionable orange dress through a day’s work, a lesson on how to master his new iPad, and later sipping beer in an arty bar (one of the guests is wearing a very bling gold Rolex). It’s intriguing.

Further on, what could be posters of an anti-drug campaign, close ups of a human head lying on the side while someone is pulling a burning “cigarette” - or is it a pencil? - from the (upper) ear and, still another work, heaps of clothes on the floor (rather not by Christian Boltanski, nor proof of after opening night debaucheries). If like me, you’ve always cared for the aesthetics of industrial carpeting, you might appreciate a work on the back wall, which is exactly that. To it belongs a book on the shelf beside, with poems under the title of How to Imitate the Sound of the Shore Using Two Hands and a Carpet (Cevdet Erek is the artist).

Less or more poetic, depending on your tastes, a video of a single hand stroking a cat (no, literally!). If you’ve also always liked the aesthetics of sign language instead of taking it for comedy when subtitling the news, another video could be the one for you here: A choreography of actors, or apprentice ballet dancers, is observed practising a variety of gestures. A computer voice provides the audio track to subtitles in a language most of us don’t understand. It’s mostly reciting dates, “2011” “2010”, “2007” and when the actors start playing not air guitar but air Wii, you realize it’s all about gesture control of computers and other devices, the communication of choice with our future overlords. Fascinating, at least for a while. I confess, I was a little late to this first stop of the official press tour that continued in a luxury bus which would make many rock bands blush, thus missing almost all explanations to those works (this can also be for the better, sometimes at least).

Next stop: DAAD with a one video show. But a good one: Lawrence Abu Haman has something to tell you about walls not "of", but "and" sound. His film is projected on a glass wall so that between and even in some images you will see your own reflection and the street behind you, as the artist goes on about an American court case, a Syrian government prison, and Oscar Pistorius. Son of Haman‘s cameos - no in art you call it self portraits - with “I am an intellectual” glasses can seem a little bit annoying. He just couldn't resist putting his mug in front of the lens as often as possible. Would his voice alone not be sufficient to guide us through events? Saying this, the film has been recorded in a tone studio that, as we learn from background information, once was built for Radio Free Europe, an institution to broadcast our propaganda behind the Iron Curtain (also a wall, in parts literally).

The US court case concerned Pothead Kyle who grew the strongest weed of the nineties, we learn of a customer of his hallucinating (or finally realizing the ultimate cosmic truths?) about the unreality and factual inexistence of all walls (beyond the doors of perceptions). Law enforcement used military equipment to scan Kyle’s house from the outside and consequently arrest him, thereby violating the American constitution. Kyle was ultimately acquitted, more than ten years after his process had begun (considering the American “justice” system, he might have been Mr Nice himself, the legal fees would have swallowed up all revenues from his business). The law decrees that all walls matter, to its enforcers at least. This obviously doesn’t apply to private companies like Google (and the NSA just never gave a ----), nor to the few, and irrelevant, non-US citizens in the world. With the latest technologies, no wall is impregnable.

Syrian Khan Bashar al-Assad once built the Mercedes Benz of prisons after plans from GDR (Eastern German) authorities (no really, that’s what it was called in interested circles, and it's not even a panopticon!). Sound there travels fast and everywhere, but without a chance to locate the source. A former inmate relates of the regime’s daily bastonados in best Osman tradition (indeed, in days of old Syria was ruled by the Sublime Porte), the noise of which every inmate would recognize, yet could never identify the victim.

Overall conditions sound not so different from what Kyle escaped by a hair’s breadth, and that’s not an excuse of the Syrian penal system. By the way, you know you’ve lived (too?) long in Berlin when your legs start twitching while listening to the sound effects, a pumping bass.

Finally, the real life remake of The Fugitive, only that not a one-armed but a no-legged man was – or was not – the murderer: Oscar P. We listen to the voice of an ear witness in court, mimicking the screams she’s heard that night. Pistorius famously used the first-successful-but-later-not-so-much “armed intruder in the bathroom” defence. Thinking about it in the context of all these reflections on walls and privacy, ... is there any better metaphor for your significant other?

Off to Spectrum, one of the countless project rooms in Berlin. This one is a bar-coffee-shop-slash-project-room and one of the a few, if not the only one at all, to charge entrance fees. Their exhibition programme is not better (nor worse) than that of the countless other, free-of-charge, project rooms. Spectrum’s curatorial guidelines could have been copy-pasted from Schering Foundation, the “overlappings of art and science”, you know.

Currently on view is a nice installation, tiny speakers overgrowing a back wall behind the coffee tables, ivy style. A second installation waits in the dungeon downstairs, where a guide will receive you in complete darkness, pointing his flashlight to any available seats (the installation is limited to eight persons a time). He then starts talking about the artwork’s scientific background, wearing IR goggles (I suppose, if not, he may be related to cats on his mother’s side, or maybe just very familiar with darkrooms). Seeing sounds is not for synaesthetes exclusively: If it’s only played loud enough, and under specific, scientific, circumstances, sound waves captured on the inside of microscopic bubbles will heat up to between several thousands (conservative estimation) and some tens of thousands (more courageous, and maybe less legit, estimation) degrees C, to ultimately implode in a flash of light. Ever heard of those luminescent deep sea fish? Now what if somebody fed them a bowl of really hot chili every morning... just imagine for a moment. Loud makes light.

Curators kept talking a lot about the swarm importing over the individual, fashionably calling it “communities taking over”. Well, it seems no coincidence that we are witnessing the arrival of artificial “intelligence” at a point when mankind discards every human creation for superfluous irrationality.

And so much for the first part of this year’s embedded reporting from the BAW frontline. More to come. Soon.

Berlin Art Week, ft. NGBK, DAAD, and Spectrum, all shows will continue for the usual four to six weeks

World of Arts Magazine - Contemporary Art Criticism


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