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  • Christian Hain

The Berlinale Trilogy, Part 1 – A Forum Expanded

(Berlin.) I don’t know about you, but when I realize I’ve been staring at a screen for six hours and a half – not typing, or clicking, anything – it’s usually four in the morning, I’m surrounded by empty beer cans, and ask myself, “What the f**k am I doing with my life?”

Not this time.

The reason is simple: World of Arts Magazine got granted an accreditation for the Berlinale, Germany’s most notorious (let’s be honest: only known) film festival. When typing my application, first thing to do was teaching Word not to autocorrect Berlinale to “Berlin Ale”; googling it, or visiting their website, nine out of ten times I still type “Biennale”. But to conquer new markets, to open up new demographics, is crucial even for an art blog. So I’ve been told.

Turns out, they give – or should I say “sell”, because a film festival is different to anything art-related: they won’t corrupt you to get a positive review, no, far from it: they’ll charge you sixty Euros for the right to tear them apart, only you don’t, because if you did, you would not be allowed to come back, and pay again, next year, to just about anybody. Even your favourite arts blog (this one!). It’s still a bargain.

A welcome coincidence, one section of Berlinale programme links to contemporary art. And even better, the day I got my invitation-slash-invoice, I also got a mail relating to this artistic foreplay, or sidekick, called Forum Expanded. The press screenings took place at Arsenal Cinema in the cellars of Berlin’s German Museum for Film and TV (it probably welcomes more visitors per day than the average German movie). For us VIPs (ahem) this meant short films from ten thirty in the morning to four forty-five in the afternoon, interrupted by half an hour for lunch. It’s a tough job.

Berlinale itself would not start but ten days later, yet we were told not to lose a word on films celebrating their world premiere at the festival before it took place. Not being told to which films this would apply, and utterly failing in locating the information on the – unquestionably informative – website, I decided not to write about any of these films right now (or actually, I did, but you won’t read it before the festival is over). Instead, this is the time to talk about an exhibition at Academy of Arts that is connected to these films. It's also called Forum Expanded: The Stars Down to Earth, it’s also film only, but more arty-ly presented. And it opened a day before Biennale did.

A 1952 essay of Teddy Adorno on the “ideological use of horoscopes in the LA Times” serves as the curatorial link between films and “installative works” (that’s how they call them). The idea is to ‘get back down to earth, to watch and to listen’. Mkay. They admit, the motto – The Stars Down to Earth - has been found after all works were selected. But wait: There is yet another expansion of Forum Expanded, and it opened still a day earlier! This is an installation of Amos Gitai at project space Savvy Contemporary. Gitai is an angry man, his show a violent critique of the Israeli settlement policy, exposing a religious concept that supposedly motivated/justified the murder of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 - the Law of the Pursuer (also the name of the show). I’m still not entirely convinced, if this discussion of Jewish religious issues is appropriate, or only interesting, in Germany, even though the ultra right in this part of the world has surprisingly shifted allegiances, and now embraces everything “anti-Muslim” (whereas 20th European Left has often been anti-Semitic, today’s right is behaving pseudo-philo-Semitic). There could be much said about this, but here is not the place, or the time.

Gitai uses photos and texts, some of them poems, on the floor to tread on, also four films projected in parts on canvas, in parts extending to the walls. Noise and flashes of point to war and explosions. You see soldiers, mourners, and ultraorthodox fanatics demanding the head of Rabin. It’s a collection of scenes from different films, Amos Gitai has directed over the past ten years. On more canvas has no film - the future is open, there is hope?

On that opening night, I felt rather angry too, but for different reasons. Running around “Wedding”, an ill-reputed gang territory in the North of Berlin in desperate search for a project space, is not everybody’s idea of a pleasant night out. Savvy Contemporary hides beside a crematorium, the only building on that side of the road. In a way, the experience linked together the different parts of Forum Expanded: For the visit to Academy of Arts, I arrived half an hour late, having been to Brandenburger Tor first, happy to finally find a raison d’être for Academy of Arts. Unfortunately, it’s another Academy. In case you intend to visit The Stars Down to Earth: Academy of Arts in Hanseatenweg, S-Bahn station “Bellevue”.

The exhibition has films and film installations, and Amos Gitai has set the topic, as the title could also be “That Half Moon Down to Earth”. A majority of works deal with the (unquestionably horrible) situation in the Middle East, from Gaza to Syria. It’s only human, if you don’t want to see this in an art exhibition, being confronted all day with the same in newspapers, on television and the web.

Yet, there is worse. Imagine you give your teenage daughter a camera for her birthday, and she walks through the streets, constantly filming her own face and a piece of the sky. If you’re an artist/director couple, you can make money from this. At least Philip Schefner and Merle Kröger try to. Someone should open a YouTube account for Izadora (too bad, Vine is out of business, at least the app limited videos to six seconds which would have been largely sufficient for this selfie art).

Once, there was a war in ‘Nam too. Recently declassified audio recording of a bombing raid add to three screens with a burned Californian forest, a drawing of a sad Indian (‘Murrican too), and some monochrome fighting respectively. That’s James Benning’s Untitled Fragments. The art is just a decor, to understand you need to read the background to each part.

Maybe because it was different, because it stood out from the rest, my favourite work at Academy of Arts was Jeamin Cha‘s Twelve, presenting a fictional debate of the South Korean commission that every year – in secret – determines the stately guaranteed minimum wages. This definitely matters to you, if you’re employed in the culture industry. A fictional debate about people and the value of dignity, about people who to the true debaters are no less fictional. Another truly captivating film comes from Wutharr: Saltwater Dreams features Aboriginal amateur actors getting stranded with their boat, then invoke and meet the dead. It is great!

Abstract, monochrome... film. That’s nice. Although, once again, on Arabian wars. A subtitle writer subtitling films he – supposedly - receives every week from a mysterious collective in Syria is subtitling a pink screen with his story. At least it’s inventive: Joe Namy - Purple, Bodies in Translation – Part II of A Yellow Memory from the Yellow Age.

And finally, the world tour concludes in Namibia. Katrin Winkler’s Towards Memory tells about Namibians who as children were sent to Eastern Germany to visit schools and universities, in a Marxist Socialist gesture of solidarity, anti-colonialism and propaganda. After the fall of the wall, they were forced to return to a country they had almost forgotten, a place where they did not feel at home anymore (though their parents were probably rather happy to see). The film mixes colonial past and migrational present, living under European rule was not always the dream it is today.

At the end of the beginning of Berlinale, let me start a work in progress.

Around every big event, you find the parasites, not officially involved venues who try to get a piece of the cake, to profit from tourism and publicity, and Berlinale makes no difference. Kulturforum announced a show in three parts all shown during the film festival. The first of Joe RamirezGold Projections is on now. The promo material uses citations comparing him to “Russian director Tarkovsky” (a German journalist), “the monolith in Kubrick’s 2001” (Patti Smith), and “a true 21st Century Renaissance artist” (Wim Wenders). Sounds a lot like “The producer of Titanic, the director of The Dark Knight and the Caterer of Avatar bring you...“. Always a warning sign. Especially, if somewhere among the praise you read the name Wim Wenders.

Leaving Kulturforum, I was humming to the theme of Flipper: “I’m calling bullsh*t, bullsh*t, bombastic bullsh*t...” BUT there are still two parts to go, and I’m eager to be proven wrong, once I understand it all. If I do.

This first part has a silver gong on a wall, diameter about 50 cm. The images projected to it feature people in costumes, or landscapes, all moving slowly, all in “painting colours”. Nothing special whatsoever. After a few minutes, the lights go on, and in the back you discover two tables, one rectangular, one round. Two persons stand around the first one, two persons sit on the second. They cut out small stripes of gold paper, and glue it with water to more gongs lying on those tables. Then, they dry the brushes they used to apply the water in their hair, and cut out another small stripe. They are very focused. If someone approaches them, they insist on whispering. At the entrance, visitors were forced to put their cell phones in a “sealed” (closed with a sticker) envelope. Nothing shall distract from the proceedings. Nothing happens.

Don't forget to read parts two and three of our Berlinale special, plus the prequel, and the interview!

Berlinale #57: Forum Expanded – The Stars Down to Earth, 9-19 February 2017, Arsenal Cinema and Academy of Arts

Amos Gitai, The Law of the Pursuer, 7 February - ? 2017, Savvy Contemporary

Joe Ramirez, The Gold Projections, 7-19 February 2017, Kulturforum

World of Arts Magazine – contemporary art criticism



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