With galleries and artists from all four corners of the world, this year’s edition of Berlin Art Fair didn’t live up to its promised multiculturalism. The motto turned out to be “a whole lot of the same”. 80 % of the fair was installation, immediately followed by photography and drawing, and few painting. In the end, despite all geographical variety, Art Forum Berlin failed to present neither big galleries nor variety.
Though everybody is working with mixed-media, experimenting with different materials, even painting on car glass, still not that many alternatives are presented. The unconventionality of materials doesn’t compensate for the lack of real challenging works of art.
Few artists stood out positively, and among these, Gregor Hildebrant represented by Jan Wentrup (Berlin) was an exception. Hildebrandt stripes recorded cassette tape using it as raw material for his pieces, using both old and new tape, they always “bear” a sound of his choice. A work on display showed splashing water; it was produced with recorded tape with the single “If only tonight we could”, from The Cure. This process involves a lot of patience, it is built using layers of tape, thus engaging different codes simultaneously (the visual and the audible).
Gabriela Albergaria, a Portuguese artist living and working in Berlin, represented by Vera Cortês Art Agency (Lisbon), explored a post-colonialist theme in synchrony with the contemporary art theory trend. Her interesting drawing-based installation, showed several views of the Berliner botanical garden signalling in a different colour foreign species from China, Japan and Northern-America, most of which introduced in the XIX century. This work is talking about the way we incorporate that which is foreigner and how that changes over time.
Berlin Art Forum was useful to prove that genre is, against all odds, still pretty much alive in today’s artistic production. A sort of reinvention of the old genres, especially landscape and portrait, is taking place. Parallel to this, installation, photography and drawing are the dominant media.
Represented by Barbara Thumm Gallery (Berlin), Sabine Hornig is producing installations based on her research about typical school architecture.
John Pilson on his hand, maybe surveying, in black and white photography, a whole new landscape which could be named as “office landscape” (Büro Landschaft). Like Hornig, Pilson is documenting architecture but not in a strictly formalistic point of view but, actually adding traces of personal narratives.
Many artists seem to be dealing with space and time, memory and “archive”, past and present issues. Be it for what purpose and in what way, in the end it is about documenting the world of objects and spaces around us. This attitude probably derives from a strong hunger for the “real”. And such an interest on reality can be explored on a more individual or public level, depending on the artist.
Awmi Leppäla´s research for instance, deals with her own experience as a woman and given cultural role. In “Seedings”, a series from 2004, the artist talks about a hidden poetic world, that of feminine intimacy and her own, with its stillness, superstitions and religious symbols.
Dionisio Gonzalez has different concerns. His research about an “aesthetic of horror”, has lead him to create hybrid digital architectures, mixing modern and post-modern architecture references, with brazilian favelas, anonymous urban peripheries or arab cities. The final result is both intriguing and highly aesthetic.
Where do such documenting impulses come from?
The wish to document comes from the awareness that something is at risk, coming to an end or in danger of being lost.
In our society of information, the issue of the “real” is a more and more pertinent and pressing question. This attitude to document the real feeds on anguish, the anguish of the disappearance of the real world, not only gradually melted into a virtual one but also, at the edge of an ecological catastrophe. The computer is a media like no other. It is taking in, all that surrounds us, up to the paradox that if you are not inside the computer or connected to one, you do not exist.
These might be some of the reasons why artists are obsessed with all objects and landscapes. They are methodically mapping or documenting the world that surrounds us, in all aspects, from beauty, to banality, ugliness, filthiness, etc.
Besides documenting a world of already existing objects, there are artists creating a “brave new world”, designing and foreseeing a place where all dreams and fictions might take place and be acted out.
Patricia Piccinni’s “The world according to” (Robert Miller Gallery, NY) is a speculation of how a genetic mutated world would function. She envisions the relationship between humans and artificial created beings as a playfull one. This strange world is literally tossed at our face, and we cannot decide immediately if we are before a threat or not.
The stretching of given cultural roles, the acting out and building new identities is at the core of Scott Treleaven’s work (represented by Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago). He describes his art as “Homofaggothicpunk Art”. “Wishthree & Crowds” is a small mixed media work aiming to build a new iconography, for this, recruiting references from classical antiquity, romanticism, pre-Raphaelites, contemporary art and science-fiction. It becomes necessary to see beyond the specificity of all the posts (colonialism, queer, feminist, etc), where there is a larger picture being threaded, that of militancy. A battle field is taking place. It aims to reform mentalities, more in accordance to a world in which God is dead, and all machines are made to function and connect.
But, meanwhile the future is being irrevocably built, there are still good works of art to move, comfort and excite us.
Marc Bijl work “A Search into the Nature of Society” (Upstream Gallery, Amsterdam) is a temple of capitalist polyurethane brands, political neon statements, whose easy criticism leaves tradition untouched. More cleaver is Thilo Schultze’s (Galerie Jan Winckelmann, Berlin) formalist work, ironically stating: “Formalism is the typical manifestation of artistic decadence in the epoch of imperialism”. Though admitting that it is very difficult to change the nature of things, it actually does something about it: it is breaking the illusion by exposing it efficiently. Also intelligent as political work, trying to win our conscience and make us engage is Costa Vece’s “Brot- Kopfe”.
In Steinar Jacobsen’s aluminium paintings (Galerie K, Oslo), the artist restores our confidence. “Look back in puzzlement” returns our faith in the power of true and simple painting.
The amazing thing is that this reconciliation with painting is done nowadays by vampirising, copying, miming, attitudes from other mediums, such as photography or film. The most challenging painting being produced is actually feeding on the technical possibilities opened by those technological mediums. Painting is exploiting procedures such as still, amplification, reduction, zooming, blurring, faded, sequence, distortion, negative/ positive, originally basic mechanical procedures. Steinar Jacobsen´s paintings for instance, are displayed as a sequence of stills, they are also worked as if they were a negative and show perspectives that own much to photography.
Berlin Art Fair teaches us that artists are still traumatized with avant-garde, clinging on to its procedures and trying to measure up to it. Everybody is experimenting for experimenting´s sake. As a consequence to this, most works are mixed media and feel rather desperate and phoney.
But the truth is that, Genre remains alive. Landscape and portrait are being reinvented by the hour, and installation, photography and drawing have interestingly become the dominant media.
There is a lust for the “Real”, expressed trough a documenting attitude that cannot be anything else than the result of a pressure; a pressure of everyday life, of fast living, of the art market hype, of a “society of information”, of the eminence of an ecological catastrophe, or the uncertainty of one’s identity.
But, in the middle of all this noise, there are still good works of art. Either addressing our desires, trying to gain our critical consciences, giving us aesthetic pleasure, selling us a vision of the world or, imagining and shaping the future, art will go on being produced. I guess Danto was right…Thank God!