11th Berlin Biennale
Kunst als partizipativer Prozess
What will the Berlin Biennale 2020 focus on, and what role will Berlin play? An interview with curator Agustín Pérez Rubio.
By Nadine Berghausen
In summer 2020, the 11th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art will be held at various locations in the city. This one promises to be a little different from its predecessors, though, as the current curatorial team has ambitious plans for the concept: through more openness and participation, they hope to extend the Biennale’s impact beyond 2020. Curator Agustín Pérez Rubio spoke in an interview about the importance of transforming art mediation and the role Berlin will play in this process.
Mr Pérez Rubio, the Berlin Biennale traditionally selects a leitmotiv. How would you describe it for the Biennale 2020?
Inspired by the work of Brazilian artist and architect Flávio de Carvalho, we have chosen a number of different projects for the Biennale 2020. From the 1930s to the 1950s, de Carvalho organized Experiências (experiences), different pieces performed in São Paulo, which was quite conservative at the time. We took these Experiências as a jumping off point and are confronting today’s reality with that of de Carvalho’s time. We explore the primary conflicts in our society – in Berlin and around the world – and how they are connected to the normative society described by de Carvalho. Ultimately his work provided triggering moments that are later discharged by the work of other artists over the course of the Biennale.
When you talk about the course of the Biennale, you are not just referring to the actual main event in summer 2020, but to a series of exhibitions leading up to this event. What is the significance of these individual elements?
The Biennale is a process. Three “experiences”, exp. 1-3, that took place during the one-year run-up that kicked off in September 2019, created a context and paved the way for the actual Biennale. The final element is the phase generally seen as the Biennale, schedule from the 13th of June to the 13th of September 2020. We see this final piece as an epilogue closely linked to exp. 1-3.
Like your inspiration, artist de Carvalho, you and the three other members of the curator team are from Latin American countries. How has that impacted the Biennale?
We try to incorporate our South American past, history and research into our work. This affects various issues, like the legacy of Colonialism and the role of museums. We will also be showing a lot of work by South American artists.
Flávio de Carvalho wearing and displaying the New Look Suit on the streets of São Paulo: “Experiência n. 3”, 1956. | Photo: Fundo Flávio de Carvalho/CEDAE-UNICAMP, Campinas © The Heirs of Flávio de Carvalho How do you work together as a team?
We don’t believe in the work of any one individual curator, just like the Biennale doesn’t have just one central message. Instead we believe in the collaborative process, and reject clear cut distinctions such as: “what is an exhibition, what is a public programme, what is an art project, how do we understand art mediation, and what does mediation really mean in this context?” As a curatorial team, we see everything as art, the whole process from the very start of a piece to its reception. That is our approach.
This approach includes a desire to design the Biennale to be open and participative. What does that look like in practice?
We want to establish a more lasting relationship to the audience. To this end, we have closely involved the various exhibition venues in the programme and want to give the Berlin public the chance to truly participate in this Biennale. Performances, workshops and roundtables will be held at different venues throughout Berlin. This is our attempt to encourage continual exchange with the artistic community, the university and, above all, Berlin communities. Many citizens are not really involved in cultural processes and art mediation. They are not part of the system of art. We also do not want to exclude anyone just because they don’t have the resources, knowledge or experience in dealing with artistic processes.
Would you mind describing one of these projects in more detail?
Stories are developed within a collective; they are made up of various perspectives, desires and fears. Florian Gass and Mirja Reuter held puppet theatre workshops for children and teens in our temporary spaces, and participants expressed the desire to define or interpret the action themselves. One workshop allowed children and teens to create their own puppets, stage sets and equipment for projecting shadows and images, fictions and illusions.
An outtake from the installation „exp. 1: the bones of the world“ at the 11th Berlin Biennale at ExRotaprint in Berlin Gesundbrunnen. | Photo (detail): © Mathias Völzke What do you mean by sustainable in reference to the public and people who live in Berlin?
The advantage of working on a sustainable process is that it gives you the option to change directions. We have time to respond to the needs of the people who live in Berlin and to recognize our mistakes. As a team, we didn’t arrive in Berlin with any specific expectations of the project. Instead, we asked ourselves what people in Berlin’s communities and in the artistic community expected from us, and what we could offer them. This Biennale will also be the first to take advantage of the opportunity to extend its impact even after the official exhibition has closed. For the first time, specially hired employees will continue to work on art mediation in future. The 11th Biennale will end, but citizens will continue to have opportunities for profiting from ongoing projects.
Agustín Pérez Rubio and his colleagues Lisette Lagnado, María Berríos and Renata Cervetto identify as the female curatorial team working across generations for the Biennale Berlin. Pérez Rubio was artistic director of the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires and chief curator and director of the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León. He has also curated numerous exhibitions, most recently on Claudia Andujar and Mirtha Dermisache. In 2019, he curated the Chilean pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia. He explores collaborative projects, issues of gender and feminism, linguistics, architecture, politics and postcolonial perspectives.