Pierre Huyghe, A Journey that Wasn't
Today is the start of my first full week here at Rhizome in the role of Editor & Curator.
This disjunct between reality and its illusory other, the world of privileged consumerism, was at the heart of the 6th Berlin Biennial. In the exhibition catalog, curator Kathrin Rhomberg wrote that there is a growing "gap between the world we talk about and the world as it really is." In an effort to close this gap, the Biennial wrestled with contemporary issues and realities far beyond the gallery walls - an all-too-rare impulse in the hermetic field of visual art.
Unfortunately, this Biennial may well have convinced many of its visitors that artists should stick to the studio; too many of the works lacked any nuance in their portrayal of external realities. There was a highly unpleasant video of a horse being knocked off its feet, subtly titled Problems with Relationship. There was Bernard Bazile's inept installation of shouty protest videos from Paris. There was Sebastian Stumpf running into private garages just as the doors closed behind him, Indiana Jones-style.
Yet there were also moments of brilliance along the way. At its best, the Biennial yielded keen insights into the conditions of contemporary capitalism and the relationship between the personal and the political. Without further ado, here are some of the highlights.
Telephone Trottoire is a publishing system for communities to share news, stories, and opinions over the mobile phone. The system dials members of the Congolese community and plays them a recording in the Lingala language. The recording might be a story, song, or joke, or it could be a discussion of a serious issue. The recipient of the call has the option of leaving a comment in response or forwarding the call to someone else, allowing the system to grow virally. It was developed on behalf of Congolese communities in London by MediaShed, a 'free-media' organization based in Southend-on-Sea, England.
At 01SJ 2008, three artists Graham Harwood, Richard Wright and Matsuko Yokokoji (formerly Mongrel ) presented Tantalum Memorial, an art installation based on Telephone Trottoire. This same installation will be on view at the art and digital culture festival transmediale in Berlin this week. Tantalum Memorial is one of eight projects to win the transmediale 2009 Award. I met up with Harwood at a Peet's Coffee in San Jose last June to discuss these two projects. He wore a hat with the word 'ADDICT' emblazoned across the front (his son's) and ordered an herbal tea. - Michael Connor