See the Standout Performances of the 9th Berlin Biennale
Performers act out your newsfeed, and visitors are asked to break a sweat.
In case you haven’t heard by now, the theme—and ingeniously catchy slogan—of the DIS-curated, 9th Berlin Biennale (bb9) is “The Present in Drag.” The phrase adorns the exhibition catalog, official map, and banners across the city, alongside photos of grinning stock people. “Drag,” for DIS, means a Biennale where the staff wear TELFAR; where works are displayed in conference rooms and corporate lobbies, and the juice bar is art. But drag is nothing if it isn’t performance, and where bb9 makes the most sense is in its live performances. An extensive program of events set to take place throughout the summer ranges from—and blurs the lines between—ongoing actions, recurring and one-off performances, panel discussions, and an artist-led body training program. Here are some of the highlights:
1. boychild, boychild, and more boychild
Genderfluid performer boychild was the face of bb9’s opening weekend, which began, in true Berlin style, with a performance at a mobbed GHE20G0TH1K party at Ballhaus Berlin on Friday. Painted gold, wearing pretty much nothing but a flashing, LED-lit mouthguard, she had a savage presence, while simultaneously maintaining an insectile control of her body. The next evening, she brought an even more polished version to the Biennale’s floating venue, a sightseeing boat with an environmental installation by artists Korakrit Arunanondchai and Alex Gvojic. She graced the Plexiglas stage, surrounded by rats, e-waste, fresh flowers, and burned Astroturf, followed by an intense musical performance by futuristic producer Yen Tech. What felt like a spectacle was brought back down to earth by the other party boats sailing by. Nonetheless, the performance surely left a trail of smoke-machine fog down the river Spree.
2. Break a sweat with Nik Kosmas
For those that could wake up in time, Saturday morning saw the first of the Open Workout series, led by artist-turned-personal trainer Nik Kosmas. “If you don’t have a regular, at least twice a week training regimen, then you’ll definitely be sore tomorrow,” he prefaced the workout, which activates the sculptural-looking “installation” on a second-floor deck of Akademie der Künste (AdK), that is actually just colorful, functional, foundational gym equipment. The series takes place every Saturday for the duration of the Biennale, guided by rotating instructors who identify to varying degrees with the title “artist.” To be completely clear: this is an actual, sweaty, “please come in sports clothes” training session that takes place inside the Biennale. And the irony of participants who showed up wearing Nike for fashion, while hardly being able to hold a 60-second plank, is not lost. Downstairs in the same building, Debora Delmar Corp.’s juice bar installation, MINT, quenches the post-workout thirst, while making complex and contradictory comments on consumerist wellness trends.
3. Ei Arakawa lip-synchs Seth Price
Even what can be described on paper as the Biennale’s only “traditional” theatrical performance, is far from it. Artist Ei Arakawa, whose practice deals with re-contextualizations, adapted a 2008 text by Seth Price into How to DISappear in America: The Musical, a lip-synced, intentionally half-assed extravaganza, offering various options of how to disappear from modern life, from hiding in the woods, joining the circus, to becoming a neon-haired raver. The performance, which features a talking set in the form of an LED-lit email logo as a main character, spills over into the exhibition spaces and, like Jon Rafman’s Oculus Rift installation, implicates the immediate surroundings of Pariser Platz. Opening the large glass walls/windows of AdK at the end of the show, the set continues to speak, its deep voice adding to the touristic cacophony outside.
4. Alexandra Pirici renders newsfeeds corporeal
Over at Kunst-Werke, Alexandra Pirici’s ongoing action Signals quietly goes on for a few hours six days a week, in a pitch-black room. Hidden behind double doors are performers wearing reflective beads dotted on their faces and bodies, allowing them to create collaborative constellations with their physical selves, a different action every few minutes. The prompts for each short action, which range from “Arch of Triumph in 2000-year-old city of Palmyra destroyed by daesh” to “Coca-Cola Commercial,” are drawn from content-ranking newsfeed algorithms. On the bb9 website, users can influence which actions will be performed. This is the Biennale of buzzwords, and here, ones like “trending topics,” “content,” and “influencers” come to mind. But these robotic terms are returned to a sensual, human level when acted out using nothing but movement and voice.
Plan your summer wisely
Interacting with bb9 is the key to understand its curatorial motivations, and the rest of the summer’s programming is sure to illuminate the “present in drag” theme even further. Besides the aforementioned, noteworthy events are a Google Roast with roastmaster Casey Jane Ellison, and a weekly Boat Rage departing from Märkisches Ufer, featuring a roster of performances by artists and musicians, like Emily Segal’s performance of a work-in-progress novel on #branding followed by music by disruptive producers ANGEL-HO and WHY BE. Booking your EasyJet flight and AirBnB room ASAP is highly recommended.
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