Artists Pull Work from 9th Berlin Biennale in Dispute over Authorship

The artists see it as a "dismissal" of their labor.

Image of Rare Candy and collaborators' empty installation by Amber Wright courtesy Rare Candy.

In a controversial move, Melbourne-based studio practice Rare Candy and several of their collaborators have removed their work from Centre for Style’s Dress Rehearsal project in the 9th Berlin Biennale due to lack of clear indication of the authorship of the work.

In an open letter penned by the collective and shared on e-flux conversations, Rare Candy—naming their collaborators as Alden Epp, Spencer Lai, Natasha Madden, Ander Rennick, and Amber Wright—claimed the artists and their work were credited incorrectly both internally from official sources, and externally in media coverage of the event, calling it “an almost complete dismissal of the authorship of our contribution to the biennale.”

The letter defends the difficult decision to reclaim the work, stating, “The decision came from our refusal to accept the conditions we faced exhibiting our work in the biennale­—conditions we sadly felt did not honor the many sacrifices we had made in order to participate.”

The installation, which included handcrafted artifacts and accessories as well as a video work, was presented in the mezzanine of the Akademie der Künste—one of the five locations of the 9th Berlin Biennale—where a performance of a fashion show by Centre for Style took place during the opening weekend. Some details from the installation before its removal can be found on Rare Candy’s Instagram, along with their preferred manner of clearly indicating the individual artists’ names:

The group took issue with the installation repeatedly being framed in umbrella terms such as “community” and “collaboration,” which they said failed to adequately recognize true authorship. In the context of the biennial, they felt their work was subsumed under banners that “drew capital from [their] labor yet neglected to acknowledge from where, or whom, it had come.”

Rare Candy, whose label frames commercial fashion design within the context of art practice, removed the contribution despite efforts to retroactively rectify the negligence, elaborating, “the dissolving of our work into an anonymous display […] only served to blur the distinct voices within.”

The withdrawal of the work from the 9th Berlin biennale is intended as a statement to remind the artistic community of the necessity “to resist the co-option of artistic labor that can occur when art is decontextualized from its community and repurposed to accommodate an overriding curatorial agenda, or in this case, several.”

Image of Rare Candy and collaborators' empty installation by Amber Wright courtesy Rare Candy.

Image of Rare Candy and collaborators’ empty installation by Amber Wright. Courtesy Rare Candy.

Gone but not forgotten, upstairs in the Akademie der Künste, their absence is conspicuous, as among the remnants of the extricated installation sit empty glass vitrines coated in dust, hair, and greasy fingerprints where the doors have been opened to remove the work.

Behind the glass, a small message reads:

This is the remainder of Rare Candy’s contribution to Centre for Style’s Dress Rehearsal in the 9th Berlin Biennale. Together with our contributors Alden Epp, Spencer Lai, Natasha Madden, Misty Pollen, Ander Rennick, and Amber Wright, we have made the decision to reclaim our proposed work.

A blank monitor, originally intended to screen Rare Candy, Epp, Lai, and Wright’s 16-minute collaborative film, entitled Don’t mutilate my mink, also sits, unblinking. The empty display is a testament to the collective’s continued involvement in the show, now as a political statement about the false appropriation of artists’ work.

The reclaimed work has been returned to Melbourne where it is planned to restage the original contribution to the biennale while highlighting the role of the contributors who produced it.

UPDATE: The collective DIS, who curated the 9th Berlin Biennale, has replied to artnet News’ request for a comment, saying:

To be clear, we invited Centre for Style to organize an exhibition within the exhibition. One of the participants was Rare Candy, who in turn, invited a group of collaborators. Errors in representation and crediting were made, and we support Rare Candy’s decision to remove the work from the Biennale. We will be featuring the existing installation as well as the reclaimed work and performance documentation on the Berlin Biennale website soon.

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