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Highlights Of Berlin’s 2016 Biennale

Picture of Lily Cichanowicz
Updated: 8 November 2016
Perhaps the most culturally critical and experimental one yet, Berlin’s ninth Biennale was met with much anticipation. Curated by New York-based art collective DIS, this year’s theme was “The Present in Drag” – a phrase with two meanings. On one hand, it refers to the way many aspects of social interaction are performed and insincere, but ironically, humanity has never had so many mediums for free self-expression. Here are some highlights.

Positive Pathways, GCC Collective

Positive Pathways is an installation inspired by Dubai’s newly instated Minister of Happiness. It questions the newfound culture of optimism that is emerging in parts of the Middle East and beyond. The installation itself featured a woman bending to speak to a child. They are standing on a platform of sand surrounded by a maroon running track.

#gcc #berlinbiennale #bb9 #positivepathways

A photo posted by Vivien Trommer (@vivientrommer) on

View of Pariser Platz, Jon Rafman

The concept of virtual reality is a hot topic in recent times, especially as technology develops to make the experience even more compelling. In Jon Rafman’s work for the Biennale, viewers are invited to stand on a balcony over Pariser Platz where they undergo his three-minute Oculus Rift simulation of the exact same scenery, except that in Rafman’s version, an apocalyptic scenario transpires over the Brandenburg Gate.

There’s a word I’m trying to remember, for a feeling I’m about to have (a distracted path toward extinction), Korakrit Arunanondchai/Alex Gvojic

Being that contemporary art is a movement that spans across many mediums, no Biennale would be complete without a few film installations. Korakrit Arunanondchai and Alex Gvojic’s experimental video explores climate change and extinction, including that of humankind. Meanwhile, the venue itself, which is located on a boat, travels up and down the river Spree.

#berlinbiennale #korakritarunanondchai #alexgvojic #thereisaworldimtryingtoremember

A photo posted by Marcin Rozyc (@marcinrozyc) on

What the Heart Wants, Cécile B. Evans

A common theme throughout this year’s biennale is an exploration of our conceptions of the body and the social conventions that have ubiquitously become intertwined with it. Artists like Cécile B. Evans set out to dismantle these assumptions by blending human body parts with machines and digital entities in her film What the Heart Wants.

Amazing #CecileBEvans Installation @berlinbiennale

A photo posted by Eva Respini (@curator_on_the_run) on

Oblivion, Anne de Vries

Many artists’ work also grapples with the supposed bleakness of postmodernism and the realities of post-internet culture. Anne de Vries, for example, sought to elucidate the impacts of media and technology on collective perception in her meticulously detailed diorama of a music festival. From a bird’s eye view, it is clear that we are constantly bombarded with stimulation, which can lull us into a state of oblivion.

Anne de Vries "Oblivion," 2016 , "Critical Mass: Pure Immanence," 2015 #AnnedeVries #BB9

A photo posted by The 9th Berlin Biennale (@berlinbiennale) on

Transit Mode – Abenteuer, Anna Uddenberg

Undoubtedly one of the most striking exhibitions of the year, Anna Uddenberg’s Transit Mode – Abenteuer, is an examination of the human form. Through shape and positioning of lifelike sculptures, Uddenburg challenges social conventions and highlights the fact that even the ways we move our bodies are performative rather than natural.

#annauddenberg @oscarlson @michaelelmenbeck #porrigt?

A photo posted by Nicole Walker (@_nicowalker_) on

Power Rack, Rig, Squat Rack Nik Kosmas

Nik Kosmas brings a fascinating interactive art piece to the Biennale. Consisting of three multi-colored structures that essentially function as jungle gyms, Kosmas instructs workout sessions using this equipment. His work is derived from his love for fitness and nutrition in combination with art, thus expanding the parameters for post-contemporary art at large.

Open Workout rn at #BB9 with artist Nina Cristante @ninandkris 💪🏽 @nikkosma's Power Rack, Rig, Squat Rack 2016

A video posted by The 9th Berlin Biennale (@berlinbiennale) on

Happy Museum, Simon Fujiwara

Another artist to examine the concepts of happiness and optimism is Simon Fujiwara in his installation called ‘Happy Museum.’ With the help of his brother, an economist, Fujiwara’s work sheds light on the commodification of happiness using Berlin as his unit of analysis, subsequently exposing the absurdity of consumption as a means of finding true happiness.

Simon Fujiwara "The Happy Museum", 2016 #SimonFujiwara #BB9

A photo posted by The 9th Berlin Biennale (@berlinbiennale) on

Blockchain Visionaries, Simon Denny/Linda Kantchev

Looking further at the world of the commodity, Blockchain Visionaries is an installation that assesses the connection between corporations and branding, with special attention paid to three real startup companies and their relationship with the transaction database known as BitCoin. In the simulated trade-fair, each company has a stamp that it uses as currency as an examination of the way institutions use currency as a means of controlling commerce.

#simondenny #blockchainfuturestates #esmt #bb9 #thepresentindrag

A photo posted by Johan Lundh (@larsjohangustaflundh) on

Duilian, Wu Tsang

Wu Tsang invites us to change the way we look at history through the installation Duilian, which intermingles fictional characters from different eras and genres to explore the way cultures change perceptions of their predecessors within her conceptual paradigm, ‘wild history’. The installation also focuses on the protagonist, Qui Jin, and her bonds with other women. In turn, we see how certain elements of the human experience render fact and chronology irrelevant.


A photo posted by The 9th Berlin Biennale (@berlinbiennale) on

MINT, Debora Delmar Corp

Debora Delmar Corp calls for people to come to terms with the social and political impacts of their actions, no matter how well-intentioned they might be. Focusing on the health food craze, Delmar sells healthy green juices whilst also exploring the ways that consumption of so-called super foods has very real impacts on the lives and economies of those living in developing countries around the globe.

🍼🍼🌿*Headquarters* by #DeboraDelmarCorp @ #DUVEBerlin. #mint #mintlifestyle

A photo posted by EARTH SCIENCES (@earth_sciences) on

Ewaipanoma (Rihanna), Juan Sebastián Peláez

Juan Sebastián Peláez literally deconstructs the human form through his work, Ewaipanoma (Rihanna), which features blown up images of many famous individuals with their heads removed and their faces superimposed over their chests. The goal is to question both body ideals and the feelings of otherness that so often arise in those that don’t fit them.

PRIVILEGE, Amalia Ulman

Amalia Ulman’s PRIVILEGE, depicts the ways that technology and the emergence of a culture industry have caused many to create completely fake personas for themselves, ones that often completely contradict reality. In this installation, she employs a pigeon as her counselor in an examination of the ways that race, gender, and other forms of stratification impact a person’s productivity and agency. Ulman simultaneously examines her own sense of privilege and conception of stereotypes.

#amaliaulman #kw #bb9 #berlinbiennial

A photo posted by Gabriela (@pedegris) on

#3, Shawn Maximo

In #3, Shawn Maximo identifies the fact that commercial environments serve as the interface between the real and the virtual. Drawing on his experience making signs for well-known brands, Maximo assigns digital images and aesthetics to spaces where they clearly do not belong in order to create a disorienting sense of visual contradiction, demonstrating the power of advertising to influence our perceptions.

Monument Right, Julien Ceccaldi

Illustrator Julien Ceccaldi creates highly evocative and relatable characters that oscillate between states of oversentimentality and apathy. For the Biennale, his installation features two large light boxes with a mixture of digitally produced images and hand painted figures. We witness a clear disjunction between the emotional states of the two characters, a conventionally attractive man and an emaciated androgynous person.

That feel… @jlnccc #JulienCeccaldi

A photo posted by The 9th Berlin Biennale (@berlinbiennale) on