by Alice Connolly O’Brien // Sept. 17, 2021
It’s September, which means both Berlin Art Week and Gallery Weekend are underway. This year is a special moment for Berlin Art Week, as it celebrates a decade in action. Once again, Gallery Weekend—usually offered in the spring—takes place alongside Art Week, this year embodying the theme ‘Discoveries’ with the intention of highlighting new, emerging creatives in its programme. We went to some of the most promising exhibitions in institutions, galleries and spaces across both festivals to get a firsthand look at what these annual celebrations of contemporary art have in store.
We began our tour at Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.), or, more accurately, outside n.b.k., with a work by veteran German conceptual artist Rosemarie Trockel. The gallery has expanded its space by securing a large presentation surface at the intersection of Friedrichstraße and Torstraße. They hope to use the space to showcase a bi-annual turnover of contemporary works and the programme’s inaugural feature is this work by Trockel. Walking towards n.b.k., the billboard space becomes visible, frames the gallery, and acts as a greeter of a sort. The work is titled ‘Thinking in Dark Times’ and depicts a standard, white, almost industrial window surrounded by and offering a view of a pitch black background. When considered in isolation, the piece feels sinister and cold, the sterile window showing the viewer only darkness. However, when presented amid the urban surroundings of Mitte, it appears less like an omen and more like a chameleon, gently weaving its way into the architecture and nooks of the city. A presentation like this, intended to be viewed outside, feels like a nod to the (dark) times we’ve been through over the past 18 months. It serves as a reminder that art can be found and celebrated anywhere, even when its institutional frameworks are closed and our lives on lockdown.
Moving on, we unknowingly continue with the theme of sinister works that belie a certain tender thoughtfulness, stepping into Dirk Lange’s exhibition at Soy Capitan. The exhibition shows three of Lange’s drawings, which have been created using muted tones. Each of the pieces feels large, eye-catching and imposing inside the neat white walls of the gallery. Lange has richly and lavishly drawn dreamlike scenarios on the canvas, each looking like a scene from a classic fairytale. However, on closer inspection, each of the pieces has a dark, paradoxical undertone. ‘Eigennacht’ shows a pleasant figure strolling through meadows and hills, yet the world around her has begun to molecularly break down. Nighttime skies pour out of her head and back and it feels like, unbeknownst to her, something is amiss. The realisation that the figure could be under threat leaves the viewer feeling slightly tricked. Lange’s other pieces ‘Ein Fall für die Jungs’ and ‘Wilderer’ possess the same ominous energy.
Next door, we visited the exhibition of Jonas Roßmeißl at Klemm’s, aptly titled ‘a new static’. Roßmeißl is a young artist and this body of work demonstrates a clear, distinctive and cutting voice. In the exhibition, he shows a model of the Statue of Liberty holding an open box of medication and a garden gnome that has been sliced and fragmented. These symbols are immediately recognisable, but each with their unique intervention. This feels like a sharp critique of the current state of our priorities as a society. We’ve mixed everything with synthetics and ruined the authenticity of what we cherish. The most striking piece in his exhibition is a framed work at the entrance. It holds endlessly running gear wheels eating their way through textile, and feels like a pointed nod towards our boundless consumption as humans. In an bold and impactful move, Roßmeißl chose to install light fixtures above each of the works, which would prevent visitors from taking a clear photo of the exhibition. Each attempt results in a static disturbance, as the title suggests. This power move—controlling how and when we can admire the work—is another example of biting social commentary by the artist, this time directed at our inability to enjoy experiences unfiltered through our phones.
Finally, we visited the Schinkel Pavillon to enter the worlds of HR Giger and emerging South Korean artist Mira Lee. The curator Agnes Gryczkowska has impressively woven together the works of these two distinctive artists into the architecture of the Pavillon, to the extent that they almost become one. The lower level of the Pavillon features a conversation between Lee’s animatronic, distressed sculptures and the universe of Giger’s ‘Alien,’ which was made famous by Ridley Scott’s 1979 film. This section feels dark, intimate and forbidden, like something we weren’t supposed to be privy to. Upstairs, we flow down a narrow corridor passing paintings and drawings that depict the unspoken horror of birth and lead us into an octagon shaped cell, as if we’ve traveled up the vaginal canal. The room is then surrounded by Lee’s ‘Carriers – offsprings,’ a collection of grotesque, squirting, foetus-like creatures, which are suspended from the ceiling and continuously fed viscous liquids. The entire experience feels like something internal, as if we have, ourselves, just been traumatically birthed from a pulsing womb.
Whether it’s experiencing an artistic reenactment of birth-trauma, finding an ominous undertone to something that once seemed inviting or being unable to observe artistic interventions in unconventional places, it feels like a gift to be enjoying Berlin Art Week and Gallery Weekend’s rich and varied programme in person again this year.