Here’s a thought. Perhaps the abrupt cancellation of Teresa Margolles’s exhibition So It Vanishes by the Dowse Art Museum a couple of months ago in fact demonstrated exemplary political engagement. Having just visited the seventh Berlin Biennale which proclaims itself as a important political event you might certainly think so.
We arrived at this (admittedly abstract) bit of thinking after seeing another Teresa Margolles’s installation as part of the BB. This one is called PM 2010. Whenever a murder in the Mexican drug wars hit the front page of the tabloid PM Margolles reproduced it. That meant 313 times lurid pictures of the murdered, beheaded, dismembered and immolated losers in the drug wars were featured. And 313 times each of these horrible images was flanked by an equally lurid pic of a near naked model. The effect was numbing.
Now while that may well have been Margolles’s point, in the context of the Berlin Biennale's claims to work with 'transformative social processes' it only served to show how superficial its politics really were. And this low political temperature infected all aspects of the Biennale.
Outside one venue for instance people sipped coffee at the gallery café and chatted amiably while inside the building protesters sat around in one of the galleries they had occupied and… chatted amiably. The level of discomfort or challenge evident for the 99 percent or for the 1 percent was about zero.
In contrast the empty space at the Dowse demonstrated how two differing sets of cultural and political ideals were unable to connect in that place and in that time. This silence communicated with more political weight than an entire state funded (#irony) biennale with its endless and circular questions, challenges and assertions.
Images: Teresa Margolles’s installation PM 2010