Monday, June 16, 2014

The known unknown

Last week we saw Michael Stevenson’s work Left behind in the Berlin Biennale. He has used one of those two-sided advertising display cases that rotates posters by turning them on rollers at the top and bottom. As this is Michael Stevenson it involves three poster promoting movies based on the Left behind series of books. The Left behind franchise (a Nicolas Cage version is to be released later this year!) is based on a belief that the end of the world is nigh and prophesies The Rapture. This involves all believers being saved (by ascending naked up into heaven) and the rest of us, and the clothing of the saved left behind. Stevenson has covered one side of the poster with a blown-up page from the now defunct New Plymouth evening paper the Taranaki Herald (a super weird thing to come across in Berlin) and on the other revealed the neon tubes that illuminate the sign and are usually hidden.

The rich and strange history of this work (religious as well as cultural) is tough to figure out from simply looking at it but that's what you've got to do. Throughout this Biennale there are some very basic labels and that's it. A catalogue is supposed to be due in a few weeks and in the meantime there's a brief guidebook.  We could talk with Michael but most people don't have that option.

The Berlin Biennale is suffering from the dilemma facing curators at the moment – to explain or not to explain. At the BB you're on your own. Complex ideas artists had mulled over for months are presented like cargo cult planes and then, OTY.

We talked to a few people about the experience. Most of them said that if they didn’t instinctively like a work they'd just move on to something else. The curator of the Berlin Biennale was of the sink-or-swim school and from what we could see a lot of people were put off even getting into the water.

Images: Top Michael Stevenson in his studio with one of the Taranaki Herald pages behind him,. Middle and bottom Left behind installed at Museen Dahlem