The 7th Berlin Biennial, curated by Artur Zjimjewski, opens Friday, Apr. 27. For the exhibition, Zjimjewski, with associate curators Joanna Warsza and the riotous Russian collective Voina, selected 30 projects from nearly 6,000 submitted in an open call.
Among those headlining the exhibition is the First International Congress of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP). The movement, created by Israeli-born artist Yael Bartana, calls for the restitution of Poland's Jewish population, which was nearly wiped out during World War II through massacre or exile. JRMiP exemplifies the social practice that Zjimjewski champions in the Biennial, as it pursues a real resolution to fraught issues concerning ethnic-national history and contemporary xenophobia.
"We were interested in finding answers, not asking questions," Zjimjewski told A.i.A. "We were interested in situations in which solutions are implemented responsibly."
In his foreword to the Biennial publication Forget Fear, Zjimjewski condemns the fetishism of art objects, even those of a political nature, and, alternately, advocates the potency of authentic activism practiced by artists. "Objects," he writes, "perform certain work, the work of aestheticizing reality, changing ideas into spectacle, and transforming the political into a call that no one follows." His exhibition furthers a trend of biennials, such as Istanbul's, and other exhibitions showcasing political artworks and anaesthetic projects.
Among the movements and actions that Zjimjewski chose for the Biennial are the establishment of a permanent Berlin branch of the leftist Polish political faction Krytyka Polityczna and the creation of ArtWiki, an open-source online encyclopedia of artists by the Biennial team and Pit Schultz, a Berlin-based artist and writer.
As part of the Biennial, the JRMiP Congress will assemble for three days (May 11–13) at the Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin's Kreuzberg neighborhood. It will determine the movement's future, and its scope. Speaking with A.i.A about JRMiP's agenda and the congress, Bartana expressed an urgency and a pragmatism that reflect Zjimjewski's call for solutions.
Bartana created JRMiP in 2007, when she dramatized its inception in a short film, Mary Koszmary (Nightmare; 2007). In the film, Polish activist Sławomir Sierakowski heralds the movement's objective, the return of 3.3 million Jews to Poland. He speaks about the history of Poland's Jewish population—and the possibilities for its restoration—from inside the vacant, overgrown National Stadium in Warsaw.
Bartana made two more films, Mur i wieża (Wall and Tower; 2009) and Zamach (Assassination; 2011), that portray the imagined realization of Sierakowski's call. The films premiered as a trilogy, titled ...and Europe will be stunned, in June 2011, at the Venice Biennale, where Bartana represented Poland. They narrate the contrived birth and rise of the movement in a montage of early 20th-century Zionist propaganda films and other modern nationalist movements.
Speaking about JRMiP as a part of this year's Biennial, Zjimjewski said, "To make a movie is not enough." He differentiated the movement, and the congress specifically, from more aesthetic work, saying, "It's a different logic than an art project" in that it "could produce something substantial . . . could change something in the social body."
Bartana intends the congress to proceed as a political convening. Each day during the meeting, 10 delegates and up to 70 delegates will attempt to generate strategic, actionable answers to one of three questions: 1) How should the EU change in order to welcome the Other? 2) How should Poland change within a re-imagined EU? and 3) How should Israel change to become part of the Middle East?
About each of the questions, every delegate may present for five minutes, with 30 minutes of debate following each presentation. The list of confirmed delegates includes scholars, curators, and activists from Europe, the Middle East and the US. Visitors to the Biennial who do not wish to participate can purchase tickets to observe the meeting. To include a global audience, the proceedings will be recorded, and footage will be streamed online.
Anyone can join the movement online, for free. The movement's manifesto declares, "We direct our appeal not only to Jews. We accept into our ranks all those for whom there is no place in their homeland—the expelled and the persecuted. There will be no discrimination in our movement."
...and Europe will be stunned is installed at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, Mar. 24–Aug. 26.