Even with 90 artists from Europe, Asia and the Americas, the third Mediations biennale in Poznan, Poland, is a low-key event. This is less a result of the biennale’s location than of its history, as a continuation of the Inner Spaces Festival, the informal gathering of artists, critics and curators initiated in 1993 by artist/curator Tomek Wenderland, now the biennial’s director. Founded with the intention to consider globalization from a Central European perspective, the first Mediations biennale in 2008 consisted of some 16 sub-exhibitions, and works by over 240 artists.
This year, four curators—Denise Carvalho (the Americas), Friedhelm Mennekes (Europe), Fumio Nanjo (Asia) & Tomasz Wendland each would interpret the theme “the unknown” [through Oct. 30]. The selected artists were then installed in an integrated installation spread over five sites: a synagogue, a Jesuit Church, Zamek Castle Cultural Centre, the National Museum in Poznan and the Archdiocese Museum. While their interpretations differ widely ranging from the spiritual to the political, the curators share a common aesthetic sensibility—straightforward, emotive and slightly grainy.
But the mix-and-match strategy often resulted in odd sequences. In the Zamek Castle, once renovated by Albert Speer to be Hitler‘s residence and the administrative offices of annexed Poland, one enters long, Kafka-esque hallways with identical doors, many of which are locked. Here and there rooms have been given over to the biennale. One stretch of four consecutive chambers demonstrates the broad range of interpretations the curators brought to their theme. In the first, a multi-media installation, Where is the Black Beast by English born U.S.-based Simon Lee & Algis Kizys, which consists of a couple of rows of shoddy theater seats and heavy velvet curtains, and a 34-minute film based on Ted Hughes’ poem “The Crow” consisting of hundreds old amateur snapshots composed into a visual narrative. In the next room Timothy Roda’s black-and-white photographs staged photographs of ritualistic acts invoke the Cabinet of Dr. Cagliari. These are followed by Mithu Sen’s I chew, I bite (2011), a room full of undulating forms, made of a dark pink silicone, the color of gums with thousands of tiny teeth embedded in them. The final room hosts an installation by Chinese artists Kin Wah Tsang, The Second Seal—Every Being That Opposes Progress Should Be Food For You (2009), in which words projected on the walls slowly descend from the ceiling. With time the quantity and speed of the words increase until they obliterate each other.
At the Jesuit Church, one finds other such juxtapositions of dissimilar works arrived at by free association. An austere sound piece A Few Invisible Sculptures (2012) by Andrea Galvani, consists of a row of minimal black boxed speakers broadcasting the high-pitched sound of bats is placed in the corridor in front of the large reception room in which Takashi Kuribayashi has re-installed Wald Aus Wald / Forest from the Forest, spatial installation (2010), a poetic piece consisting of a low-hanging undulating “sky” made from thick translucent white paper. Visitors must enter the room in a crouched position. Here and there one discovers holes through which to look up at a soaring forest of white painted tree trunks.
A substantial amount of the exhibition consists of video and video installation, which are mostly narrative, or documentary. Installed in the cellar of the Zamek was Teresa Margolies’s video-projection Irrigation, which follows a tanker truck cleaning Highway 90 in Presidio Country, Texas. The water sprayed by the truck is tinged with blood from cloths used to clean streets following violent incidences along the Mexican side of the border. Alice Miceli’s 88 from 14,000 (2005) is a 56-minute single channel video, based on mug shots of prisoners killed in a Khmer Rouge prison in Cambodia. These videos deploy a documentary style to comment on events that get almost no traditional media attention.
In the synagogue the videos tend to be more cinematic, and reference site. In the main space, projected high up over the Olympic-size swimming pool that occupies what had once been the temple, is Dead Forest Storm (2009) by Berlin-based Argentinean filmmaker Charly Nijensohn. This video comprises images of lone men standing in small narrow boats moving about in a bleak, mist filled swamp lost in the immensity of it, and enduring its indeterminacy. Beneath the pool cover, Slavin has installed a second video, Ursulimum (2011) in which he depicts a seven-year-old boy’s exploration of a fictional lost city beneath Jerusalem.
Dominating the main hall is Brazilian Regina Silveira’s Mundus Admirabilis, (2009) consists of huge cut vinyl images of bugs reminiscent of 19th century illustrations, which are adhered like wallpaper to the floor, walls and ceiling of one end the central hall. The grandiose scale of Silveira’s installation is countered by Glexis Novoa tiny surrealist graphite wall drawings combining architectural and biomorphic forms that one comes upon here and there in such unexpected places as the edge of a wall or in an out of the way corner. Also in this gallery are two large photographs from the ongoing series “Hang Art” and a suit of clothes by the Czech performance artist Richard Fajnor. The photographs depict the artist wearing the suit, and hanging on the wall of two different unidentified museums’ 19th century painting galleries. Indeed, it is the absurdity at the collision of ideas by so many curators artists that defines the Poznan biennale.