The Occupy Movement Meets the Art Establishment: Part 2

Although the Occupy movement itself has flaws, as shown in the last article, the overall image of the multifaceted movement was translated into socially engaged artistic practices and politically committed art. It was this which nudged art activists in Kassel and Berlin to collaborate with Occupy.

However, the effectiveness of such a collaboration has been a matter of controversy and after their involvement in Documenta 13 (June 9 to September 16) in Kassel, Germany and in the Berlin Biennale 7 (April 27 to July 1) in Berlin, Germany, the movement has seen a rapid decline in participation(10). This was a process which aestheticised the political and this is where the real discussion comes in. I will be focussing on the Berlin Biennale which centred around the occupation of the KW Institute of Contemporary Arts(11)for the sake of my attention span.

Figure 4: N.A, 2012. Occupy Documenta. [Photo] At: LOEWE, SEBASTIAN, 2012. When Protest Becomes Art: The Contradictory Transformations of the Occupy Movement at Documenta 13 and Berlin Biennale 7. Field. Issue 1: Spring 2015. Viewed 15/02/2020. Available from: http://field-journal.com/issue-1/loewe

This exhibition was characterised by a disparity. The eclectic and outlandish madness which unfolded led critics to question whether or not it could even be called an exhibition! As pointed out by Panos Kompatsiaris, the appearance of a black and red flag on the KW façade – creating deliberate affiliations with the anarchist movement – ‘gave the somehow paradoxical impression that this well-established and prestigious institution with its top-notch art world connections in a gentrified street in Berlin was somehow propagating anarchist causes'(12).

However, where these two forces – one high-brow gallery and the other of decentralised rebellion- collide is where the value was expected to surface. An interview with occupier, Noah Fischer, reveals the intentions of the organisation were to bridge the barriers between “us and them”. He expands by saying ‘Personally, I feel that there is really no possibility to stand outside the economic disparity that we protest because this disparity is deeply structural…’ and highlights a need ‘to experiment and to find solutions or steps forward here and there.'(13). Despite being funded 100% by the government, many occupiers left, outraged with this ‘compromise’.

It was thought that participation would also strengthen their movement in Berlin and build networking opportunities. In many respects it did expand their press coverage and reached out to many ‘non-occupiers’ but almost too effectively. Tensions arose when various activists from other movements, such as the ‘Global Square’ started appearing. As Tessa (an Occupier) pointed out, “to a very large degree the team of Occupy Berlin felt that the activists coming from elsewhere were destroying what they has already built”. This also caused conflict between Occupy and the KW as a few newcomers from Spain vandalised a piece on display in the main yard: what had been an appropriation of the original banner of Mobinil(Figure 5), a huge mobile phone company who had sabotaged the Arab Spring, was painted over with the slogan ‘RISE UP!'(12). The KW charged the activists but the damage had already been done, trust has been broken.

I hope you enjoyed engaging with my creative shenanigans! If you so happened to find this topic interesting or have any questions/suggestions, I love a good chin-wag so please do get in touch. Thank you for reading!

(10) David Graeber and Hui Yuk, “From Occupy Wall Street to Occupy Central: The Case of Hong Kong,” Los Angeles Review of Books, October 14, 2014, accessed March 2, 2015, http://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/occupy-central-the-case-of-hong-kong.

(11)http://artjournal.collegeart.org/?p=3457

(12) KOMPATSIARIS, PANOS, 2017. 7th Berlin Biennale: Enacting Dissent, Forget Fear, Occupy. In: KOMPATSIARIS, PANOS. The Politics of Contemporary Art Biennials: Spectacles of Critique, Theory and Art. New York: Routledge

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