The Occupy Movement Meets the Art Establishment: Part 3

Following on from the last article, we come to the most heated part of the conversation. The problematic of this event was always going to be the aestheticisation of a political movements’ ideologies.

Having flown Occupiers in from various locations around the globe, there was a vibrant atmosphere of charismatic discussion. Kompatsiaris describes how when they first collected in Berlin, ‘working groups’ were formed to take care of certain tasks – this included the ‘Occupy Communication’, the ‘Creative Actions Group, an IT group and so-on(12). This was far from a homogenous movement, these affinity groups were from completely different cultures and differed in nuanced ideologies and strategies but the biggest matter of debate would prove to be “whether the space in Biennale was an exhibitionary space or [their] working space”(12)(Figure 6). Whereas they didn’t want to succumb to the narrow minded presentation of an abstracted, watered down form of political art, they were aware they needed to ‘present art’ to visitors. This is where there was a huge split in the movement as some sought to create ‘art’ while others saw it is an opportunity to ‘act’.

For many, the notion of an art gallery being used as a site to erase the boundaries between art and life was part of the success the Occupy Biennale brought, but for others it was a confirmation that the brash and crude workings of a political movement simply couldn’t live on gallery walls. One confirmation of the former opinion was the ‘guerrilla gardening’ which emerged as part of the Forget Fear area. This green patch located next to the back door of the main KW space was formed throughout the course of the exhibition as activists and volunteers planted herbs and spices for the group kitchen. This alongside the ‘kitchen'(a key area where Occupiers discussed ideas), exemplified how living in line with social ideologies they promoted – similar to folk politics(14)- stood as an artistic statement. I would argue that this was even living as installation and living performance. This was the same as in Kessel where they simply occupied the lawn of the Freidrichplatz in front of the famous Museum Fridericianum. The movement proclaimed this was an “evolutionary art work”, adopting the slogan ‘Everyone is an Artist’ by famous artist and former Documenta 7 participant Joseph Beuys(15). On a similar vein, the head curator Artur Żmijewski declared that Occupy’s contribution to Berlin Biennale was in fact an art work, simply because its actions formed a Social Sculpture in the Beuysian sense(16).

On the opposition, it appears that the movement and the KW’s efforts to educate visitors on “alternative way[s] of dealing with social problems.”(17) weren’t quite as affective as they hoped. This is highlighted in an open letter written by a spanish activist called Carolina which reads that visitors to the site of the occupation expected something to happen(18) – instead they just sat voyeuristically observing the picture puzzle of contributions and Occupiers inhabiting the exhibition. There was a clear lack of participation which feels rather at odds with the values of the movement centred around involvement, inclusivity and action. Reviews revealed that a lot of people considered the improvised work ‘kitschy’ and opinions even turned to condone it as a “human zoo” due to its nature as “a static movement on display”, the very effect they had so desperately sought to avoid(19).

In conclusion, I must unfortunately admit that the case for Occupy’s involvement in Documenta 13 and especially the 7th Berlin Biennale is poor. Despite their intentions to open their sphere of influence and widen the discussion of their political agenda, they undercut their message through lack of coherence amongst members and a clear disjoint between the institutionalised art world and the movement’s values. It is clear that the movement failed at successfully subverting the construct they originally planned to use as a platform for reform. Although they succeeded in blurring the boundaries between social action, life and art, it appears that the political arguments presented within the art itself mitigated protest through dissolving the ideas into aesthetic questions of sense and taste. The vitality which had inspired so many to join during the wall street protests was void from the exhibition, the audience leaving disillusioned. The strong visual identity the group formed in their early period was lost to formalisation.

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!

REFERENCES

(13) Stenge, Raimar, 2012. An Occupied Biennial. Frieze. [online] Frieze. [viewed: 20/02/2020] Available from: https://frieze.com/article/occupied-biennial

(14) SRNICEK, NICK, 2016. Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. London: New Left Books

Kompatsiaris, Panos. (2017). The Politics of Contemporary Art Biennials: Spectacles of Critique, Theory and Art.

(15) “Occupy-Zelte vor documenta errichtet,” Frankfurter Rundschau,
June 2012, 2012, accessed March 2, 2015, http://www.fr-online.
de/rhein-main/documenta-13-occupy-zelte-vor-documentaerrichtet,1472796,16392450.html.

(16) “7th Berlin Biennale: Press Conference April 25, 2012 part 4,” YouTube video, May 1, 2012, accessed March 2, 2015, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8LQHEERKMo#t=142

(17) Occupy Berlin Biennale, “Letter from the Biennale staff to the participants in Indignadxs/Occupy Biennale,” Facebook, April 13, 2012, accessed March 2, 2015, http://www.facebook.com/notes/occupy-berlin-biennale/letter-from-the-biennale-staff-to-the-participants-in-indignadxsoccupy-biennale/179728402147458

(18) An Open Letter to #OccupyBiennale,” Berlin Biennale, accessed March 2, 2015, http://www.berlinbiennale.de/blog/en/comments/an-open-letter-to-occupybiennale-31367

(19) Maak, “Kritik der zynischen Vernunft.”

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