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Berlin Biennale

Every city going seems to have a biennial these days, but none have more native artists than Berlin...

Two years ago the Berlin Biennale was dry as a husk. This year it packs one hell of a punch, you can't walk five yards without stumbling into an opening. The week kicked off on Wednesday at ‘beach’ bar Ressort with Enchanted –  a group show with a technology edge that included AIDS 3D. Damon Zucconi exhibited a black LED text piece in that spouted the blue floating sentence “I Want To Believe”. Aleksandra Domanovic and I spent about 15 minutes watching how the image refracted and repeated through out camera lenses. We left Rafael Rozendaal and the AIDS 3D boys sitting by a campfire taking bets on what would burn.

The next day was the actual Biennale opening. The work was spread largely between two main spaces – KW on Augustrasse and a Kreuzberg space at 17 Oranienplatz (though there were about four smaller off site projects dotted around the city). A lot of KW was taken up by a giant shed structure and a few floors about chickens – including a live one that would live between the gallery and shed out the back. There were chicken drawings and a floating feather installation in a water tank. The highlight here were photographs by Mohamed Bourouissa from his series Peripheries – stunning images of the ghettos of Paris. The unrest and tension of the city’s banlieue never looks so beautiful.

Cameron Jamie had installed his contribution to the Biennale at the back of a taxi rack in an odd industrial space in West Kruezberg. After about 15 minutes trying to find the thing, I came across its entrance in an old dusty shack. Viewers are each given a lantern and enter the space one by one. It was completely dark. In the main room Jamie created ceramic stalagtites that grew up from the floor, casting shadows as you shone your lantern on their faux-rock forms.

Over at Oranienplatz the focus was on films (with a few installations thrown in). It was a perfect location – a massive rusty five-floor space in the heart of Berlin’s Turkish community. Friedl Vome Groller (Kubelka)’s Passage Briare (2009) was a touching looped black-and-white portrait of a couple. Upstairs two old ladies swapped their clothes on screen for Ferhat Ozgur’s Metamorphosis Chat (2010). They giggled about their hundreds of layers and old lady pants. The result was surprisingly sexy and sweet. Other pieces were more obviously political – Mierva Cuevas’s document of Dissidence and protest; Sven-ake Johansson’s neo-naïve drawings of helicopters. In particular, you couldn’t tear yourself away from Ruti Sela and Maayan Amir’s work Beyond Guilt #1 (which was first exhibited in the UK in the the Dazed Gallery). The work was filmed between 2003 and 2005 in Israeli bar toilets. The artist probes and prods the subjects into strange sexual scenarios and conversations. Totally voyeuristic and an interesting insight into the country.

In the same part of town Tjorg Douglas Beer from The Forgotten Bar had curated a Kreuzberg Biennale with pieces installed in shop windows and street corners. One of the highlights I stumbled on was Cecile B Evans’s film work that placed strangers together in supposedly intimate pairs, questioning ideas about the fragility of connection.

On Friday, Tue Greenfort opened an installation at Johann Konig. A large room was created in the middle of the gallery with a doorway smashed open with an axe. Around six large images of fire and explosion hung on the walls. There was also a large cardboard oval in the centre of the room – a makeshift video space where a film of Greenfort making fire from twigs with Konig and his cute kids was on show. An interesting take on masculinity (making fire reminded me of wanking) and the relationship between artist and gallerist. We run off to Grill Royale’s summer ball – where Cyprien Gaillard and Dave Dorrell among others were dressed up while a 1930s band played in old school decadent style. The night disintegrated…

Saturday was the last big day of art. The real pull was the BBQ at Videodrome – Aaron Moulton’s superbly curated group show at Autocentre, a new space in Friedrichshain. Inspired by the Cronenberg film, Moulton brought together a incredibly impressive line up of artists including Jeremy Shaw, Oliver Laric, Spartacus Chetwynd , AIDS 3D, John Kleckner and Seth Price. Douglas Gordon’s large finger beckoned you into a TV screen. Omar Fast cut together newscasters to create a twisted false narrative. Joep van Liefland had two giant video cassette pieces, grainy monochrome boxes which rested on black old VHS tape boxes. It was one of the most coherent and contemporary exhibitions of the year. Javier Peres was floating around with Michael Stipe while crowds screamed on the DIY karaoke. I stumbled off with Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel and Cecile Evans to a pop up bar where everyone ended up stripping off and dancing on the bar half naked. Only in Berlin…