BB12×TUB Encounters is based at Technische Universität Berlin’s modern art history department. Through practice-based and interwoven teaching formats, this project seminar continues the critical engagement with the art-world phenomenon of biennials established at TU Berlin in the mid 2010s by the Athens-based professor of modern art history Eleonora Vratskidou. BB12×TUB Encounters is hosted by Malina Lauterbach and Merten Lagatz, both doctoral students in the department, in collaboration with Samira Ghoualmia and Duygu Örs of the mediation team of the 12th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art. It combines research, theory, and practice and serves as a platform for alternative teaching formats in academia.

Over the course of the semester, students in the project seminar explored three thematic blocks: Kader Attia’s practice and the concept of “repair,” the Berlin Biennale and its history, and Berlin as a place of art and a city of wounds. From these ideas, the panel discussion and an accompanying zine with conceptual texts, graphics, and photos emerged. In this iteration of BB12×TUB Encounters, we, a group of students, welcomed Lotte Arndt, Kader Attia, and Gabriele Horn to reflect on this year’s 12th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art and Berlin’s colonial legacies.

Tara Fässler and Paula Wunderlich, REPA RTUR, 2022. Courtesy the artists.

Pejorative language, everyday racial stereotypes, items in museum collections, street names and local monuments … Colonial narratives live on in Berlin and Western museums, which are immobilized by the burden of their collections and reluctant to confront this part of their history. Despite many efforts by museum directors who tirelessly foster an open and critical debate about the colonial and imperial legacies of Western collections, such as Nanette Snoep of the Rauchenstraus Joest Museum, Cologne, Wayne Modest of the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam, and Leontine Meyer von Mensch of the Grassi Museum, Leipzig, the critical reappraisal and decolonization of cultural institutions remains slow.

In 2021, French cultural institutions were at the center of debates about the restitution of museum objects acquired under colonial and imperial rule. The restitution of twenty-six objects from the collection of the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac to Benin marked a historic turning point, a first glance at a new “relational ethics” between postcolonial European countries and former colonized countries on the African continent. [1]1
Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy, “Restituer le patrimoine africain,” 2018. Access the Sarr/Savoy report in English and French at http://restitutionreport2018.com/.
Forcefully extracted from the royal palace of Abomey in the Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1890s, the manifold restituted objects, including three wooden statues of Dahomey’s beloved kings Behanzin, Glele, and Gezo, were showpieces of the enthnographic collections at the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadero. In Germany, plans have been announced to repatriate royal objects to Nigeria that were forcefully taken by British military forces at the fall of Benin City in 1897. Already since the 1990s, a diverse coalition of engaged public actors, including AfricaAvenir, No Humboldt 21, Straßenlärm, and Berlin Postkolonial, have pushed Berlin cultural officials to acknowledge the colonial legacies and continuities in Berlin and other European cities. Artistic interventions are often at the core of these groups’ direct actions, activating critical reappraisals and discourses about the city’s future. In light of this heightened awareness, the Humboldt Forum, Berlin’s controversial new ethnographic museum, expressed its intention to address the museum’s imperial history early this year. But Berlin’s colonial past must be understood as interwoven with the ongoing struggles of racialized minorities in Germany who face everyday and institutional forms of racism and other forms of discrimination. Culture workers, institutions’ publics, and Berlin’s minority communities are constantly confronted with the aftermath of colonial traumas that dominate both global art discourses and Berlin’s public, architectural, and cultural landscape.

How can we heal the wounds of these traumas? What potential space does the 12th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art open up to approach these questions? The exhibition looks back at a longstanding critical engagement with (post)colonial realities in central Europe, namely the work of Renata Cervetto, Agustín Pérez Rubio, María Berríos, and Lisette Lagnado (BB11 curatorial team); Gabi Ngcobo, Nomaduma Rosa Masilela, Yvette Mutumba, Serubiri Moses, and Thiago de Paula Souza (BB10 curatorial team); and Juan A. Gaitán, Tarek Atoui, Natasha Ginwala, Catalina Lozano, Mariana Munguía, Olaf Nicolai, and Danh Vo (BB8 artistic team). These earlier iterations of the biennial centered on academic notions of postcoloniality, grassroots activism, anti-racism and decolonization, African diasporic communities, racialized and queer communities in the Americas, and more inclusive and solidarized ideas of the world community.

With this history of the Berlin Biennale in mind, we ask: What role can art and its institutions play in this context? For whom does art speak, whom does it represent, and how autonomous and inclusive can it be? Does this connect to the discussions of the colonial museum raised by decolonial activists? What role does a biennial as prominent as Berlin’s play in these discussions? What might BB12 challenge or uphold? And how do art and cultural institutions maintain debate?

We need to talk!

Malina Lauterbach and Merten Lagatz, from a draft by the participants in the project seminar

Seminar participants in the BB12×TUB Encounter. Photo: Finn Dittmer.

The February session of B12×TUB Encounters featured Lotte Arndt, cultural studies scholar and curator; Kader Attia, artist and curator of BB12; and Gabriele Horn, director of the Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art. The next session of BB12×TUB Encounters will be held in July 2022.

The TU Berlin modern art history students involved with BB12-TUB Encounters are Lena Affentranger, Laura Desch, Johannes Hollefreund, Hoa Jin, Eileen Kesseler, Laura Lässig, Monique Machicao y Primer Ferrufino, Klara Stierhof, Matthis Thomsen, Vangelis Pappas, and Paula Wunderlich.

The chair of modern art history at TU Berlin has been held by Prof. Bénédicte Savoy since the late 2000s. She has built a vibrant research hub doing cutting-edge work on a wide range of discursive tropes, such as the concept of cultural transfers, the transnational history of museums and their collections, the mechanisms of the global art market, and postcolonial provenance research. TU Berlin offers a BA program with a focus on art studies and two consecutive master’s programs focusing on art technology and museum and curatorial studies.

 

Malina Lauterbach studied art history and curating in Berlin and Frankfurt am Main. At the Technische Universität Berlin she coordinates the BUA-funded “Oxford–Berlin Initiative on Museums as Spaces of Social Cohesion and Conflict” and works on artistic research and the notion of matter and geology in contemporary art. 

Merten Lagatz studied art history, theater studies, and German literature. He coordinates the translocations research cluster and works at the Technische Universität Berlin on cultural activism, queer collectives, and the arts in the present.

 

Preview image: Tara Fässler and Paula Wunderlich, REPA RTUR, 2022. Courtesy the artists.

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