Juan Gaitan, curator of the 8th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art 2014, hopes to reconfigure the historical imagination of the city which has been centred around the mid-20th century
“This is a relatively young biennale that has increasingly engaged with the city of Berlin. This is important in many ways because there is a tendency of many biennials to just appear with similar lists of artists and similar conceptual frameworks,” explains Juan Gaitan, who recently spoke about forms of travel in a lecture-presentation at the Max Mueller Bhavan.
“But at the moment I imagine what we are doing is trying to explore another history of Berlin that is not necessarily related to the Berlin Wall, which was for many years the most pressing issue in Berlin. In this respect I hope to try to open up the history of Berlin to other trajectories and other temporalities that include other places such as South Asia, Latin America, and South America.”
He cites the example of the 17-18th century botanical expeditions in South America which produced visual interpretations that informed the way people relate to the new world through history, adding that this research continues to offer material for contemporary artists to work with. Juan’s vision also includes local histories and non-historical practices of non-Western traditions such as weaving, pottery, and even religion.
“In India, I’m meeting contemporary artists who are living and working in their own milieu, to understand what it means to live here, not only in terms of the touristic experience, but also in terms of peculiar temporalities. If you’re in Berlin you can move from point A to point B exactly in the same time at any time of the day and everyone knows and it and everyone is on time. But if you’re in Delhi, it takes you three times more.”
But Juan is clear to draw the frameworks of the biennale, though he says it’s complicated to explain exactly what one can expect from him this year, partly because it’s too early. “Usually when we think of a festival, we think of a public celebration and the biennale does not work like that. It attempts to build a critical and analytical relationship. It’s drier than a festival – what you demand of the public is more than just enjoyment, you’re expecting the audience to respond intellectually and emotionally to what’s on display.”
Coherence, he says, is also an important part of the framework of the biennale. “The coherence in the biennale comes from the relationship between different works, not just by looking at one work and another work, but also by looking at them as they encounter each other and tease each other,” he explains.
“There is also coherence in practice and approach to art making. And then you have to limit the selection process, create curatorial devices to help you guide the process of curating through issues and ideas for content.”