10th Berlin Biennale: Mapping an Exhibition Network  

by Prof. Dr. Eleonora Vratskidou and Dr. Anne Luther

Introduction

The Berlin Biennale is a contemporary art exhibition first organized by Klaus Biesenbach (Director of MoMA PS1 in New York), Nancy Spector (Chief Curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York) and Hans Ulrich-Obrist (Artistic Director at the Serpentine Galleries in London) in 1998. The creation of the Berlin Biennale in the mid-1990s stands at the outset of a significant increase in number and geographical dispersal of such large-scale perennial exhibitions ─a phenomenon that fully partakes in the global flows of objects and people, the expansion of neoliberal economic structures, urban development, social engineering, and city branding. No more than ten in number around the early 1990s, biennales are today more than a hundred to take place more or less regularly around the world, [1] becoming the standard format for producing and displaying contemporary art.

With every Biennale a specific network of actors takes shape, involving curatorial and research teams, artists and their galleries, funding bodies, artistic collaborators and other public and private support bodies, institutions and their curators that are invited for a one time facilitation of the exhibition, graphic designers and media experts, technicians, transporters and installation teams, art writers and art historians, mediators and art educators, invigilators, etc. An inquiry into the network of actors that biennales bring together is the foundation to understanding how these exhibitions are made.

The information that is released about the number and kind of actors involved in the production of each show is a conscious decision communicated in press material, their website and publications. This decision is related to the labor politics and work ethos to which each biennial subscribes as well as to the self-image it seeks to broadcast.

The proliferation of biennials has not yet been thoroughly examined. A number of studies, based often on individual cases, focus mainly on curatorial practices and discourses ─or the discrepancies between discourses and practices─, but more empirical approaches regarding the involved actors, issues of connectivity and work ethics are still rare. The acknowledgement of internationally active artistic and curatorial networks is certainly a given, but their actual study is not yet systematically pursued. This inquiry seeks to contribute in this direction, based on the example of the 10th  Berlin Biennale, that took place in summer 2018 (June 9 – September 9, 2018) .

Under the title We don’t need another hero, the last edition of the show was curated by Johannesburg-based curator, artist and art educator Gabi Ngcobo. Upon her appointment by the international selection committee in November 2016, she invited four fellow curators, with whom she had collaborated individually in the past  to join her in the direction of the show: Nomaduma Rosa Masilela, Serubiri Moses, Thiago de Paula Souza, and Yvette Mutumba. The discourse of the exhibition put the emphasis on collectivity, collaboration and collective authorship and promoted dialogue as generative force. To this ethos testify most prominently the “curatorial conversations” published in the catalogue. Instead of an extended curatorial statement, the conversations serve to illustrate the reasoning mode and the collaborative generation of ideas at work among the members of the curatorial team.[2]  Similar attitudes were adopted among the artists: they were manifest in the production of the exhibited works, such as the programmatic installation piece by Dineo Seshee Bopape at the KW, which hosted works by three other artists (Jabu Arnell, Lachell Workman, and Robert Rhee), an initiative which was qualified by the curatorial discourse as “a gesture of hospitality and collaboration”. [3]

Interested in the collaborative ethos promoted by the show, we decided to pursue an investigation into the specific information made visible about the makers of the 10th Berlin Biennale, as an example of communication of a specific biennale network. The article introduces a network visualization based on the information on the collaborating actors mentioned in the website of the Berlin Biennale 10. We collected and structured data from the website in a format that allows to develop a node-link network of the various actors and their relationships. The following will introduce the data collection, node types and link relationships for the exploration of the interactive network graph of the Berlin Biennale 10.

Data Collection

The interactive network graph that we created maps out the relationships between the actors that made the 10th Berlin Biennale based on the information drawn from their website http://www.berlinbiennale.de. More specifically, we collected and manually structured the data that is displayed on the introduction pages of every participating artist. These pages contain the following elements: artist name, image of presented work or installation view and image credit, text to each participating artist and their exhibited work, name of the author, exhibition venue, list of works with or without courtesy and credits of various roles.[4]The artists’ pages communicate specific information on funding, support and art production regarding the making of the 10th Berlin Biennale that are by default linked to an artist’s name. In the structuring of our data, we considered this communication logic and defined the various node types (listed below) according to their corresponding artist.

The information provided on the website concerns the production and funding of the works and projects presented by each artist; the representation of the artists (galleries/courtesy) as well as the production of curatorial discourse (texts), involving 26 invited authors along with the members of the curatorial team.

We focused on artists’ pages, since this is an important point of contact between artistic and curatorial agency. While in the texts, members of the curatorial team and invited authors sought to place/situate the contribution of each participating artist within the larger curatorial project, artists were themselves responsible for the information communicated regarding those implicated in the making of the presented works, their various collaborators and supporters. The amount of contributors in the actual production of the works surely depends on their nature and media: a drawing is in this respect less demanding than an installation, a performance or a video. Diverging attitudes regarding crediting among the artists become most evident in the case of film and video works, which are per se collective enterprises. To cite only one example, Cynthia Marcelle names 48 collaborators (director, camera, steadicam, camera assistant and grip, production and production assistants, sound design, music research, editing, stills, musicians, drivers, etc.) involved in the production of her video Cruzada (2010, 8’35’’), while no collaborators are named for Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa’s video Promised Lands (2015, 22’). (We are not able to account for such differences at this point.)

The Βerlin Biennale is organized by KUNST-WERKE BERLIN e.V. and funded, since its 4th iteration in 2006, by the Kulturstiftung des Bundes (German Federal Cultural Foundation), the amount allotted to the show being augmented from 2,5 to 3 million euro starting with the last iteration.[5] This funding agency will not appear in our graph, since it is a given for every iteration of the exhibition, while what is of interest for us here is the way each curator and/or curatorial team appropriates the institution of the Berlin Biennale anew and shapes a network of actors depending on their own position and connectivity within the art world. Equally not considered are other public and private sponsors mentioned in the catalogue, such as the Berlin’s Senate Department for Culture and Europe or the car industry BMW (as Corporate Partner), since no information is disclosed regarding the concrete way they are connected to the various participating artists and exhibition related projects.

Data structure

The data from the website was structured in the specific format typical for the construction of node-link networks, as required by the digital tool Graph Commons. A node is an actor, entity or object within a network that is connected to other nodes with a specific link, which is called an ‘edge’. The ‘node type’ describes the actor in the network such as art institution or gallery, while the ‘edge type’ describes the relationship between actors. In order to illustrate how this database was structured, let us take as an example the participation of Basir Mahmood. In the credits on the artist page (http://www.berlinbiennale.de/artists/b/basir-mahmood), we find the following information: “Commissioned and produced by Sharjah Art Foundation”. Sharjah Art Foundation is the name of a node with the node type “Institution” that is linked to the node name Basir Mahmood with the node type “Person” by the edge (or relationship) “Commissioned and produced”.

While for the names of nodes and edges we closely followed the vocabulary adopted by the biennale for communicating the roles and relations involved in the making of the exhibition, we proceeded to the necessary classification of nodes and edges into types. We assembled all descriptions in two following node types:

Institutions include:

  • Art institutions: Primary function: supporting, hosting (pe. residency), conserving (pe. museum), archiving (pe. museum) and exhibiting art. Art schools have also been categorized under art institutions.
  • Cultural Institution: Largely educational function – active beyond the field of fine and performing arts. Many of them are involved in international cultural relations/exchange.
  • Political Institution: Its primary function is in the political realm.
  • Enterprise: Its primary function is in the economic realm.
  • Gallery: Its primary function is selling art.
  • Collection: Everything that has been qualified as such by the Berlin Biennale

Persons include:

  • Artists that are participating as such in the Berlin Biennale 10.
  • Curators
  • Authors of artists texts in the catalogue and for the website.
  • Persons active in the production or support of exhibited work.

Regarding the edges, we grouped the various descriptions found in the website into four big categories: Commission, production and support; Courtesy; Art Production and Text. These meta-descriptions are indicated by color coding in the network graph. Concretely, we assembled the following phrasings under:

Commission and production and support: : 15 Commissioned and coproduced; 12 Commissioned and produced; 1 Produced; 3 Commissioned; 6 Coproduced; 4 Coproducer; 1 Produced in partnership; 1 Produced with the support; 1 Existing works as well as commissioned works produced; 1 Existing works as well as commissioned works coproduced; 54 With the support; 3 In-kind support; 1 Funded; 13 Thanks.

Courtesy: 75 Courtesy; 14 In (Collection).

Text: 45 Text.

Art Production: Production, 3 Producer, 1 Production, 5 Production Assistants, 6 Production Team, 2 Artistic Production. Performers:24 Featuring, 7 Performed, 1 Choreography, 16 Musicians, 30 Activator. Director/Camera:1 Director, 2 Assistant Directors, 2 Cinematographer, 3 Camera, 3 Camera Assistant, 1 Camera Assistant and Grip, 1 Grip, 1 Steadicam. Screenplay:2 Screenplay, 1 Screenwriters, 1 Script, Direction, and Editing, 1 Line Producer. Editing: 2 Editor, 1 Editing, 1 Video Editing (Coloring), 1 Video Editing (Editing). Music/Sound: 5 Sound, 1 Sound Assistant, 1 Sound Design, 1 Sound Designer, 1 Sound engineer, 1 Music, 1 Music Director, 1 Music Research, 1 Spatialization and mix by, 16 Musicians. Light/Photography: 7 Light, 1 Film and Lighting Technician, 4 Director of Photography, 3 Stills. Costumes, make-up, design: 1 Costumes, 1 Costumes stitched, 1 Costume Designer, 1 Make-up, 1 Project Design Collaborator, 1 Set Design, 1 Backdrops painted by. Varia: 3 In cooperation, 3 Including works, 2 Collaborator: Vibratory installation, 1 Collaborators: Fluffy sculptures, 1 Printed and published, 1 Poster, 1 Driver, 1 Water Truck Operator, 1 Assistant, 1 Project Liaison.

We chose to adopt the ‘original’ description that the Berlin Biennale displays as information about the making of the exhibition: every link displays the wording that is also displayed on the website of the Berlin Biennale. The node types that we display in the graph use descriptions that are the closest to what we could find on the website. We did not use our own interpretations of roles in the art world but rather chose to display descriptions from the Berlin Biennale website. These descriptions of art world roles are displayed in a network view.

The visual representation of the network of actors is displayed in a Force Directed Graph, which is a visually pleasing method. The nodes are forced in a direction that gives space to comprehend edges and nodes in distinguishable ways. Nodes with a higher degree of centrality, which is determined by the number of edges connected to a node, are displayed closer to the center of the network.

Disconnected nodes are drawn to the outside. In Graph Commons, it is possible to view the Degree Centrality of each node displayed in a chart by in-degree centrality, out-degree centrality and betweenness centrality. In-degree centrality shows the number of edges that are directed towards a node and out-degree centrality shows the number of edges that are directed from a node. In this particular graph, analyzing the nodes by in-degree centrality, we can therefore see how many actors were involved with an exhibiting artist as co-producers, art production or authors (to name but a few). Analyzing the nodes by out-degree centrality, we can ask the network graph questions about the funding bodies who supported the most artists or how many galleries had more than one represented artist in the exhibition.

Clusters are nodes that are connected with each other with a higher number of edges. The betweenness centrality shows nodes that connect clusters with each other. Graph Commons allows the user to view these clusters in detail in the analysis tab.

The visualization of actors of the 10th Berlin Biennale is a platform to ask further questions and develop a broader inquiry into the networking, politics and funding of the exhibition and international biennale structures more generally. The authors will develop a deepened investigation and publish the results in peer-reviewed journals with a focus on art and technology.

 

Notes

[1] Panos Kompatsiaris, The Politics of Contemporary Arts Biennials: Spectacles of Critique, Theory and Art, New York and London, Routledge, 2016, p. 9.

[2] Gabi Ngcobo, Nomaduma Rosa Masilela, Serubiri Moses, Thiago de Paula Souza, and Yvette Mutumba, “Curatorial Conversations”, in: 10th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, We don’t need another hero, exhibition catalogue, p. 31-41  (English part).

[3] Portia Μalatjie, “Dineo Seshee Bopape”, in: 10th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, We don’t need another hero, exhibition catalogue, 2018, p. 62 (English part).

[4] This information is also provided in the catalogue, though not structured in the same way: in the main body of the catalogue one finds the texts on each artist –the website contains only short versions of the printed texts–, but the list of works by artist and information on courtesy, funding and production are given at the end of the essays section. Out of convenience, we used the website as our main source where all relevant information is grouped together.

[5] Gabrielle Horn, “Introduction”, in: 10th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, We don’t need another hero, exhibition catalogue, p. 15 (English part).

 

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