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The kids are alright

INTERVIEW. In the wake of what many saw as a bloated, rhetoric-laden, excessively-political affair, artist Cecile B. Evans is staging an intervention, shedding a new light onto the central themes of this year's Berlin Biennale.

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Photo by Studio Dejoode

Berlin artist CECILE B. EVANS and a group of international teenagers give their take on the Biennale.

In the wake of what some have hailed as ‘Berlin’s worst biennale’, local artist Cecile B. Evans is staging an intervention. Taking to heart the call to participate, she is producing a work that circumnavigates the political rhetoric that has so strongly induced the urge to run a mile from the KW and instead brings the discussion back to the personal via the global.

A group of students from the Think Global School, an independent high school that holds class in a different country each semester, will respond to the artworks instinctually and impulsively, asking themselves, “How does this make me feel?

Why ask people so young to respond to this quite hefty, highbrow, political biennale?

This biennale is extremely heavy on the politics and happens to take this really broad ‘worldview’ stance, so I thought it was interesting to view these kids as a perfect and ideal sample group, since they are from places as varied as Palestine, Afghanistan, America, Sweden and Bhutan. To me, to say that an exhibition is political is to say that you have a hope or a desire, or a wish for the future, and they’re teenagers, so they sort of are the future.

What kinds of questions will you ask?

In a lot of ways what they’ll be responding to is, “How does this artwork make me feel?” I think it might actually be a relief for the greater public to actually hear how it makes people feel. What do they actually understand? What is their comprehension of it?

Do you have any expectations for their responses?

They’re so sassy, and they’re so smart and they’re really not afraid to say what they want, even if they’re wrong. There are a few kids who certainly aren’t into art. They don’t see the point of it; they don’t see the function, so I think they’re perfect.

And how do you think that fits with the rest of the Biennale programme?

It’s self-initiated. That’s the main difference. They’ve set up these very broad platforms for people to jump in and say whatever they want to. So what in the end is going to stand out? I think it was important to me in the face of all this content – from the Holocaust to the drug lords in Mexico to the Congo – to give them some basic tools to enter into it and to say “You know what, whatever reaction you have, it’s not wrong, it just is what it is.”

To give them the authority to respond…

We live in a time where a lot of people don’t have access to these exhibitions, and so you’ll read about something on a blog, and that all of a sudden becomes the person’s experience, irrespective of what the curator originally intended, and what the artist may have intended. So in that sense, the second part that really interests me is the shift of authority – from the artist or the curator, really back into the hands of the viewer.

The Biennale tried to focus on the viewer but actually felt more focused on the curatorial statement…

Yeah, the Biennale felt very much like a stage, like a sort of scenography, especially the Occupy stuff. I’ve been there four times, and each time the space seemed empty, so it felt sort of like a Phil Collins installation or something like that. I think if it were one individual project isolated it would be easier, but to have it all gathered, it’s sort of like a ‘best of ‘. It’s hard to know what to do.

I like the idea of it as a ‘best of ’…

Best of world terrors. [Laughs] It reminds me of a blockbuster movie: at the end of it they’ve shown you so much that it’s difficult for you not to be desensitised; you have difficulty hanging onto one thing. Titanic – a lot of people died, but what is this movie about?! It gets harder the longer it is.

Three hours. Plus intermission.

THINK GLOBAL AUDIO GUIDE TO THE BERLIN BIENNALE Launch: Jun 16, 13-15:30 | KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Auguststr. 69, Mitte, U-Bhf Weinmeister Str., listen at thinkglobalschool.org/biennale-guide