A Performance Series

THE NEW LIFE BERLIN FESTIVAL: A POINT OF VIEW

The culturally engaged individual walks around Berlin with her hands outstretched, wanting art, seeking participation and demanding service. And she will receive what she asks for, either in the grand buildings and parks housing the fifth Berlin Biennale or in the soon to be demolished office blocks, out of the way apartments and open air spaces hosting New Life Berlin.

But confusion and combustion occurs when actions in the name of art are thrust upon the individual without her asking. New Life Berlin, a city wide festival branded with the notion of ‘participation’ aims to explore cultural mobility, and presents art to those both concerned with the contemporary arts and those who would never think to ask. It is here at the juncture of engagement and production – reached through varying forms of involvement with the public – that questions around receivership arise.

Amongst the projects hosted by New Life Berlin, there are traditional models of receivership offered by Nathan Peters’ Eminent Domain installation, Arts and Conversation curated salons with practicing artists, and Marisa Olsen’s live TV performance Assisted Living to name just a few. The roles of artists and visitor are clearly defined; the artist creates and the public appreciate. While it is true that there are participants in the production of the projects, such as the case for Franck Leibovici’s Powell Opera, ultimately they become part of the artist machine churning out a spectacle for the spectators.

Other artists thrust their work upon the public, uninvited. Flash Job Campaign, headed by artist Per Traasdahl uses artists as ‘catalysts’ to inspire youths in disadvantaged neighbourhoods through 3 hour work placements, ‘flash-jobs’. With one unsteady foot in social work and the other in art work, these small interventions disrupt the established understanding of the role of an art producer and willing receiver. Similarly, 30 Day of New Life Berlin, presented by two anonymous artists, has begun mapping spaces of cultural interest through information gathered from the festival’s participants, but more interestingly though the interrogation of the proprietors and residents of various cultural establishments. Ask a little and ye shall receive a lot.

There is a danger however, that projects like Traasdahl’s Flash Job and Barbara Rosenthal’s Existential Interact where she approaches passers-by and gives an impromptu performance and small tokens, is perhaps blinded by a mis-placed belief that art is ‘good for us’. It is exciting and progressive to reshuffle the rigid modes of artistic production and receivership, however it is potentially offensive and presumptuous to force certain art projects upon the unsuspecting public, under the guise of positive benevolent actions.

New Life Berlin is a dynamic festival, bringing together and testing multiple approaches to participating, interacting and receiving. It is a site for experimentation but we must address the risks involved when dealing with such issues. At least one participant in the works discussed above has removed themselves from the project and we know little about the reactions of the public on the receiving end. An important but seemingly absent project at New Life Berlin is a survey of its audiences’ interpretations, attitudes and criticisms of the festival, gathered from those who ask and receive, and those who don’t ask but still receive.

By Claire Louise Staunton

Claire Louise Staunton is a writer and practicing curator currently based in London with particular interest in sonic and performance interventions www.inheritanceprojects.org

Please only reproduce with permission from the author and Open Dialogues. opendialogues@gmail.com

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