June 3rd: Art Leaks Open Assembly
I was happy to be in Berlin for the first Assembly by Art Leaks, an international group who aims to expose injustice and economic exploitation in the arts by “leaking” stories that expose institutions on the internet. I learned that the group also formed out of a mutual event and shared problem between artists, the Bucharest Biennale.
A group of five of us from Occupy Museums came to the meeting, which was housed in a warehouse right along the former border between East & West Germany. (Side note: the building itself was actually part of the Berlin wall. I was told that it is one of the few remaining East German official buildings still owned and managed by the original owner. Apparently there was a massive redistribution of buildings after the wall went down by West Germany— I don’t fully understand all the details. The building contains artist studios, and a gallery called Flutgraben as well as the project space where the talk was held.)
The Art Leaks meeting began with presentations from members in lecture format, then additional presentations via skype, and then an open discussion.
During the open discussion, people offered different ideas for concrete measures to be taken. There was a desire for charts that act as guidelines for institutions to offer a fair wage, the desire to define a set of demands, the challenge of building international solidarity when working within different systems, and the specific condition of artists here in Berlin. We learned that artists here have enjoyed a certain amount of security for the past decade—but that is rapidly changing due to gentrification and lack of decent jobs.
The Berlin Biennial was also a hot topic. For the first time we got a sense of some of the critique from local people. Earlier that day I had a conversation with a curator from NYC about the lack of engagement from visitors who are inherently in a very passive position, many just breezing through the Bienniale for a few hours. If that is the case, the question becomes how can we measure outcome of the BB7, that has said one of the goals of the biennial is “real engagement.” How can it surpass the condition of simulation? One possible measure of success could be how well BB7 integrates with the local arts and activist communities in Berlin, which has such a strong community of political art and activism already. At the Art Leaks meeting, local artists claimed that BB7 did just the opposite; they claimed the curators have aliened the local community. We learned of a group called Roza Perutz who has offered an in depth critique around BB7.
During the open discussion, a member from Occupy Museums announced that we were here as part of the Berlin Bienniale (I had been too shy to do this myself, and had claimed my affiliation as Arts & Labor.) That opened up an extremely interesting discussion about why we were here, and what information did we have to help inform our decision to participate in BB7?
Someone in the audience asked us if Occupy Museums decision to participate was either based on stupidity or lack of knowledge about the local context. This brought forth a dialog about how to exchange information around big shows like BB7, or in situations where local political knowledge could help inform the decision to participate. At the end of the night, it was decided that there would be another meeting (the following night) to break out into smaller working groups to begin to tangibly hash these things out.
Next Night (June 4th): Working Group Meeting
I arrived at the working group meeting over an hour late (after getting lost biking around Berlin) When I got there, the meeting was not as had been announced the night before, instead Art Leaks was talking about a journal that they were working on. Members of the audience called for break out groups or a kind of structure to continue our discussions. At 9:30 we finally broke out into groups and began to speak more in-depth. The group that I was part of—the “allies” group, talked a bit about what an internet- based platform might look like for information exchange. While no major conclusions were made, we discussed the need for something more robust than a tool to expose institutions. What would a tool look like that would build international solidarity among cultural workers?
The final outcome of this meeting was another gathering at 8PM next Monday June 11 at Flutgraben.