AO On Site: 6th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art: La Monnaie Vivante after Pierre Klossowski, staged by Pierre Bal-Blanc

July 2nd, 2010

A work by Santiago Sierra, 111 Constructions Made with 10 Modules and 10 Workers (2004). All images by Art Observed unless otherwise noted.

It is not an accident that La Monnaie Vivante (The Living Currency), a performance art event after Pierre Klossowski, is being staged, or rather, experienced in Berlin. A bold experiment in deconstructing reality and fiction, the piece finds its place in a time when much of contemporary debate revolves around performance and participation art, as well as the a re-evaluation of the market value of an art object. La Monnaie Vivante, presented by Pierre Bal-Blanc as part of the 6th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art at Hebbel am Ufer, is an evolving and infinitely complex project that can be best characterized by its attempt to deconstruct memory as an archive, and in exhibiting content in an open and unstable format. Expanding upon the long tradition of experiential and participation art of Futurism, Dada, The Situationist International, and Fluxus, La Monnaie Vivante aims to establish a dialogue between current and historical investigation of the body in the fine arts and to activate further exploration of the concept of the body within domains of music, dance, and theater. Thus, this particular section of the Biennale becomes an arena for the possible merging and emancipation of form.

Audiences gathered and shifted in response to the events taking place in and around the theater.

More images and text after the jump…

The project was originally developed in 2006 in a Parisian dance studio and was subsequently exhibited on the stage of STUK kunstencentrum in Leuven, Belgium in 2007, and at Turbine Hall of Tate Modern in 2008. In early 2010, a new version was created in collaboration with Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art for the local Teatr Dramatyczny, which activated performance through its classic proscenium stage. In fact, Hebbel am Ufel provides a similar set-up and lends transformative aura to the experience of being in and a part of a theater, music, dance happening. As audiences were instructed to enter through the back entrance, usually reserved exclusively for the cast and staff, their roles were suddenly imbued with transgressive intensity. Stepping onto the black parquet floor of a circular stage, perspective shifted to the infinite space above and beyond. Spotlights glared at each and every body and object present. Such leveling horizontal pull could be intensely felt in contrast with the vertical expansion of air and setting. The theater, in essence, created a democratizing environment where reality became fiction and fantasy manifested itself into an authentic experience of the present.

La Monnaie Vivante is composed of manifold works, older and more recent. The pieces establish a rapport amongst themselves, audiences, curator, artist and performers in a way that contracts disciplines to reshape our immediate physical experience and the memory actively constructed in the process. The exhibition features performances and works by George Brecht, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Cornelius Cardew, Simone Forti, Jens Haaning, Teresa Margolles, Roman Ondák, Gianni Pettena, Santiago Sierra, Franz Erhard Walther, Artur Zmijewski, among others.

The inconsistent arrangement and immateriality of gesture that distinguish the elements of La Monnaie Vivante are inherently committed to wresting art out of its economic and material binds. As Pierre Bal-Blanc states: “These are works that cannot be reduced to material objects or to the documentation of an action.” Indeed, even press were prohibited from taking video or photographs of the happenings. Oddly enough, the Berlin Biennial did hire their own photo- and videographers to record all 5 hours of unfolding events. It is against linear view of history that artists react so fervently. The particular pieces presented here are undeniably contingent upon reactions between all inclusive parts and emphasis is given to the “impurity” or “openness” of each work.

In his essay “The Poetics of Open Work,” originally published in 1962, Umberto Eco proposes a concept of aesthetic theory that admits an infinite construction and perception of a work of text, art or music. Observing such development in particular reference to improvisational music – compositions of Boulez and Stockhausen – Eco asserts that even the most concrete work remains open and, in fact, relies the unpredictable reception each reader may extricate and render it through the process of perceiving, assimilating and “completing” a work, each time renewing it. Pierre Bal-Blanc, as well as the artists whose works take place as part of La Monnaie Vivante, recognize the limitless possibilities that unsettling the distance between audience and stage can create. By multiplying and permutating an already volatile network of narratives and parameters – suggested by objects, protocols, scenarios, and scores – the project moves beyond deconstruction of reality and representational capacity and instead allows for a construction of a reality in flux, memories of immeasurable divergence and rarity.

Teresa Margolles’s interactive and affective work En el Aire/In the Air (2003).

Among the first experiences of encountering La Monnaie Vivante is the work of Teresa Margolles (born 1963), whose work was presented as a solo exhibition of the Mexican Pavillion at the 53rd Venice Biennale last year. Titled En el Aire/In the Air (2003), the piece initially suggests a playful tone as a machine blows bubbles into the exhibition space and imbues the atmosphere with a certain magical quality. Much more disturbing is the actual process, material and socio-political connotation these bubbles carry with them. Margolles often works with fluids obtained from the laboratories of the Mexico City morgue, which she translates into unsettling statements on the city’s violent realities. For In the Air, Margolles used a mixture of soap and water used to wash the bodies of murder victims following their autopsies. As the soap bubbles make ethereal traces in thin air and inevitably burst against the black floor of the stage, the viewers are struck by muted transience and incomprehensibility of a continuous flow that simulates the increased number of victims and lack of attention their stories receive due to their fragile social position political situation.

Another prominent event, which is perhaps more physically compelling, is the work of Santiago Sierra (1966): 111 Constructions made with 10 Modules and 10 Workers (2004). Typical to his oeuvre, Sierra hires laborers to perform his pieces thereby highlighting the issues of exploitation and omnipresence of economic value structure and its relationship with art and life. Overtly critical and yet helplessly part of the system, Sierra’s work explores the consuming capitalist pursuit of constantly increasing profits. The performed actions staged for La Monnaie Vivante are a result of critical and formal engagement with the artist’s view of art history through the monotonous process of minimal and makeshift rearrangement of plasterboard modules by a group of Polish workers. Sierra further alienates participants from engaging with his work by omitting his own presence. Even the instructions for the piece are provided by a hired young man who holds images of each proposed arrangement.

Representative of the musical of La Monnaie Vivante are pieces of Cornelius Cardew (1936-81), who undoubtedly represents one of the most interesting composers to have emerged in the second half of the twentieth century. The Scratch Orchestra, originally created by Cardew at Morley College (South London) in 1968, joins together both trained and untrained musicians who utilize musical instrument as well as everyday objects to radically question the social limitations of art and music. In several pieces performed, the present Scratch Orchestra attempts to establish a democratic claim on avant-garde culture and to break down traditional boundaries and hierarchy that separate the composer, performer, and listener. Participants often utilize their bodies, in addition to available objects, and allow selections from Nature Study Notes (1969) to evolve into a captivating aesthetic of challenging noises and movements.

Here are some sample scores from Cardew’s Treatise work:

Score images via SyncSonic

For more information on Cornelius Cardew’s work and a graphic explanation of his specific genre of aleatoric music, please see this fantastic animation of Treatise created by the Block Museum of Northwestern University.

– J. Solovyeva

Related Links:
Berlin Biennale [Exhibition site]
The Living Currency, after Pierre Klossowski: Staged by Pierre Bal-Blanc [This is Tomorrow]
The Death of the Audience: An Conversation with Pierre Bal-Blanc [e-flux]