You know those moments where your mental rolodex starts spinning, desperately seeking for a card catalog entry for a helpful text or estimate, browse yrs in the past, that may assistance make feeling of an upsetting knowledge in genuine time? This happened to me last thirty day period, in a single notably grim gallery of the exceptionally disturbing twelfth version of the Berlin Biennale.
I stood paralyzed in front of two side-by-side displays at the KW Institute for Modern Art. To my ideal, a team of people today sat silently staring at a display, chins resting on furtive fists, looking at looped grainy surveillance footage of detained asylum seekers at the US/Mexico border. The refugees in the video shivered and huddled alongside one another, slowly and gradually inching all around a freezing mobile, trying to keep warm less than slim silver space blankets—dehumanized and decreased to a visual uncomfortably evocative of old black-and-white documentation of Warhol’s “Silver Clouds.” To my left have been the complicated blocks of didactic textual content and archival images I had just diligently read through, outlining the mass rape of German females by allied soldiers in the ruins of postwar Berlin in the months subsequent the city’s “liberation”.
The two items, “Icebox Detention Together the US-Mexico Border” (2021-2022) by Susan Schuppli and “The Natural Background of Rape” (2017/2022) by Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, offered violence by brokers of the point out with as cold and scientific a lens as their titles would advise. Getting just paid out an admission price to become a spectator of human suffering, packaged dispassionately, I located myself wanting to know, “Why am I accomplishing this to myself?”
Psychically scrolling via the hazy copies-of-copies of the untold web pages of critical idea PDFs our mental libraries close up stuffed with following grad school, I tried using to recall some pearl of knowledge from the author Maggie Nelson. I remembered appreciating her reserve The Artwork of Cruelty: A Reckoning, which interrogated artists’ impulses to current violence as a curative solution for the viewer’s apathy—as if we experienced all been born with an unique sin, empathy out of alignment, and the artist’s role were to forcefully jolt it again into location with an “orthopedic” shove.
In the months that followed, I casually revisited the text a couple of moments, hoping to obtain some good quote to summarize my sophisticated feelings about how to critique an art Biennale so loaded with representations of nonfictional cruelty that it included a literal rape museum. And I arrived up empty-handed, partly since Nelson’s conclusion is mostly that in some cases ambivalence is alright. And then I remembered that was the lesson I had at first cherished again in grad school—one that in all probability informed my art-viewing profession much more than any other.
The dilemma is, I truly wanted to delight in the Berlin Biennale.