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Kerry James Marshall speaking at the American Academy in Berlin. (Credit: Photos by Annette Hornischer | Courtesy the American Academy in Berlin)

Our class, Curatorial Practice: Past and Present, filed into the American Academy — a mansion buried deep in the affluent Berlin neighborhood of Wannsee — on a beautiful sunny day. Any sense of intimidation we could have felt at the very formal invitation we received to the American Academy’s event, “The End Of Criticality”, a master class with Kerry James Marshall, quickly melted away once he began his talk. A sweet, friendly man whose warm laugh immediately puts one at ease, Marshall is one of the most important and influential painters today. Our curatorial practice class was joined by art students from the Universität der Künste and Freie Universität. During his talk, Marshall spoke with us about everything ranging from ways of approaching art institutions built on a foundation of exclusion and exploitation to how his own love of the image began.

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Smolny Campus. (Credit: Smolny Student Conference Organizing Committee)

Two weeks ago, I attended the annual Smolny student conference. Five days I frolicked about and ate lots and lots of pierogies. Not a single dull moment was lived. This article is a reflection on my experience of the city:

I boarded at midnight. The experience was positively surreal. I had run across Riga airport to catch my connection — a process significantly slowed down by the immigration police’s diligence in checking my passport and visa. When I ultimately reached the gate, steadying my heart rate, I saw my flight there was a tiny jetplane. The plane was crowded with a peculiar mix of people: businesswomen and football fans sat side by side. Its odor was a combination of garlic and sweaty old person. Everywhere I looked I saw  babies with the potential to spark total mayhem. The plane shook and puffed and finally got us there in one piece. All the while in front of me, a girl calmly edited her selfie for the duration of the 40 min flight, nudging the brightness back and forth to reach perfection — which of course took a while, because of the shaking and all. But there’s no questioning her determination. I had to remind myself I wasn’t on a bus to a rural town; I was flying to St.Petersburg, the country’s former capital. She greeted me with snow. Welcome to Russia!

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Wafa at a student artwork exhibition on campus (credit: Tamar Maare)

Wafa at a student artwork exhibition on campus (credit: Tamar Maare)

Wafa was arrested in 2011. The protests against the Assad regime had begun to heighten in frequency and intensity, with riots regularly breaking out in different Syrian cities. The Syrian authorities launched a nationwide crackdown on protesting in an effort to quell the rising dissent against the government, arresting many civilians. Amongst these were students who were dragged into prison for their activism, including Wafa Moustafa, now a BA1 student in the HAST program at BCB. “It was hard,” she says to me. “At this point, they didn’t arrest girls very often, so they had no idea how to deal with us appropriately.” After being beaten many times for disobedience, she decided that she would go on a hunger strike. But that, combined with serious asthma and an undiagnosed stomach condition, didn’t end well. “They summoned a doctor who force-fed me with syringes. Doctors here don’t help you, they’re all a part of the regime.”

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In 1948 Mr Westhoff was asked if his farm located in Marle could be transformed into a voting station during elections. His son and daughter-in-law continue the tradition up to this day by transforming their living room into the smallest voting station in the Netherlands. (Credit: Rene Lunshof)

In 1948 Mr Westhoff was asked if his farm located in Marle could be transformed into a voting station during elections. His son and daughter-in-law continue the tradition up to this day by transforming their living room into the smallest voting station in the Netherlands. (Credit: Rene Lunshof)

A question on the exit polls during the US presidential election was which “presidential quality” mattered most. Interestingly enough, it was not experience, nor good judgment that people deemed the most necessary quality for a president: it was their ability to “bring needed change” (39%). That was also the only quality where Trump, lagging behind Hillary on all others, scored highest, at 82%. Among those who Clinton (in the biggest error of her campaign) described as a “basket of deplorables,” there seemed to be a lot of people who just really wanted change.

After the Dutch election, Europe let out a sigh of relief, with headlines exalting that the tide of populism had turned because far-right politician Geert Wilders hadn’t won. This shouldn’t have been big news, as the polls running up to the election had already indicated that Wilders, leader of the right-wing extremist Freedom Party (PVV), was not going to. Most narratives concluded that populism in the Netherlands was subsiding due to this modest gain of the PVV: an easy conclusion but a questionable causal relation. Equating the electoral result of rightist-extremist parties with the degree of populism in a country is not only faulty: it is dangerous. Still this happens on a regular basis and has been prominent in the reporting done on the Dutch election as well as the upcoming elections in Germany and France.

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Detail of Mike Kelley's Educational Complex, 1995 (Credit: Artspace)

Detail of Mike Kelley’s Educational Complex, 1995 (Credit: Artspace)

It was 19 hours in Pankow, Berlin. The cold was eating away at my extremities. But I was on a mission. My plan was to arrive at my dorm to freshen up fast enough to get to Laura López Paniagua’s lecture on the work of Mike Kelley only a modest 5 minutes late. Being an Arts and Society student here at BCB, this lecture was to be a sacred right of passage. I arrived in my dorm and applied my aromas and silks. Just steps away from my door, I realized I did not know where this lecture was being held. I looked through my email history with ferocity. I found the location: the lecture hall, naturally. But what is this “lecture hall”? I have had lectures in many rooms here at Bard Berlin. I racked my memory. This was as hard as any question on a test. I deduced it must be the structure across from the admin building. I realized I do not know the numbers of any of these buildings. They all seem to be 24, whether it be Platanenstr.,  Kuckhoffstr., the list goes on. 24, 24, 24. I arrived and ascended the staircase. I got into the building and, to my relief, there were middle aged men and women milling around, empty wine glasses, and some nice bottled water ready to fill them. I was not late after all.

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rihanna

Artwork at the Biennale: “A GIANT, QUESTIONABLE ARTWORK OF RIHANNA’S HEADLESS BODY” (credit: papermag.com)

A former Nazi bunker, a boat on the Spree, an established art school, the former site of the GDR National Council– all of these Berlin locations became sites for the Berlin Biennale that ran this past June through September. The Biennale is a contemporary art exhibit that is held every two years and began in 1998. Organized by the New York-based curatorial collective DIS, this year’s Biennale was subject to mixed reviews from many critics. I became interested in the Berlin Biennale this past fall after a friend excitedly texted me a picture next to the giant, headless Rihanna sculpture featured at the KW Institute. Such a collection promised cultural references and a sense of humor in an age where contemporary art can be stern, removed, and serious. Over the course of the next month, I attended every Biennale site except for the boat tour.  

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bjorn braun

Still of a video installation by artist Björn Braun exhibited at the Meyer Riegger Gallery in Berlin (Credit: artatberlin)

This last Thursday I had the pleasure of being toured around several art exhibition openings by the artist Shila Khatami, who I am interning for as a part of Bard College Berlin’s Internship Seminar. After a long bike ride through the suburban haze of Pankow, I finally reached Kreuzberg. I met with Shila at a café  across from her studio on Oranienstr. We had a coffee before entering into her studio, located behind a Turkish mosque and two clubs.

The first show we went to was Achim Riethmann’s opening at the Gallerie Russi on Luckauer Str. The small gallery was filled with both young gallery-goers and older, seasoned patrons. Most people were congregated on the street in front of the gallery.

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The Class of 2015

Bard College Berlin’s Class of 2015

As I write these lines, the urban landscape of Berlin slowly gives way to a haze of green as the ICE train passes along a seemingly endless stream of fields, meadows, and forests on its way to Austria. It’s been a short homecoming for me this time. Returning from Paris, where I lived during my third year, I stayed only a few days to witness the graduation ceremony at Bard College Berlin. In a few hours there will be another homecoming for me, when I arrive in Innsbruck, where a part of my family now lives, and two weeks on there will be yet another one in Vienna, where another part of my family lives and where I grew up. Another two weeks and I will be back in Berlin again.

My international peers, my teachers, and the staff at Bard College Berlin hail from some forty different corners of the world. School breaks give time to travel, to go home, or to explore the country and continent. If, as a student, you spend your third year abroad, you will see every other student generation for one year only. After four years we all say farewell, perhaps for good, even though many of us return to the place at some point, or stay in Berlin for a while. Hellos and farewells, departures and arrivals are really built into the very core of BCB life. And if you do something a lot, chances are you will get good at it. Farewells are no exception. Perhaps the most beautiful demonstration was Paris Helene Furst’s student graduation speech.

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