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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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Poster for the 2015 conference of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, Paris

Poster for the 2015 conference of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, Paris

A spectre is haunting economics – or maybe several even. Which ones exactly––the field is not quite agreed on, but it seems to have reached the conclusion that, really, it can’t go on like this. New approaches are called for, new ideas are sought after. To this end, the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), founded and funded primarily by star investor, philanthropist, and Karl Popper student George Soros, gathered an impressive array of leading economists for a four-day conference with the title “Liberté, Egalité, Fragilité” to debate the future of the field in Paris in early April. Present were, among others, the two Nobel Prize laureates Joseph Stiglitz and James Heckman, rising star Thomas Piketty, neo-classicists (roughly, “right-wing economists”) like Hans-Werner Sinn, erratic Marxists like the Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis, and, last but not least, Bard College Berlin’s own Dirk Ehnts, all joined by a range of scholars from outside the field, like neuroscientist Antonio Damasio or Goethe biographer Nicholas Boyle.

Curious to see where the discipline that defines so much of public life is heading today, I went to catch some of the talks. The concerns raised were sometimes timeless–how should economists think about human beings?–and sometimes very timely, for example in discussions of inequality or the current crisis in Greece. Below is a selection of panels to give you a glimpse of some of the problems that economists think about these days when they turn to the very edge – or core, depending on how you see it – of their discipline.

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John von Bergen with students at a Sculpture class workshop. Photo: Inasa Bibic

John von Bergen with students at a Sculpture class workshop. Photo: Inasa Bibic

Upon walking into John Von Bergen’s sculpture class for the first time, an immediate, and almost palpable vibration can be felt. Students are busy  working, organizing, building, molding, even their research carries an air of urgent excitement.

I was looking forward to my visit to the sculpture class. One visit turned to three, as I became increasingly enamored with the sculpture class, and the busy, productive air of the Factory.

This class is special for many reasons, for one, it is one of the few practicing art classes offered at BCB, where students are encouraged to break the mold of traditional intellectualism and begin to construct and illustrate their ideas through physical means. It is also a free space for students to learn, try risky methods, and expand their definitions of art and creation, all with John’s encouragement and guidance.

Yet, perhaps what is most interesting about this class is its relationship to the Factory. The idea of site-specific sculpture is a common one. An artist designs her sculpture to fit the environment it will be displayed in, specifically playing with the setting to create the desired effect. After spending some time observing this class, I would propose that, much in the same reign as site-specific sculpture, this is a site-specific class.

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This piece was originally published by Al-Fanar Media on March 18, 2015. Republished with their kind permission.

Asma'

Asma’ discusses in a class on “Ideology” at Bard College Berlin (photo by Inasa Bibic)

I am a Palestinian student, 20 years old. I was born in Jerusalem, but I have been there only twice. I grew up in the Al-Arroub refugee camp, north of Hebron. Originally, I am from Gaza, but I have never been there.

The Al-Arroub camp is a very crowded place of about 10,000 people. I live there with my family—three brothers and two sisters. I studied until the ninth grade at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees school. It was a good education. Afterwards, I went to high school in the camp.

The only thing that I could think about during school was how much I wanted to go to the United States to study. Why the U.S.? Probably because I was watching Hollywood movies too much. I was obsessed with the easy life I saw depicted on the screen, the modern, developed lifestyle with technology, easy transportation and freedom, especially freedom of movement.

In 2012, I graduated from high school, and it was time to decide on a university. Should I stay in Palestine or study abroad? I was torn. Then I received information about an American college in the West Bank,  Al-Quds Bard Honor College. I decided to attend because it has a strong, American-based education program where I could study journalism, a lifelong dream.

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Kafranbel is a liberated town in Syria, i.e not under the influence of the regime. The town became famous for making banners and sharing them on Facebook in support of the revolution.

In our liberal age, the notion of freedom is sacred. Arguing the opposite amounts to liberal heresy. The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ as depicted by the media affirms the universal sanctity of freedom. Didn’t “Arabs” sacrifice their lives for freedom’s sake after all? Maybe. The media did not depict the illiberal version of the story. In Syria––as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter remind me everyday – part of the population hates freedom.

Is it possible for ‘rational’ human beings to hate freedom?

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Graffitti

My first semester at Bard College Berlin just ended and I would like to write about the past few months and draw on my first insight into a liberal arts education.

At first, many people advised me not to study at a liberal arts university. In Germany you usually choose a field of study that is already very fixed in its subjects and then you can specialize after a few years of studying that one thing. As a person who would like to know everything about (nearly) everything, I felt out of place in this system. I was not able to reduce my interests to simply one area. After I graduated from a German school, my only wish was to sit in a library, stay there for hours, and just read every single book that seemed interesting. But of course life happened and it took me one year to make this dream become partly true (in my imagination it was not as exhausting and frustrating to get some reading done as it is in reality sometimes).

A lot of people said: “What do you want to do with this education? We do not need more people who only talk and talk for hours and never act. The world is full of these. Why don’t you study something useful, something with which you can make money and not live in a trash can out of necessity?” What those people do not realize is that the philosopher Diogenes lived in a large ceramic “can” because he believed it was necessary to be independent from material needs and to think beyond social and bodily constraints. But his example was not the reason why I went to Bard College Berlin, despite all the warnings. I always wanted to make the world a better place, but I soon became aware of the fact that one first needs to know about the world, about human nature, and about society before one can claim: “I am going to change the world now!” (Even though I have no idea where to start.) So this is why I am here at Bard College Berlin. I want to know more about myself and the world I live in.

I can still remember my first phone call with my German friends after my first day at the college.

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