A Curator Writes: The European Ideal

Post-Brexit, ArtReview's columnist I. Kurator ponders the European ideal and where it all went wrong. Part 1: Berlin

By I. Kurator

Anna Uddenburg, Transit Mode – Abenteuer, 2014–16: Journey of Self Discovery, 2016 (installation view). Courtesy the artist. Photo: Timo Ohler Jon Rafman, installation view of L’Avalée des avalés, (The Swallower Swallowed) Iguana/Sloth, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Future Gallery, Berlin. Photo: Timo Ohler

It was late when I stumble out onto Kastanienallee clutching the envelope. I wipe away what looks like a small bit of potato salad from my Drakes striped tie. It had been a stressful few days. First of all an entirely unnecessary third bottle of Puligny Montrachet during lunch at Sweetings had inadvertently lead to my ticking of the wrong box in the EU Referendum vote later that afternoon. When I tried to explain my mistake to the editor, a long, complex lecture on the European ideal that finished with him singing the ‘Song for the Unification of Europe’ from Krzysztof Kieslowski’s film Three Colors Blue and handing me a one-way ticket to the Berlin Biennale.

In the days that followed I meandered in a daze around the Biennale, pondering on the European ideal and what had gone wrong. As the words 'Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold’, from Yeats’ poem The Second Coming, kept echoing in my head, I found myself repeatedly drawn to Anna Uddenberg’s splendid sculpture of a young lady in a thong attempting to take a picture of her derriere using a selfie stick. Head over the precipice, immaculate backside thrust proudly towards the people and on a personal level at least, strangely arousing, for me the work summed up the mighty edifice of Europe.

Occasionally I would get messages about the chaos back in Blighty. I heard of Boris Johnson’s hubris and downfall. I heard about political plots and failed coups. These snippets of news would provoke despair and in response I would invariably make my way to the balcony of the Akademie der Künste. There I would pull myself back from the ledge and instead wrestle the Jon Rafman Oculus Rift headpiece from hapless Biennale-goers by yelling – Stronger In!, just at the moment where the swallowing of animal sculptures that feature heavily in Rafman’s virtual reality work were at their more intense. Then I would put the headset on and lose myself in the work’s doomsday scenario.

After I'd finished communing with Rafman I took myself for what I thought would be solitary dinner at Kurhaus Korsakow. I ordered a cold Gurkesuppe and a solid plate of Rouladen to follow. I was just tucking in when a handsome, silver-haired and undeniably Teutonic looking gentleman sat opposite me. He motioned at me to continue eating.

“After the wall came down Europe was the ideal which we aspired to. Anything was possible Ivan”, he said. It was then I recognised my fellow great curator and nodded to indicate that moment of Lacanian méconnaissance. “I founded Kunst-Werke, of course with some others but their names are lost in history…" Alexandra, Alfonso and Philipp…?, I offered helpfully but my words were ignored. “…Artists would flock to the city and dance the night away in Pogo. My apartment served as an informal bar for anyone and everyone. But only on Monday nights and I would turn on the lights at midnight. There was work to be done the following day. Fischerspooner would play on loop. Europe was an idea that we could all fight for, at least on the dance floor." Where did it go wrong Klaus?, I asked, thinking that the great man might be able to shed some light on the disintegration of Europe. “Björk” he replied. We each looked at our soup sadly. “Anyhow look Ivan, I have this from your editor.” He pushed an envelope towards me. What is it? I asked. “An onward ticket from Berlin. Your next stop in this tour to find the essence of Europe. Manifesta.” I held back the tears and looked evenly at him. Our destiny, I say finally, in a weak voice. And we clinked our Pilsners together sombrely.

Online exclusive published 6 July 2016

The Berlin Biennale continues through 18 September 2016