“And the winner is…” A saxophone jiggles out a suspenseful trill before a glitter cannon spurts a jet of golden foil pieces over the audience. Tonight is the final night of the Berlin Art Prize 2016 exhibition, when the nine nominated artists all converge at Kühlhaus to celebrate the three winners. The jury for the prize, which is now in its fourth edition, is made up of curators and artists, meaning winners were chosen by their peers, not by an opaque lofty body dictating from above. It all contributes to the convivial, DIY feeling of the Prize. Speeches are made by the whole Berlin Art Prize team, who fill up the podium enthusiastically, creating, as they call it, an “ad hoc-cracy.”
After a month-long exhibition of the nominated artists’ work, the three winners are announced. Berlin-based artists Benedikt Partenheimer, Lauryn Youden, and Stine Marie Jacobsen are given the prize, and Raul Walch gets an honorable mention. Each of the three prize packages is weighted equally, more of an egalitarian honor for its contestants than a strict ranking: a cash prize, a trophy designed for the occasion by Tomás Saraceno, and a one-month residency in Tbilisi, Georgia in the spring of 2017. The Creators Project spoke to the three winners of the Berlin Art Prize 2016 about their winning projects:
Benedikt Partenheimer: The work I am showing is based on the theme of the anthropocene —a new epoch, the new time of mankind. It`s a proposed scientific term for an epoch that begins when human activities have had significant global impact on the earth's ecosystems. The idea for the series Particulate Matter was to create images that are poetic and draw the viewer into the image. At first you look at the work and you think it's beautiful, it's a poetic landscape disappearing in fog and then you realize it's something totally different. The titles of the images reveal their true meaning by stating the AQI (Air Quality Index) indicating the degree of air pollution. The series shows air pollution in China, the industrial aspect of manmade pollution and one of the causes of climate change. I also collected data about climate change—about 14,000 pages from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC]. The idea was to cover the whole floor with those pages, so that the visitors could walk on the information and choose to ignore it. The information is there, we are constantly surrounded by it, but we're not really connected to it.
Also, I collected data about climate change—40,000 pages from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC]. The idea was to cover the whole floor to create this image that we're walking on information. It's there but we're not connected to it, not reading it.
Stine Marie Jacobsen: There something about these invisible rules within society that I'm very interested in. The ones I'm interested in are not only written by governments but also citizens, and also people becoming citizens, because laws are not something that has always existed. Borders have not always existed. This led me to the humorous project, German for Artists, which is a collection of grammatical sentences, puns and metaphors about what the art world—collectors, curators and artists—are already doing. It came from a personal experience of coming to Berlin as a Danish person—I needed a bit of money so I started offering myself as a teacher, and then it turned out I'm really good at it! That moment of "Why are the rules [of language] as they are?" I would love to have that happen within laws also.
It’s like law is a language that we share worldwide that makes us nervous: nobody wants to read it, even in their own language. So that's what I'm doing with Law Shifters. We invite teenagers and kids to rejudge court cases. We use court cases as a historical document to look at how we have changed behavior: with racism, for example, how did we judge racism in the 80s and now? In the BAP sessions, we rejudged court cases that were happening this year and the kids judged way more humanely.
Lauryn Youden: It's all dealing with my own personal mental illness, and being in a community where this is a consistent dialogue. All of my practice comes out of dealing with that and creating a structure of helping myself and creating self-healing mechanisms. I work with CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), which is a lot of exercises and self-reflection. So, the text works are coming from me being on a Skype call with a therapist I've been working with since I was a teenager and her giving me an exercise. Whenever I realize I'm getting sick again, I start these lists.
To me, the sand garden is an anti-panic-attack mechanism. It's giving yourself an activity where you place yourself very much in the moment and you're not thinking about anything other than that. Designing something, using tools and doing it with your entire body, it focuses you. That's where it refers to these ideas of Zen Buddhism and Japanese Zen gardens. I've also been researching the history of Western and alternative medicines and how that relates to oral female histories. I'm trying to approach that conversation in a different way. All of the materials I used have some kind of medicinal quality—in reproduction, mental health, or menstruation, for example. Every material I'm using I'm using on myself. It was a way of creating more conversation about it.