Monica Bonvicini and Karl Holmqvist have shifted their gaze from the German capital to Italy. Poet, artist, performer and uncharacteristic activist, Holmqvist embraces an array of media in his performances. In Palazzo delle Esposizioni, in the Giardini, the Swedish artist presents a square-base parallelepiped with a Mussolini epigraph sculpted four times in capital Palatino lettering in the travertine stone, "This people of poets, of artists, of heroes, of
saints, of thinkers, of scientists, of navigators, of emigrants." It is an architectural model in scale 1:36 of Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, a building in the EUR district of Rome. Designed in 1937 by Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto Lapadula and Mario Romano, Mario Piacentini chose it to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Fascist regime at the 1942 World's Fair. The sculpture forms part of the Untitled installation by the 46-year-old artist, who used the same material that clads the original building, selected at the time by the architects to emphasise the values of Romanness to which the regime aspired. Set in the centre of a room with its walls lined with fragments of writing arranged "at random", the Swedish artist's sculpture conveys the gap between state rhetoric and the Italy you encounter at the supermarket, as well as highlighting the ideological stalemate of our times. "Mine"—explains Holmqvist—"is a form of subversion that speaks in muted tones."
For the 2005 Biennale, Monica Bonvicini placed a huge parallelepiped of tufa stone laboriously dismantled by a team of workers with electric drills at the entrance to the Giardini del'Arsenale. A Golden Lion winner in 1999, the Venetian artist arrived in Berlin at the age of 21 in 1986, planning to stay a few days, which turned into a couple of months before she then settled there, finding it an accessible city without all the tension of New York. In some ways, it is like Los Angeles. At this Biennale she presents 15 Steps to the Virgin, a large-format installation with Mina singing "La musica è finita" in the background.
Platforms and steps, some rear-lit, are a reference to the curved steps painted in the Presentation of the Virgin by Tintoretto between 1553 and 1556. Her work is filled with precise references to theoretical, political, artistic and architectural issues. Just as in Not For You, a 2006 work in which the bulbs forming the words flash on and off as if in an old-fashioned funfair, 15 Steps to the Virgincontains a hint of the toy theatre and suburban show. Bonvicini explains her work at the Arsenale, "It is a good description of the Italian soul and also a reference to a certain kind of Italy, the one of scantily clad showgirls. That is why I included Mina. There used to be Canzonissima [a popular TV variety show broadcast by RAI from 1956 to 1975], but now there are different programmes. It is an Italy that I really want to see the back of."
Klara Lidén's work is no less provocative but like Nairy Baghramian she has a more delicate approach to politics. A white room containing pieces of industrial archaeology that resemble contemporary works is adorned with rubbish bins taken from city streets. They are exhibited at the Arsenale as if sculptures or hung like pictures, many years after Duchamp. It is up to visitors to decide whether to be shocked or to participate in the aestheticisation of a readymade that is already vintage and filled with urban signs. Those observing it feel a sense of slight embarrassment and awkwardness similar to that experienced by passengers on the Stockholm metro who, in the film Paralyzed, observe a clumsy teenage dance performed by Lidén on the public transport. Nearly always the creator and protagonist of her own video-installations, this young 32-year-old Swedish artist studied art and architecture in Berlin, where she moved without ever completing her studies to focus entirely on her work. Lidén received a special mention at the Biennale "a confirmation of the strength of her work, its wit and rage...." She explores the physical, psychological and social limits of the spaces we inhabit and her works often trigger in onlookers the confusion and slightly claustrophobic sensation experienced when we witness a violation of the unwritten social conventions that govern our lives.
While Lidén exposes the alienation of everyday Western life "with a Debord-like spirit of anarchical urbanisation", the Iranian artist Nairy Baghramian presents a sophisticated work and illustrates the close link between making art and democracy. She explains it in the words used to describe a French cheese, Le fromage de tête, although here they allude to the relationship between the materials needed to produce content and vice versa. The work consists in cast rubber plates that are the negatives of the accumulated materials. In her installations the existing context (the exhibition, space and institution) is intrinsic to the conception and perception of her work. Baghramian arrived in Berlin at the age of 14 after fleeing Armenia with her family. She criss-crosses German theatre, contemporary dance and literature which become the context of her work because—as she explains, "I could not take my work to Saudi Arabia, China or a country where the government does not allow people to grasp the deep-rooted meaning of contemporary art. Freedom is a necessary condition for art production and this freedom is lacking in some countries."
The last and youngest artist in the group of emigrants to German, Cyprien Gaillard often employs irony to reveal the political darkness of the cultural cross-pollinations peculiar to hedonistic globalism. At the KW Institute of Contemporary Art in Berlin, the artist asked the public to consume a large pyramid of EFES beer cartons, imported from Turkey to Germany. Here, at the Biennale, Gaillard, who was born in 1980 and is French but studied in Switzerland, presents Ankor Beer, a collection of postcards decorated with beer bottle labels. With Gaillard's brilliant Berlin work The Recovery of Discovery in mind, we could only end this overview of artists who have emigrated to Berlin with the contemporary tonalism and "Chromophilia" of Das Institute, an imaginary import-export agency set up by two artists who moved from Berlin to New York—Kerstin Brätsch and Adele Röder. Their work is colour and more colour.
Röder's digitally printed panels and those painted by Brätsch, shown at the Biennale with the title Blocked Radiants, are almost exclusively this—colour. "Murderous colours that annihilate, enveloping everything—as Amy Sillman writes—poison-colours, cure-colours, colours that mix on the palette and can never be found again. The colour that comes out of the body, the colour produced by the movement of the body-production-machine and, finally, anti-colours, shadow-colours and digital colours. iPhone colours manipulated by fingers on a tiny screen." This is why their work is consumed with a sense of urgency that epitomises the immediacy of our times.