Some weeks have passed since the #OccupyBiennale started. The framework was/is a difficult one: a contemporary art exhibition, probably the most famous one in Europe. Most artists would pay to be there, to have an extra line in their CV that adds Berlin Biennale. However the #occupy and #15M movements were invited, not because of their artistic skills but because of the political process they were living worldwide. There was quite a controversy about participating in an art event, the fear of being “exhibited,” the fear of being swallowed up by a “commercial” event - when art becomes a consumer article and forgets its function of questioning reality - and when transgression is even more marketable than art. “People,” it seems, are so bored in society that they need “adventure,” so art has to sell that adventure. This was the starting point at the Biennale, #occupy | #15M, visitors expected to share an “adventure,” the one that thousands of people are living in their squares, the process of civil disobedience going on in our time. That was the risk and the challenge that was to be overcome when finally the invitation was accepted.


To say that the #occupy | #15M movement has been successful all over the world is something very difficult to assert. Spain has shown that #15M really has changed society. Perhaps the changes are not yet visible, but they are so deep that we can say it is a turning point in Spanish society. There is no way back to the previous situation. The #occupy movement over in the US may have had the same experience, the awakening of society, that regaining of people’s consciousness and their capacity to decide for themselves, things that once seemed dead or numb. But in most of the other countries it has been a “well intended” movement that has not managed to transcend into large public support or concrete gains.


The challenge, however, was very tough: a clear motivation and strong driving ideas were needed, and it was particularly difficult to find them in an artificial environment, with an artificial goal, with no core group that could help facilitation and with not real bonds that could tie people to the #Biennale square.



When you’re out of the movement, watching it evolve for a few minutes or hours, you do not get a sense of how it came to be; you get no hint that the spectator is not a spectator, but a part of the show. One can imagine building a wall (how ironic would that be in Berlin) one brick at a time, and building it as a separation from what is not wanted (corruption, domination, mental slavery, exploitation of remote, unknown, corrupt invisible hands), and as well as an instrument for a new means for expression (painting, writing, etc.). So to presume that people coming to the exhibition would not “look-at” the #occupy | #15M movement space expecting something to “happen” was a wrong way to focus public participation in the Biennale. It was wrong to believe people would simply join because they had the need to, to expect that a building could reproduce the process of the squares as public space, to think that things “would” happen naturally when the process itself was artificial, not in a pejorative sense, only to describe that it needed a particular input from the people occupying the space. This input, or driving force, happened organically when people organized in squares because there was a moral or political (maybe even material) motivation to do so.


At the same time, the intention of the curators to stay out of the process has not worked as planned. It is not possible to play in both sides, to present a self-organized space with constraints, because it really belongs to the exhibition set; the relation of power between curator and “occupy” could not be diluted. Every now and then it appeared in the scene and no reaction to that situation ever occurred.



Asamblea madness, as something untouchable, fixed, un-redo-able, is the belief that an Asamblea is something other than a tool (amongst others) for coordination and decision-making. To pretend that in an assembly it is necessary to have everybody that may have participated in previous assemblies is not being inclusive. Anyone that passes by can make a decision, and there is no need to wait for a “specially implicated” person if he or she is a “leader.” If people can attend, great, and if not they have to assume it will progress without them. That leads sometimes to difficult situations, but it is how a square works, under the belief that everybody is a part of it and can participate. The other essential thing is trust. Decisions must be taken even if we are not present. One has to rely on the group, on the decision taken during an Asamblea where people discuss and add nuances and arguments. We can’t fossilize decisions to what was decided in the past. The building of a square is something alive, continuously changing, and as decisions change, needs change, and there is nothing that can be guaranteed forever except that every decision can be re-thought.


In the Biennale, the scheduled Asambleas were not respected in the first weeks. Nobody attended, so that gives a clue of the commitment towards the collective building process, Nobody had the need to talk about the conflicts, to look for solutions, the international status of things, or anything. In the name of assemblies, decisions were not accepted.



Although it may seem quite unbelievable, there has been some fascist behavior among some of the so-called occupiers, that don’t represent what actually happens in the squares, where respect and active listening takes place. Instead of this we found a lack of respect, and even mobbing done to people who joined this “artificial” square, making it difficult to stay and actually work on things rather than playing the game of exhibition. The result of this attitude was people leaving the #OccupyBiennale, feelings of hostility, and invitations to leave. For an example in the mailing list, an email with subject that read: “Exclusion of antisocial, arrogant, anti-art, anti-individual occupy guest” was followed partially by:

“Permanently trouble making people who dont accept the decision of former assemblies, talking bullshit, standing on an arrogant, non flexible position should be sent back.We need constructive people and no trouble makers. you are here in Germany where law and order rules. Even in the german Occupy Movement we have law and orders decided by former assemblies. If you are not able to accept those former decisions you better go back home.”


A week after and under pressure, it was explained that it was “sarcasm.” Is this believable? Who can accept this behaviour? Where is the sarcasm? We saw something present through all the process of the #OccupyBiennale, people that come are “guests”, “visitors,” or even treated as “enemies.” There is a “we,” strong identities, To the “we” belongs the best, the winners, so the #occupy instead of being a space with no identities, no discrimination, comes out to be one more identity and exclusive.


This shows that fascism is present when it comes to remaining silent and not doing anything about these kinds of comments, especially in a country with a background full of deportations, borders, where the wound still emerges and where certain topics are still sensitive. But the problem is not to have a fascist. There are many, and we’ll have to cope with that. The problem is that nobody else reacts. Fear?



This fear leads us to several uncommon behaviors, such as remaining silent when intolerable behavior took place, to respect the established roles of being “guests of an institution” and having to respect the rules even if they make no sense in our context, to fear to discuss and debate when there is censorship around certain topics, restricting certain debates just to Germans because the “outsiders” would not understand the German context. Instead of understanding that building a global movement means explaining contexts, decoding ideas that can be obvious for the local people but not for the others. A wall appeared once more. A “we” and a “you” were created, dialogue stopped flowing; one is right, the other is wrong, no exchange is possible, positions are fixed. This cannot be part of a #square, where there are no previous truthful statements, everything is under construction, everything can be questioned and solutions are built based on the discussions taking place.



A thing that happened during the organization of the “event,” was that not even a thought was given to the building of a commons: of a common space, of a common working place, of a common goal. The square was a container, a check-in of projects that were individually shown at an exhibition. Why and how did that happen? Perhaps it’s not an easy question to answer, while our mouths are full of words like collective, collaboration, our practices are very distant from them. In the end there was a lack of political maturity in the group, the tension between being or not being part of the whole exhibition lead to the situation of finally presenting the “visitors” with an exhibition, a model of what is supposed to be a square which is very far from reality.


People belonging to the so-called occupy movement, with more voice than the rest, seem interested mainly in putting their name on the walls of a famous art exhibition that will guarantee some extra rewards once it is added to their CV, and forgetting that one of the basic principles of the movement is to avoid personal profit.


Social networks present a fundamentally historical perspective, involving people and their relationships. The success of the Spanish Revolution takes root in the social fabric of the population. One can’t just decide to MAKE THE SQUARE and expect this social fabric to be of any quality. Building networks takes time, effort, and participants. But the Occupy Biennale square – a literal one, enclosed between strong walls - doesn’t invite anyone from outside its physical boundaries. One example is the intervention of Jeremy Zimmermann from La Quadrature du Net, who talked about ACTA in front of a dozen “outsiders” who were all already in the know. Nobody else was interested. Maybe because they already understand the scope and consequences of ACTA? A collective would have respected the “guest” and given him a chance to transfer this knowledge.



The construction of an artificial square has failed. But it’s good to see why and understand the process. First of all, to escape the logic of exhibitions and institutions is not possible; we can interact with them, we can do some lobbying so that some things change, but what is not possible is to develop a process of true freedom inside them (as the ones lived in the squares). A square has no limits, no restrictions, while an exhibition has, even if there is a different purpose, to establish a border between the “proper” exhibition and the #occupy space. When problems appear, such the lack of space, they have to be solved within the predefined and limited space, without it being possible to “disturb” other parts of the exhibition. The concept of what role was played by every part in the exhibition cannot be questioned, and finally there is a curatorial frame, so the #OccupyBiennale had it’s cage, and when it was found that it didn’t accomplish the needs of all the “occupiers,” a “battle” for space started that could only be solved by having people leave.


An inclusive space could not be made, not just for this, but also for the political views and aims of the people most involved, for discussions about conflicts, but also solutions, experiences, a “lecture” based space, where collective intelligence could be felt. There is a lot to be learned about collective processes, when the people are in the squares, where a high percentage of the population is involved. It means a deep social change. In the end this means changing social rules, it means changing our own positions, even when we may think they are the best and obviously so, it opens a space for questioning the unquestionable. Those kinds of changes we never know when or why they happen, they are spontaneous and unpredictable.


Meanwhile we should be able to remember that we are not playing games, nor playing assemblies, nor squares. People are suffering. The causes are many injustices due to social welfare being destroyed and they will get worse and affect even the “rich” countries. People are dying daily fighting for freedom and food. Activism is not a goal, something to be done in our spare time. The goal is to change and disrupt the logic of the system, to build a new world, not to carry out a process with no goal. A global movement is taking place outside and many countries are really searching for alternatives and for the first time in history, knowledge is more distributed. There are tools to put it in common, technologies to facilitate information, communication and decision-making, and they can be on our side if we defend them. So while the old system is collapsing, we have the opportunity to build global change and a better world for everyone. Shall we do it?


To forget fear we have to feel free and this did not happen in the #OccupyBiennale.







I like your critical review about the #occupy space and I hope there will start a discussion about the topics you put in a focus: human issues, the fear or the individual or collective process. All this is part of groupbuilding and I think that this is the core of our movement to deal with all human issues as well beside the political work. When we learn to live together, when we learn how to deal with everyday issues among men and women within a group, when we find solutions then we can create trust and mutual support that will become the foundation of our political work.


Your point of view about art seems very limited and you are only pointing out negative effects, that art might have (e.g. "art becomes a consumer article", "art has to sell an adventure to boring people") you are not listing, that art is a key to the mind and heart of people. You are not saying that art is activating communications within and among people. Some art has been very political "Guernica") and is very political (e.g. Banksy's stencil at the israelian wall in Gaza).



And: also within the movement many artist supported the ideas and thoughts of us, helping us to spread revolutionary moment.


About the 7th Berlin Biennale Project  I am missing one major information: Berlin's camp was shut down, so we needed a new base, a new location for us to meet and work. This is the core of the occupy biennale, an open space of 500 qm for the political work of #occupy and #15M in Berlin. And it was clear that this would be an experiment.


I like your approach to integrate or invite people into the movement within the occupy biennale hall. All your suggestions are sounding great - but they are just theory. Please do it, instead of pointing your fingers at the existing concept and call it "wrong"… You know, saying "It was wrong" is not really helping… and btw there is no right or wrong ;) There are only many different ways and approaches in the world. Every single one of them has advantages and disadvantages. But none of them should be called "wrong".


I hope, we will have many more experiences like the occupy biennale space to grow as a movement - individually and collectively.


Best wishes,


Florian Zacharias Raffel


Response from Noah Fischer

an activist from #OccupyMuseums

A few weeks ago, I thought that the 7th Berlin Biennale had constructed a kind of tomb where movements would come to die. Arriving in early June, we encountered exactly a human zoo, a position from which activated activism felt impossible. It seemed that an anemic representation of the movement was being exhibited and consumed by an audience; rather than occupying, we were being occupied by the institution.  Also, the “global” activist community appeared surprisingly nationalistic and was blocking itself in various ways which Carolina details, leading to a culture of degeneration. For example, I witnessed an “activist” call the police on someone else to settle a dispute, which created a pleasing spectacle for the art audience. So my initial experience when we arrived was very close to Carolina’s picture and I was angry with the curators and wondered if anything helpful for the movements could come from the 7th Berlin Biennale. I even wondered how much damage the 7th Berlin Biennale would do to the movements.


However, after a two-week experience in Berlin, I have two questions to offer to her assessment. The first: is the goal of growing a healthy square on the model of Puerta del Sol or Liberty Park an appropriate measure for the 7th Berlin Biennale? Certainly a museum exhibition with “star” curators and with time limits is a strange place to set up an inclusive public square. And one that is funded by the German government is an even stranger place to invite members of 15M protesting austerity!  Also, at least in New York, the #square stage of the movement passed months ago, partially because the logic of squares created problems in themselves and we are busy trying to understand how the post-square stage can work. So here, perhaps we could have started, not finished, from the conclusion that a “free square” wouldn’t be likely. This would lead to the question concerning the other strategies we can follow with the resources available here. It turned out that we found many tactics and some of them started with leaving behind the pure square model in search of hybrids.


The second question: Is it possible to pronounce an experiment a failure halfway through? This question touches on the “space of possibility,” which I think is kind of the bread and butter of the movements--another world is possible! (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary). In my experience with Occupy Wall Street, you’ve got to trust the moment, even when it twists and turns out of control. Sometimes, for example, the moments when police exerted the most force - like that day of 700 arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge - the dispiriting situation quickly flipped around into a win for the movement. I feel like our involvement in this global movement, which is responding to 30 + years of Neo-Liberalism, is like scratching around for hidden pathways, secret allies, magic tactics within an extensive fortress-city. So maybe looking for new spheres in which to act, using new tactics, without giving up, keeping the space of possibility open despite all logic, despite absurdity, is a strong position to take.


So what did we do with the situation? After the initial shock of finding ourselves in a human zoo, I/we began to respond. What was first needed was to address the power hierarchy of the zoo and flip the situation so that we could regain our dignity. An international group of activists attempted this through a series of semiotic guerrilla actions (naming the curators publicly for example) and holding meetings which culminated in a proposal (which was accepted) for the former curators and director to step back. Our logic: to invite and exhibit the movements was not a bad thing in itself, but only a first step, and one that would naturally lead to degeneration if it stopped there. It was necessary for the institution to “go farther into the concept,” pushing the 7th Berlin Biennale structurally in a horizontal direction to make their invisible frame visible and put it under question. To accomplish this, we were leveraged by the strength of our group, by the public “failure” of the Biennial thus far (leading perhaps to desperation and willingness), and by allies in the press. The proposal was consensed upon in a simple version by the Biennale staff, and an experiment about the limits of activism in relation to institutions was initiated.


As we walked into the muddy waters of open meetings and the realization that in the short time we had, we could probably accomplish very little concrete changes within the institution (some of us wanted to support the guards in raising their 6.5 euros/hour salary for example), we did notice (not only occupiers but guards and staff too) that we got a lot of our dignity back. Things began to move. New allies emerged from all sides and we began to work together in groups that broke the boundaries of “occupiers” and “institution.” The former curators who at first seemed like our zookeepers became kind of collaborators, maybe even activists. Interesting collaborations were proposed and attempted. Could we use the 7th Berlin Biennale institutional name to pull off even stronger actions, hacking the ambiguity and class-relation of culture in service to the movement? We also used tools from the #square such as general assemblies, working groups, and our consensus process, but this move toward horizontality was not a “pure square model” but hybrid territory.  We are conscious that as we play out this experiment we are also developing tactics that can be shared for future hybrids that transgress many lines. A “continuity working group” is busy planning such future hybrids.


So far, I would not call the experience in Berlin a success. I don’t think there is such a thing in this movement. Part of what we are doing is moving beyond a striving for success in the way we previously defined it (mostly through acquisition of money or status). But neither can I say that it was a failure. We entered a space of tension and possibility, created a kind of interesting mess and many people are now busy developing this mess collectively. It is possible that this is simultaneously a process of cooption of our movement and also the discovery of secret passageways in the fortress. Let the global movement be everywhere, attempt everything. We’ll see what happens next.

10th Berlin Biennale