The subtitle of “4FREE” holds nothing back: It promises “art-politics-science & aesthetic survival strategies,” which is unusually programmatic for Berlin. The exhibition was conceived as a laboratory that would not just exhibit finished artwork but investigate the processes that make up artistic engagement. To do so, this independent art institution, led by Waling Boers, has made use of its home base and three other spaces to present the works and projects of twenty-four artists, architects, and groups. Following the second Berlin Biennale, it succeeded in presenting an overview exhibition that worked as a supplement to the summer’s “big event.”

At stake in much of the work was the utopian potential of art. Thus Rirkrit Tiravanija is represented by his Office for the land, Chieng Mai, 2001, a proposal for a sort of artists’ colony in Thailand: “Experience the natural environments of the land,” urges a poster that uses collage to unite supermodels and field workers. Tivanija’s architectural model does not attempt a reconciliation, but rather leaves the relationship ironically undecided. Indeed, the bungalows he designs for the ideal artists’ village look deceptively like the simple quarters of the local population. Precisely this minor displacement of the buildings’ function speaks worlds about would-be appropriations of local living conditions.

Other works limit themselves to depicting the status quo of our reality. Fabrice Gygi’s Polling Station, 2001, is a reconstruction of a voting booth using industrial materials. By leaving the elements in their raw state without any particular design or ornamentation, Gygi produces the abstract setting of a symbol of democracy that is always already burdened with significance and rhetoric by the media. Because Gygi closes off his installation behind bars, though, it ultimately becomes an elevation of reality through artistic representation: One thinks more of Cady Noland’s sculptures than of the voting fiasco in Florida. Thomas Demand’s lapidary photographs titled Stapel 1-5 (Piles 1-5), 2001, have as their theme precisely the recounting of the votes during the US presidential election in 2000. The cool minimalism that Demand evoked with his earlier photographs of models built of cardboard is somewhat diminished here because of the all too recent nature of this event. The reduction to blank ballots, following as it does on long political discussions, is a stylish statement that says little about the problematic nature of the American electoral system.

In the case of Jonathan Horowitz, though, the problems are even dearer: For his audio-installation Talking without thinking (while getting drunk and coked-up), 2001, he uses a tape of a stuttering male voice, which, after a while, pauses for longer and longer between sentences; next to this hangs the official White House portrait of President Bush. Its commentary on Bush’s hapless public demeanor and his continually exaggerated formulations—particularly in the first days after September 11—is chiefly denunciatory rather than analytical. Horowitz merely presents deficiencies in language without showing their relationship to Bush’s actions. Thus the criticism hardly touches on the structures of the power, above all economically determined, that supports Bush and which he legitimizes politically with his decisions. Maybe in America such work could offer a useful counterpoint to the toadying reportage found on CNN. But from a European perspective, this “voyeurism of the inside,” as Horowitz’s working method is called in the exhibition literature, barely seems to scratch the surface.

Harald Fricke

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.