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Live Coverage: World Biennial Forum No. 2, 26-30 November


Works and Their Changing Places: the Interpretation of artworks and their relations to space and time

Participants Lucy Steeds, Marina Folkidis and Ovul Durmusoglu, moderated by Moacir Dos Anjes

The first speaker is Lucy Steeds speaking on the subject “Biennial, Archive, Artwork: Reciprocal Articulations”:

This paper tracks a single work of art, Projeto terra by Juraci Dórea, through the archival traces of three successive biennials – São Paulo in 1987, Venice in 1988 and Havana in 1989. Drawing on the documentation amassed by Dórea himself, critical readings of each exhibition context are developed and breaks with the official record are examined. In particular, the São Paulo initiative is presented as the postmodern heir to the Venice Biennale’s aging modernism, postmodernism being identified here with a Brazilian concept of the baroque. In this context, Projeto terra is then considered as a productively disruptive force, and some discursive possibilities are explored. Are these possibilities then diminished or amplified in the Cuban Bienal of 1989? What becomes apparent through this geographical and historical parcours is not only in which ways the historiography of works and exhibitions (in this case, biennials) might be intertwined, but how a single work may, over time, either endorse or undo curatorial intentions as well.

(Projeto terra by Juraci Dórea)

Lucy Steeds (England) is a writer, teacher and editor specialized in the history and theory of exhibitions of contemporary art. She manages Afterall’s Exhibition Histories book series while co-leading the MRes Art: Exhibition Studies course at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. Her recent publications include the edited anthology Exhibition, for the Documents of Contemporary Art series (Whitechapel Gallery and The MIT Press, 2014) and the lead essay in Making Art Global (Part 2): ‘Magiciens de la Terre’ 1989 (Afterall Books, 2013). Lucy previously worked in the exhibitions department at Arnolfini centre for contemporary art in Bristol and taught art history and theory at the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford.


“Biennial” as a state of physical (human) encounter

How can one describe the space, which a mega exhibition—such as a biennial—occupies? Can geographical and territorial distinctions still be accurate when describing this space? Or do distinctions like these function merely as pure allegories? Does the issue of local versus worldwide have any meaning in an era of digital mediation and social media? How can one define the chronological duration of a Biennial? Does the biennial succession of events have any substantial impact on the formation of the cultural imagination? Or has the “retro-mania,” which has been made even stronger by digital archiving and broadcasting, transformed our sense of time and ephemerality (or contemporaneity)?

Marina Fokidis (Greece) is the founding and artistic director of Kunsthalle Athena, which has been presenting several exhibitions, workshops and talks since 2008, such as This is not my beautiful House and This Must be the Place. Since 2012 she has also been the founding director of South As a State of Mind, a bi-annual art and culture publication, and since 2013 she has been adjunct curator for the Schwarz foundation - Art Space Pythagorion. Between 2000 and 2008 she worked as co-director of Oxymoron - a non-profit organization aimed to the promotion of contemporary visual art in Greece and abroad. Marina Fokidis has been annouced as one of the curators of the next Documenta 14, which will happen in 2017, heading the Artistic Office in Athens. In 2011, she was one of the curators of the 3rd Thessaloniki Biennial; she was both the commissioner and the curator of the Greek Pavilion at the 51rst Venice Biennial (2003) and one of the curators of the 1st Tirana Biennial (2001).


Quoting Agamben, Fokidis is asking if our understanding of time and space have gone through dramatic changes and how this in turn affects our understanding of public space, ownership and the idea of a North/South divide


Please Play? Politics around Public Intimacy

Övül Durmusoglu

When Michael Blum told his elegant lie in the 9th Istanbul Biennial about the Jewish feminist socialist Safiye Behar, who purportedly had a romantic affair with the founder of the Turkish Republic, many believed it. When Hou Hanru mentioned the top-bottom, anti-humanist character of Republican revolutions in his conceptual framework of the 10th edition, many reacted fiercely as if it were a fiction. When WHW asked the question ‘What Keeps Mankind Alive?’ as the title of the 11th Biennial, some local groups answered back with a letter written by the Biennial’s funding family to the military responsible for the 1980s coup. The Istanbul Biennial keeps the city busy refusing, discussing, critizing; a city that operates with a politics of intimacy, an ongoing negotiation of proximity. In this paper, I want to reflect upon the potential of these unspoken rules of negotiation and how the invited curators, especially in those three editions, formulated different channels of empathy and communication with the city publics.

Övül Durmusoglu (Turkey/Germany) is the Public Programming Curator for the Moving Museum Istanbul and is working on a long-term research project to be developed between Mexico and Turkey. In 2013, she was the curator of the international contemporary art festival Sofia Contemporary, in Bulgaria, named Near, Closer, Together: Exercises for a Common Ground. She organized different programs and events as a Goethe Institute fellow at Maybe Education and Public Programs for dOCUMENTA (13). Durmusoglu was among the curatorial collaborators of the 13th Istanbul Biennial in 2013 as well.


The first talk in this session was very much about context and how meaning will shift depending on the situation. Adding the layer of the art market, Moacir Dos Anjes asks about the notion of accent. A work shown in for instance the Sao Paulo biennale might be understood as having a more southern accent (When it comes to Sao Paulo and Havana, in difference to Venice, where the work becomes a sculptural object becomes more “gritty”).

Among other things Marianna Folkidis showed Runo Lagomarsino’s work, which states: “if you cannot understand what the South is, you come from the North”. She wishes to stress that this is the time and place to be extremely conscious of what is going on here and now without returning to defined categories. When Documenta 14 comes to Greece this marks an attempt to create a more common trajectory.

Övül Durmusoglu’s presentation poses a question of why the biennale creates a space for common dialogue, a place where everyone can listen to each other. After the Gezi park experience, there was a need for public interaction. Istanbul bienal came at a time where there was a week infrastructure to create a more dialogical situation for art and has thus become an important platform for what she calls public intimacy.

The problematic of generalisation becomes apparent in this discussion about North/South is, as Peter Osborne put it, a revenge on the dominance of Indian postcolonial theory to understand a situation with different historical and political complexities. Turkey for instance, is divided in East/West, and a Chilean curator in the audience comments that she sees the North as Western Europe, rather than North America. As the discussion develops, the question of space and specificity of works becomes more complex as the panel claims that it has not yet been able to fully experience this years Sao Paulo biennale and thus cannot relate their presentations to the place we find ourselves right now.


Today’s first, and the forums third session. Like yesterday, we have prepared with 3 hour workshops on the themes that will be discussed.

It has the title: No More Imagined Communities: creating new biennals beyond national art competitions and neoliberal city marketing

The speakers are Anne Szefer Karlsen, David Teh and Manuela Moscoso.

It will be moderated by Ana Paula Cohen

In her introduction, Ana Paula Cohen summarizes the conference by referring to the abstract idea of the biennale presented by Peter Osborne in the keynote. She continues with a pretty tough critique of the biennale foundation and the mechanisms behind a European funded organisation, and how this reflects the way the abstract biennale can fit perfectly in the accelerated production mode of global economy. “We are not in postcolonial time, we are rooted in colonised logic that needs to decolonised every day” she says.

David Teh’s abstract and bio:

Currencies of the Contemporary: Biennials and the International in Southeast Asia

What happens to the imagined community when the paradigm of the printed word is supplanted by the new lingua franca of the electronic image, and what might this mean for art? In Southeast Asia, this transition has meant a certain internationalization, but the international here turns out to stand for a set of aspirations and delusions just as diverse as the region’s ‘mottled’ national imaginaries. So how can we begin to historicize biennial-making in this part of the world? With reference to the current postures of Southeast Asian biennales and the national, regional and global projections they facilitate, I will argue that local and contingent histories of the international will be an important prerequisite to any history of the biennale form itself.

David Teh (Singapore/Australia) is a writer, curator, art advisor and researcher based at the National University of Singapore, specializing in Southeast Asian contemporary art. After receiving his PhD in critical theory from the University of Sydney, David worked as an independent curator and critic in Bangkok (2005-09). More recently he was co-curator of the 55. Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen, Germany and the convenor of Video Vortex #7, in Indonesia, 2011. His latest exhibition, TRANSMISSION, is on show at the Jim Thompson Art Center, Bangkok through September 2014. He is currently working on a book about Thai contemporary art, tentatively entitled Present Tense. David is also a director of Future Perfect, a new gallery and project platform in Singapore’s Gillman Barracks precinct.


Double translation…


Anne Szefer Karlsen is the second speaker in this session:

An Institution Already the First Time Around

Taking the 8th edition of Lofoten International Art Festival (LIAF) 2013 and the 2nd (or 1st?) Biennale Bénin 2012 as starting points, this paper will engage with questions relating to involvement with different audiences in two very different locations, and the expectations, promises, possibilities and realities curators face when they are commissioned by a biennial organization. LIAF is located in the archipelago of Lofoten off the coast of northern Norway and the 2013-edition was titled Just what is it that makes today so familiar, so uneasy? Biennale Bénin 2012 was titled Inventer le monde: l’artiste citoyen and was located in Cotonou, Bénin with projects and discursive activities also happening in the cities of Abomey, Porto Novo, Ouidah and other places. Can these two situations actually welcome the same model, the same responses?

Anne Szefer Karlsen (Norway) was the curator for Lofoten International Art Festival – LIAF 2013, in Norway, and Associate Curator for Biennale Bénin 2012. Between June 2008 and June 2014 she was the Director of Hordaland Art Centre in Bergen, Norway, where she curated several exhibitions and seminars, further developed its residency programme and introduced artists such as Omer Fast, Renata Lucas, Len Lye and Imre Bukta by curating their first solo exhibitions in Norway. She also initiated and is still the Series Editor of Dublett – a book series of twin publications consisting of a new artist book by and an anthology of commissioned texts on contemporary artists.


Anna, through a very biographical presentation of her participation to the LIAF 2013 and the Benin biennial 2012, tries to underline a parallel between the two biennials in terms of common socio-political struggle signified by what she defines “negative separatism” brought about by local antagonism. Although a comparison between biennials is a possible exercise, doing so through a personal account seems limiting the capacity to create critical reflection on the relation between the biennial as global model and its individual manifestations, much in the way Ana Paula Cohen did in the introduction to the panel.

Following on the reflection posted about the presentation a few questions rise out of the perceived limit of a personal account: if biennials are more than just large scale exhibitions, what does their historic representation look like? Is their inclusion into the larger system of biennials key to an understanding of them also at a local level? Is their ability to raise critical thoughts only visible once mediated by their internationalised vision? And more over, what is the role of the individual art works and spaces abstracted from the “here and now” of the exhibition?


Manuela Moscoso is the final speaker in this panel:

What’s Love Got to Do With it?

In this presentation, I analyze recent biennials in Latin America (and especially the 12th Bienal de Cuenca of which I was adjunct curator) through the lens of Peio Aguirre’s El amor como producción: una pequeña teoría de la economía del Arte. I’m eager to look at the modes of production and the kind of relations produced in these biennials by applying Aguirre’s notions of ‘necessary’ and ‘contingent’ love as it helps us to think about power, responsibility, temporality and, ultimately, contractual public identity.

Manuela Moscoso (Ecuador/Brazil) is a curator that mostly emphasizes speculative thinking and actions in order to privilege imagination. Whether organizing exhibitions, commissioning or initiating projects, she sees collaboration as intrinsic to her practice. Moscoso was the adjunct curator of 12th Bienal de Cuenca, in Ecuador, and has recently curated exhibitions in Brazil, Argentina, Spain and the United States. Together with Amilcar Packer, she runs Typewriter - a curatorial program center in art writing. And, together with Sarah Demeuse, she created Rivet - a curatorial office investigating notions of deployment, circulation, exercise and resonance.


Before proceeding with the following panel a quick resume of the q&a session limited to the opening questions posed by Patrick Mudekereza to Anne Szefer Karlsen. The three aspects Partick raises: a question of manipulation of the public implicit in Anna’s description; a more direct question of power relations implicit in the presentation of the two examples; and finally the choice of images portraying the “locals” in Benin mostly if not exclusively in a learning position. Each of these raise questions of positioning, colonial vision and strikingly limited vision on the events presented. The answered presented by Anne frankly don’t play into the problems raised, strengthening an impression of unresolved tensions.


The final session for today before the wrap-up will be “Popularity without Populism.” Charles Eche starts by summarizing the workshops and articulating an underlying question of the entanglements of the biennale with the discourse outside itself and outside the art field. “How do education programs work in practice and how do they work in relation to the curatorial?” and “What is the relationship between mediation and the relationship to marketing?”

Speakers are Reem Fada, Elvira Dyangani Ose and Cayo Honerato. It is moderated by Ana Goncalves Magalhaes.

Decolonizing Art

There is an incessant question in the realm of arts related to its functionality or lack thereof. It points towards a chasm concerning the absence of art from life and politics. How and when did art shed its purposefulness and functionality? In the proliferation of market logics and its implications on various institutions of art worldwide, how do biennial structures navigate this discourse and retain an edge of autonomy? In fact how can art be useful, capable of change and instigation? If art were to be effective and used what are the models for art making and exhibition forms that arise? It is interesting to reflect on the nature of art projects in Palestine, a peculiar case of a non-state, far away from art market logics, where arts have an interesting dynamism, one that is exposed to socio-political determinants.

Reem Fadda (Palestine) has been Associate Curator, Middle Eastern Art, Abu Dhabi Project, Solomon R. Guggenheim since 2010 and was appointed curator for the National Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates at the 55th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia in 2013. Between 2005 and 2007, Fadda was Director of the Palestinian Association for Contemporary Art (PACA) and worked as Academic Director for the International Academy of Art – Palestine, which she helped found in 2006. She co-curated and had been involved in many projects such as: Liminal Spaces, in Palestine, Israel & Germany; Ramallah Syndrome, part of the Palestine c/o Venice exhibition at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009; and the 3rd Riwaq Biennale in Ramallah, in 2009. She is a member of the general assembly of the International Academy of Art, in the selection jury of the Young Arab Theatre Fund.


The slide now reads “Decolonizing Art / in Palestine”


[quote=“jonatan, post:36, topic:767”]
Liminal Spaces


Reema’s refreshing “non-paper” starts with a few key questions trying to investigate the uses of art over time and in specific how it came to loose its perceived usefulness:

How can we salvage art for people and societies?
Can art be an agent of instigation and change?
Are biennials catalyst for a “useful” form of art?
Which are the forms of art rising from its uses?


Examples of other strategies are Decolonizing Architecture’s case study> P’sagot Settlement, Jabal Tawil, Ramallah and Superflex Hospital Equipment where they bought hospital equipment with collector’s money.


How to make a personal story relevant outside it’s own history. The urgency of Reema’s research around the uses of art virtually answers previous concerns about the uses of personal histories in the presentation of biennials.


Elvira Dyangani Ose is saying that she will divert from abstract as a means of answering it’s title:
Who are Biennials Organised for?

In many respects, biennials in Africa constitute laboratories of experimentation. Although formulas vary, the development of audiences and the capacity to build on are core questions for many of these artistic and cultural proposals. But, who are they really organised for? What measures its impact once an edition is dismantled, on the way to the next one? In which way biennials contribute to a fruitful art scene and to sustainable systems of knowledge production and apprenticeship, which in turn might germinate into other initiatives locally? And if their purpose is other, which are they? This presentation reflects on audience relations and participation — and their aftermaths — in biennials taking place in cities such as Dakar, Lubumbashi and Marrakesh.

Elvira Dyangani Ose (Spain/Equatorial Guinea/London) is Lecturer on Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London, and curator of the eighth edition of the Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art, (GIBCA), in 2015. She was Curator of International Art at Tate Modern between 2011 and early 2014. At Tate, she took a leading role in developing the museum’s holdings of art from Africa and its Diaspora and working closely with the Africa Acquisitions Committee. Prior to Tate, she was curator at the Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno (2004–2006) and at the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo (2006–2008), where she organized several exhibitions including works by, among others, General Idea, Viennese Actionism, Alfredo Jaar, Lara Almárcegui, Ábalos & Herreros and Ricardo Basbaum. She was also the guest curator of the triennial SUD-Salon Urbain de Douala (2010), in Cameroon, and the Artistic Director of the third edition of the Rencontres Picha. Lubumbashi Biennial (2013), in Congo.


The final speaker in this session, Cayo Honorato is now on stage.

Populism without Popularity

How has the educational mediation of art exhibitions in Brazil been conceived and directed towards its audiences? What are the implications of conceiving of it, predominantly, as something empirically measurable using systematic and unhistoricized categories? How could such conceptions adopt emerging forms of education, alternative audiences and the collective subjects of political action?

Cayo Honorato (Brazil) is a researcher of cultural mediations on the conjunctions and disjunctions between the arts and education, professor at the University of Brasília’s Institute of Arts - Department of Visual Arts, holds a Doctorate in Education and Philosophy from the University of São Paulo and is also active in the extra-institutional mediation group, which works with social networks.


Elvira Dyangani Ose’s presentation of Doual’art project is a fresh breath from Africa. A series of projects that provide a different way to envision a large scale contemporary art event in a region in need of paradigms. When compared with Anne Szefer’s Benin Biennale example we are facing two opposing approaches. The later seems like an updated exercise on how to reach the exotic in times of political correctness when Doual’art and Lubumbashi biennial, and their initiators, work bottom up not only to build structures in the local scene but also to challenge our way of how to be relevant in times of urgency.