[-empyre-] -empyre- June 2011: Biennales Plus and Minus

Isak Berbic isakberbic at yahoo.com
Mon Jun 13 06:45:39 EST 2011

It was precisely one of the main aims of the Brief Histories exhibition - to act in dialogue with the occurring political events in the Middle East; the local cultural happenings (Art Dubai, Sharjah Biennale), other regional events. The political unrest which seems to be transitioning from "unfolding" to becoming a drawn out and anticlimactic "Arab Spring" and in particular Libya, Yemen, Syria; what happened in Egypt and Tunis became the central points of departure. While in other kingdoms the spring never took wind in the first place, including in the one of my residence, there was a reminding of authority to the general people in the press, and with other gestures (such as the firing of the Sharjah Biennale director).

The curating and the operation of Brief Histories occurred without any request for permission, as this would have greatly hindered the freedom we had given ourselves. As a result we could not request any funding, we had no local press, and could not make public invitations, but rather directed specific invitations through email, Facebook, word of mouth. While we did not impose any limitations on the content we did worry about any unpredictable interpreters of it. Hence the easiest way to deal with this issue was to control the visitors. 

Isak Berbic

From: Timothy Murray <tcm1 at cornell.edu>
To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
Sent: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 8:14 PM
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] -empyre- June 2011: Biennales Plus and Minus

> Hi, Isak and Simon,

Isak's exhibition, in which both Renate and I participated in very different ways (Renate sent a video while my contribution was a critical powerpoint), was interesting in that it foregrounded the complexities of global and local art and politics at a moment of regional political explosion and local cultural celebration (à la Sharjah Biennale).   It would be great to hear a little more from Isak about how  "Brief Histories" understood its dialogue with the Sharjah Biennale, and, perhaps, as well, the cultural challenges (if any) faced by the curators in the wake over the controversy that exploded over censorship at the Sharjah Biennale.

I'm curious whether "Brief Histories" would have had to answer to the same kinds of structural supervision that a state sponsored exhibition would entail, and whether exhibitions of any kind are absolutely open in terms of content and conditions in societies whose governments operate according to  religio-political guidelines.  I don't recall hearing, Isak, anything about limitations that you as curators faced in mounting the politically oriented pieces in "Brief Histories," whereas adherence to certain cultural norms seemed to play a particularly important role at the Sharjah Biennale.



> Where some artists seek to stage their work as interventions within the
> institutional framework that is the Biennale, whether officially or
> unofficially, the exhibition Isak describes appears to function as a
> curatorial intervention: an intervention in an institution and a place but
> also history (or that about to become history) itself. With history
> increasingly written through the media in real-time the potential agency of
> such intervention (artistic and curatorial) expands.
> Best
> Simon
> On 07/06/2011 15:43, "Isak Berbic" <isakberbic at yahoo.com> wrote:
>>  Dear Tim, Renate and empyre,
>>  I am looking forward to engage in dialogue with the guests of this month and
>>  everyone on the list.
>>  Below is my initial statement on my recent work and the "biennale model in the
>>  context of global digital environments" and mediums of mass dissemination. 
>>  Thank you for reading.
>>  Many of us learn about biennales, exhibitions and artworks by looking at
>>  books, art magazines, culture sections in newspapers, exhibition catalogs and
>>  internet websites. We have, long ago, become accustomed to consuming cinema on
>>  the television screen, and symphonies in earphones. Through these mediums, we
>>  learn about flat works, three-dimensional works, large-scale installations,
>>  and time-based pieces. We have become used video art on DVD or the small
>>  screen of YouTube, and imagining installation art through photographs that
>>  describe it. It is common practice that artists' submissions for exhibitions,
>>  or applications for programs, are viewed on computer screens or digital
>>  projections. While looking at art, through its second-hand representations, we
>>  judge it by reconstructing all or part of the experience in our mind. We use
>>  our imagination to decode the images, while at the same time, we keep in mind
>>  that in reality, the works themselves are somewhat
>>   different, somehow more real. Artists themselves are aware of these
>>  limitations, and their work has increasingly come to address the conditions
>>  under which it will be seen, not only in the gallery or the museum, but in the
>>  pages of art magazines, catalogs, and websites. In a contemporary scene
>>  flooded with international biennials and art fairs, they know that these
>>  second-hand impressions that can be made available to millions are perhaps
>>  more important than the first-hand encounter that will occur for only a
>>  privileged few visitors.
>  > Most recently I co-curated, with Fawz Kabra, an exhibition with the aim to
>>  utilize new media and put together a show with most speed. The exhibition
>>  opened during the Sharjah Biennial and Art Dubai in the spirit of dialogue
>  > with these large events, as well as to use the presence of a large audience
>>  and their interest in art. 
>>  In the month of March 2011, we were watching on the television, facebook and
>>  twitter, that the entire region was rapidly changing. We felt that large
>>  exhibitions take much forward planning, and the curatorial decisions and the
>>  work of artists occur too far in advance to be timely. So the exhibition Brief
>>  Histories was conceived as a responsive project to the recent political
>>  turmoil in the middle east. We worked with very quick deadlines, and practical
>>  means of realization. We asked for contributions which could be sent thorough
>>  email or small packages with currier to be subsequently materialized on site.
>>  Which meant that the works themselves were jpgs, video files, texts, or
>>  instructions, which we produced into prints, projections, even a wall painting
>>  by Brian O'Doherty. There were no frames, there were no plinths and pedestals,
>>  the site of the exhibition was utilized to the maximum, and the spartan
>>  install allowed for the focus to be on the images and
>>   the content.
>>  At the opening we received 200 visitors on foot, while on our blog we received
>>  2,000.
>>  You can visit the online version on the following link:
>>  http://briefhistories.blogspot.com
>>  WINTER/SPRING 2011 BRIEF HISTORIES brings together contemporary works
>>  responsive to the unfolding events in the region and the larger global
>>  happenings of the day. The show will be momentarily materialized in the
>>  intimate setting of a villa in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, and subsequently
>>  posted online. Diverse participants, from six continents, present photography,
>>  moving image, installation, drawing, text, and web-based work. Themes lying
>>  within their contributions reflect upon social geography, power and authority,
>>  labor and capital, private and public space, and the media.
>>  With telepresence of information, temporality has transformed from its
>>  traditional linear progression (past, present, future) to a coexistence of
>>  past and present-on demand. In this respect new media networks broadcast
>>  multitudes of distinct perspectives, which in turn destabilize a definitive
>>  narrative. The challenge has become to maintain a critical, artistic, and
>>  curatorial practice that is responsive and relevant, and that is capable of
>>  keeping its place amongst rapidly changing contexts and shifting meanings.
>>  BRIEF HISTORIES is an attempt to address this need for immediacy, by bringing
>>  together artists and writers to respond with works that are significant to the
>>  context of our present day reality. Fawz Kabra and Isak Berbic
>>  Isak Berbic
>>  Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
>>  _______________________________________________
>>  empyre forum
>>  empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>>  http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> Simon Biggs
> simon at littlepig.org.uk
> http://www.littlepig.org.uk/
> s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
> http://www.elmcip.net/
> http://www.eca.ac.uk/circle/
> Edinburgh College of Art (eca) is a charity registered in Scotland, number SC009201
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

-- Timothy Murray
Director, Society for the Humanities
Curator, The Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, Cornell Library
Professor of Comparative Literature and English
A. D. White House
27 East Avenue
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14853
empyre forum
empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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