[-empyre-] opening thoughts

linda carroli lcarroli at optusnet.com.au
Wed Jun 15 14:15:11 EST 2011

Opening thoughts ... 


In the last few years, my work has been focused on social and cultural
planning and policy. Shifting my perspective from an urban/cultural writer
to an urban/cultural planner shifts my reasoning for writing and my
engagement with narrative. It redefines my relationships with place,
community, text and image. So I am interested in this discussion about
Biennials from the perspective of the story they offer about cities, space
and places and the hope they create for the future. Not just the hook into
globalised hyperbole about 'creative cities' but more compelling stories of
geography, transculturalism and networks. What new geographies, territories
and cultures are emerging from the global financial crisis and natural
disasters? Cities, regions or nations? Or more provisional arrangements of
space, politics and culture? 


I'm particularly curious about the role art biennials (and other cultural
festivals) play in revitalisation and regeneration, where there is a deeper
engagement with people and place. And then, there's a finer grain - the
grain of your experience of these events and what they mean for you in your
place, your practice, your relationships. Claire Doherty says


"Since the mid 1990s, the context-specific international exhibition has
become allied to urban regeneration and cultural tourism, whereby the
cultural event becomes an ideal cipher for the meeting of international and
local - hence any thematic title tends to be superseded by the city's name
followed by the word 'biennial' or 'international' and in some cases, as in
'Istanbul', are one and the same. The dilemmas of cultural tourism versus
criticality notwithstanding, the promotion of place as both subject and site
for international exhibitions also runs the risk of subjugating art to a
notion of place that is out-of-date."


I rarely get to biennials. My experience of them has been limited: the Asia
Pacific Triennial (APT) and the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art. I've
attended Contemporary Istanbul (an art fair, part of the 2010 European
Capital of Culture Program) and other festivals, including the London
Festival of Architecture. I often buy catalogues after the event from the
discount tables of gallery bookshops. While in Istanbul, I noted some of the
discussions building up to this year's incarnation of the event in the
broader cultural and urban context. More recently, I'm immersed in design
and urbanism and so have made a point of looking into events such as
Brisbane's Unlimited Asia Pacific Design Triennial. The APT and Unlimited
are very politically and regionally charged gestures of cultural cartography
and diplomacy - intended to position Brisbane as a cultural centre and
destination in the political geography of the Asia-Pacific. Fundamentally,
these events point to a critical mass of activity focused on cultural,
exhibitionary, didactic and curatorial themes and practices that are linked
to other economic and tourism claims. In The Curatorial Turn, Paul O'Neill
describes exhibitions as:


"contemporary forms of rhetoric, complex expressions of persuasion, whose
strategies aim to produce a prescribed set of values and social relations
for their audiences. As such exhibitions are subjective political tools as
well as being modern ritual settings, which uphold identities (artistic,
national, sub-cultural, 'international', gender-or-race specific,
avant-garde, regional, global etc); they are to be understood as
institutional 'utterances' within a larger culture industry."


I've been dropping into a range of texts to excavate some reflection about
these kinds of international art events. The following themes emerged as
offering opportunities to reflect about art biennials:


1.            Recovery & Regeneration

2.            From Emergency to Emergence

3.            The Commons 


I will send further posts about these themes in the next few days ... 





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