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Back from Discourse toward Aura Print
Thursday, 17 November 2011

Seeing this year's Biennale exhibition, I'm asking myself if it has carried out its role as usual, creating a new discourse rather than going back to the loose art with historical methodology in exhibiting art works. Also, I mentioned the intention of the 'cultural management' in Venice Biennale, which has been held National Pavillons and biennales of architecture, cinema, dance, music, theatre, and art. I think that this might form and preserve the 'Biennale Hegemony' putting the conflict between centralism and localism into shade.  Lee Yong-woo

The critical discourses on the dialectical relations between the center and locality are still in the progress of evolution despite the intense studies and practices for a long time. For example, we can see that the critical theories of post modernism, which has been listing out all the declining of the truth, flourishing discourses, and the deconstruction and peripherals of the center, have become very small in the global blockbuster exhibition sites like Venice Biennale. We can realize how the theoretical depictions are worthless in real life, and how the value of the knowledge that comes from references in libraries are far from grasping the sense of reality. These facts become prominent when we look at the thematic consciousness of this year's Venice Biennale, and the geopolitical categories of the invited artists, as well as the Eurocentric approaches.

The Post-Discoursalization and Eurocentrism

Let's start by looking at the title of the Venice Binnale. Venice switched the keyword from 'Theme' to 'Title' and chose to use 'LLUMInations' for their key word. The word 'lluminations' literally indicates the word 'Light' We can see that the intention of selecting the word 'Light' was to transfer the message of prophecy and enlightenment that shine brightly. The word 'nations' was written in lower case to emphasize the concept of the nationalism, the people, and race. The concept of nation here implies a message that they are finally approaching to the new dawn and paradigm through light. This emotional and enlightening message might lack of tension by reminding them of the epics of Rimbaud and Schiller, or the literary emotions of Walter Benjamin. The title is too compound for the contemporary art, but again too peaceful and classic to take in the view of culture critical discourse which is multi-dimensional. It is certain to have heated discussions on the keyword of the exhibition every year when Biennale opens, however, this year's key word did not arouse any criticism, but gave an impression of no interest. Some of the reviews in the U.S. and England somehow mentioned the amateurism of the choice of the theme. It shows that the contexts of culture examinations and social discourses that have been playing a role as a platform, and the stimulation the desire to learn in terms of being reminded like the negotiable instruments at the site of visual culture in the past, have actually disappeared.
Bice Curiger had already mentioned in many interviews about the process of selecting the title before the opening. In the interview with Art Info he said, "I want to focus on the art itself rather than creating a grandiose art theories in the world. So the artists will also be selected with people with sense of art rather than sense of theories." However, the title 'Light' still seems to be too large and vague and loose at the same time, to be used as a title in Biennale. It is more like a title of an exhibition that implies the artistic light. In fact, many artists interpreted the word 'Light' literally, and came up with art works like 'Powerful light' or 'The effect of the light' Lots of art works showing how light has been used in the history of art in various ways, and how they hugely affected the modernization and scientific thoughts were displayed in the exhibition. This kind of approach and contents would have given hopelessness to many professional audiences, who, unlike other gallery exhibitions, sought to experience various types of intelligent spectrums through Biennale.

Back to Eurocentric Biennale
Including the Venice, the recent main Biennales often use the term 'Title' to break away from the heavy, deterministic views that we have on the term 'Theme' however, this could be a rhetoric gesture for Biennales to stay in the platform of discourse, away from the frame of thoughts. It is also one of the differentiating strategies to break away from the closed space like the walls of art galleries and go into the reality, the audiences, the society and politics in the real world. This is why they prefer to choose less formal and flexible words for the title, unlike the past, where they restricted to a theme, intersected languages, or chose from the holy doctrines which might have sounded like a spell. Some Biennales do not even choose any theme or title these days for the same reason.
Venice has a tradition of selecting fancy themes. Some examples are 'Audience Dictatorship' set by Francesco Bonami in year 2003, and 'Think with Senses, Feel with Mind' by the very first American director Robert Storr back in year 2007. These themes have increased the rate of mystique by saying the very right word, which are very refining and theoretical. The Chair of Venice Biennale Foundation, Paolo Barata said in the press interview, "All the directors who directed Venice Biennale so far had made a myth in each of their Biennale exhibition or theme."Altogether 89 countries participated in Venice Biennale this year, and 83 artists were invited to the director's exhibition. 37 Collateral Events organised by international institutions were held in streets in Venice. Having 89 participating countries recorded the biggest participating number in Biennale so far and the Venice Biennale Foundation is becoming more encouraged by the increasing number of participation. Recognizing the changes, the hosting side even had to screen the qualification of issuing the pass to the professional guests of almost 40 thousand people from around the world. Sure enough, some of the Middle-East countries related to Jasmine revolution had to give up their invitations to reduce the size of the exhibition. Countries like Bahrein and Lebanon were included here.
When you look at 83 invited artists in detail, you will realize how this Biennale was Eurocentric, or rather, Western-centric. The invited artists include 10 Italians, 10 Swiss where Bice Curiger is from 6 English, 6 French, 6 German, 2 Swedish, 2 Spanish and on, summing up to 50 people from Europe. This takes up 60% of the whole participating countries. Even in the same Europe, only 5 people were invited from the Eastern Europe - 10% of the invited European artists- which proved the geopolitical problems. If we add 14 Americans to the 50 invited European artists, the participating artists from Europe and the US took 70% of the whole ratio with 64 people. Even from the rest who are Asian, South American or African, most of the invited guests were the people who live in Europe, such as Berlin and Paris. So it is not an exaggeration to say that this year's Biennale was formed mainly in Europe and America oriented way.
Biennale is not the UN General Assembly, so it might be dangerous to evaluate the artistic values in geopolitical way and calculate the number of participating nations into a ratio. Still, seeing that only 2 Chinese and 1 Indian being invited among the Asians proves where the directions and the political attitudes of Biennale are facing today. Even if the equality in sharing information through the expansion of information society, and the emergence of information galaxy and global world from the development of scientific technology by Marshall Mcluhanists were possible, it is still not enough to see this as a theoretical alternative to overcome the cultural colonialism and hegemonies of the past. There still seem to be no changes in regional exclusion, market-oriented dominating structure, and approaches to cultural colonialism that some regional cultural authorities are holding. Jonathan Jones from Guardian in England said, It is nothing more like seeing participants in a specific elite art fair's about the selection of the guests. He has pointed out the effect of the market in the selecting process. This is because the power of the market is too strong and it is a fault to neglect the flow of the market as well. Despite all these facts, one thing which was refreshing and encouraging was that one third of the artists were young people who are less than 35.

According to the Art Historical Methodology
A recent feature of the main European international art events like Venice Biennale and Kassel Documenta is that they are turning their strategic direction back to Eurocentric way. We can see this not only in inviting artists but also designating the exhibition planners. Once in the past, an art director said, where are lots of Biennales around the world now, why can't they just pick people from their continent? provoking lots of controversies. Bice Curiger has mentioned in the former interview that being a curator in Kunsthaus Zurich, and not a curator in an art museum in New York would not have become prominent in the global visual arts, but that he would still have been a very happy man as a curator in Kunsthaus Zurich, not a fancy art director in Venice Biennale. However, even Curiger herself has shown the result that she consider the geopolitical issue the most as New York and Europe are the center of the traditional modern art.
Her traditional form continues in applying the display structures or choosing the discourse for the theme. Most of the exhibits in Giardini are decorated in white square. The exhibit in the center has 3 art pieces including Tintoretto's The Last Supper. This piece was displayed emphasizing the material expression of light with the art historical aura. This has also formed a dramatic effect by adding the story that this work is borrowed from St. Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, and that the generosity of the church and the encouragement of Biennale was high.
Even if Biennale is a festival of modern art and a feast of experimental art, the tourists who visit the summer Venice will find it worthwhile and entertaining to see the representative art piece of Venice. The expansion of the concept of Harald Szeemann way of exhibition is not an exotic thing for us when the tradition and the present live together in the visual context in the modern art. However, the aura and the hospitality of the 3 art pieces of Tintoretto from the center of the exhibition hall are changing the conception of the mental assets which Biennale has been building up so far. The fact that the space of exhibition is not a mere distribution space of images showing specific art pieces but an area of vision, and a space where it creates the display to become more auspicious(Irit Rogoff) has been proven to be right.

Arsenale, Biennale-like and Empircal
Interpreting the title of Bice Curiger is more like the methodology of art history with the displaying structure than discursive. The displaying structure is also focusing more on exhibiting the sketch form of the language symbol rather than the depth of the philosophical and human scientific light or enlightenment, leaving the fierce mental mind or the culture political discourse which current Biennale often seek for. That is why the wide prospect or the critical contexts of the visual culture of today are neglected in Venice. Personally, I thought the meaning of illumination in the 3 art pieces of Tintoretto would shine more on the spirit of the artist who became an artist by studying himself, fighting against the pictorial interpretation of light, and fiercely studying the aesthetic mind, rather than the thematic interests and commercial display on lights.
There were in fact, some beautiful art works in the outskirts of the exhibition that showed and changed the illumination in various ways as what Curiger wanted it to be. Those art pieces contained the flexible remarks that contemporary modern art have, for example like giving a try in a change, without using materials like sex, war, internet stories, violence, and homosexual matters, which are often used as a blockbuster in current displays. Those were art works done by Pipilotti Rist from Switzerland, Monica Bonvicini from Italy, a duo group Birdhead from China, Fabian Marti and so on. Also, Oscar Tuazon and Franz West that were shown in Para Pavilion, changing the meaning of the Pavillions into a whole new concept could be included here. Arsenale has been used as the special exhibition hall for the art directors like the main hall in Giardini, but it gave an impression that the space is becoming a generous place for political reason as the number of participating countries increased. So only the first half part of Arsenale was used as the special exhibition place for 'lluminations' and the rest half showed more nationalistic features with about 10 booths for Middle-East countries, Turkey and China, including India, and Arab Emirates.
Asking for spaces in the event halls of Biennale might turn the Venice Biennale into a UN General Assembly or an art Olympic, but we cannot neglect the meaningfulness of harmonizing the feast where all the modern arts around the world get together. The Venice model of gathering the art works according to difference nations is the only Biennale model around the world but it has been maintaining in this way for more than a hundred year. There is a trend, recognizing or regarding the units of nations participating as an old model, but Venice has no intention on changing its model. No matter how some problems may derive from this matter, as long as there are passions and desires on Venice Biennale around the world, Venice is going to keep this way as the cultural management and the model for the tourism sublime for the events.
Even if Arsenale exhibition is changing its main purpose from displaying the theme works into the national booths, it's also true that it is flourishing with activeness with exhibitions made by young and causal people compared to the case of Giardini. The contemporary art do not look at the critical areas one by one except for the individual exhibitions where it determine the value of the market. Thus, the vision that looks at the hybrid group such as the whole harmony strengthens and makes the namely value of Arsenale more experimental and active than the Biennales.

The Awkward Rendezvous of Biennale
It is well known that Biennales are managed in accordance with the cultural and economic strategies and ground works of the host country. That is why all the Biennales deal with the discourse of visual cultura in high intelligent strategies, but some way keeps in touch with the tourism and advertising strategies of the hosting city. So most of the Biennales are established by the name of the hosting city, and get financial supports from the city. This kind of features makes the Biennale to keep in touch with the tourism sublimes and the strategical relationships, and suffer between the aesthetic discourse and the regional strategy. However, cities like Venice that has the best tourism infrastructure do no have to suffer from the audience response even if they don't come up with specific tourism strategies. Instead, not only Biennale but other various culture art events are being held at the same time to secure its position as the center of global culture art. One of the reasons why the Venice Biennale Foundation continues to hold 6 different art events is because they cannot give up being the center of arts. What cultural foundation in the world would even think about holding 6 genres of modern art, films, music, dance and more in 2 years times? The global art products that Venice produces have only one thing in common that their hosting place is Venice, and only their directors are different. These kinds of things happen not only in Venice Biennale but also in other important Biennales that recognize the competent relationship as important and now.
About 120 world Biennales that are registered in Biennale Foundation are somehow in the competing relations but also accepting and imitating each other in demolishing the genres or in the politics of the different programs. They faced conflict when applying the Venice model in S땚 Paulo Biennale, established the modern art Biennale and Design Biennale in Istanbul Biennale, and they added a new event items like music and dance. Venice is differentiated from other exhibitions by maintaining the policy of inviting different countries, which is very old but respected by other countries at the same time, staying in the center of its hegemony. In addition, lots of the minors that support the formations and policies of Venice Biennale are becoming the descendants of Venice. Thus, the beautiful discussion and the cultural conflicts remind us that 'discourse is only a discourse' After the late 20th century, the collapse of ideologies in the political hegemony and its measurements like the peripheral theories and discourse oriented thoughts are evolving physically with various changes in the real practice. In other words, it is becoming a joy of discourses in one way, and intersecting with tiredness of discourses in another way. Like the litmus paper that reflects the crisis of modernism, post modernism is not a measure to the collapse of modernism but working as a role of antenna in the flow of modern arts through various experiments. If Venice Biennale admits that it has been the role model of the strange global biennales around the world, it is better to prefer the beautiful aesthetic practice rather than the closed exhibition structure nor the euro-centric hegemony. The equality of sharing knowledge and information from the expansion of information technology would be secured anywhere around the world.
This kind of equality is one of the most important values which science technology has brought to the mankind, and helps us to guarantee and share the horizontality of the human science, philosophy and geopolitics, where information contribute to us. This kind of horizontality could secure the justice that carry out the universal values of people through the conscious relationships around the world in the surface. However, in other sides, this kind of global cultural capacity should seek for the verticality that protect and congratulate the very culture relationships in one culture or the nation. The value of verticality should harmonize with the horizontality and strengthen its depth of the cultural values, which are the assets of the mankind. The main feature of the information society is that even if they are overflowing with information, they can still find handicaps if the information is not communicated adequately. Therefore, information should develop together not only with the organizations or nations but also with the information consumers who seek benefits from it.

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