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Issue 47 / June 2020
eds. Dorothee Richter, Ronald Kolb, Shwetal A. Patel

Contemporary Art Biennials – our hegemonic machines in states of emergency


This issue will be published alongside the conference with the same name at the 9th Bucharest Biennale (27–28 June 2020), directed by Henk Slager.
Speakers of the conference will contribute with significant articles, and will be added by a wide array of writers, critics, art historians, curators and artists, who submitted their texts through an Open Call. The Open Call was occupied with the development of innovative research in the field of international biennials.

Contributions by the speakers of the conference:
Nora Sternfeld (Documenta Professor), Farid Rakun, (Ruangrupa, Documenta 15), Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv, Beat Wyss (Art Historian), Mirjam Varadinis (Kunsthaus Zürich, Manifesta Palermo), Oliver Marchart (political theorist), Ekaterina Degot (Steirischer Herbst), Shwetal Patel (The Kochi — Muziris Biennale), Yung Ma (11th Seoul Mediacity Biennale), Vasyl Cherepanyn (Head of the Visual Culture Research Center / Kyiv Biennial), Iona Leca (Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art), Farah Wardani (Jakarta Biennale), Patrick Flores (Singapore Biennale 2019), Razvan M. Ion Bucharest Biennale), Martin Guinard (Taipei Biennale)

Yet in 2020, in the midst of a new form of crisis, one might feel the affection for “hegemonic machines”, like Biennales, that aim for an international discourse in a democratizing manner in a different light. With all its underlying problems (canonizing, hegemony, colonial pasts, dominant art market, political influences), Biennales tend to establish international discourse, at best, rooted in local cultural specificities/identities. States of emergency also enables states to not only protect but also control their citizens.

Biennials are, as Oliver Marchart has remarked, big hegemonic machines. They make proposals how to understand the world we live in – locally and globally –, how to be in the world as a subject within a regional and national frame, and how race, class, gender are positioned. Insofar Biennials are part of a bio-political process in the framework of specific local situations.

Biennials are deeply involved in politics of display, politics of sites, politics of transfer and translation and they produce in each single case specific politics of knowledge. The scales of biennials are co-implicated not only with each other but also with different understandings of politics: contestation, resistance, dissent, hegemony, and empowerment.

For this conference (also in times of crises) we are not only interested in how content directly agitates but also in the formats, ideas and concepts that are delivered through the politics of display, through specific forms of production and dissemination, through proposed communities and subjectivities; the more subtle ways of in the bio political arena when we encounter art. Which forms can we use in states of emergency?

In the conference, we want to critically explore the pitfalls and benefits of these machines, how to use them progressively and how to keep and strengthen cultural exchange they can provide. Biennales in that sense can become imaginary machines to shape and influence possible futures.