CULTURE

New network links art biennials

A newcomer to the constantly expanding family of contemporary European art biennials, the Athens Biennial, which opened for the first time last year, has taken the initiative to link up with a number of its sister biennials and establish a «European Biennial Network» (EBN). Members from the participating biennials will meet and share their knowledge and know-how on the organization and content of art biennials. It is a collaborative project which aims at promoting dialogue and communication among artists and art professionals. Last weekend, the EBN held its first conference and workshop in Athens. The workshop held at the Museum of Cycladic Art is part of the Biennial Exchange and Residency Program, a cycle of activities (traineeship programs, artist residencies, research visits) that will extend for the next two years and are partly funded by the European Commission. The conference was held at the B&M Theocharakis Foundation for the Fine Arts and Music and was open to the public. The Athens Biennial co-organized the event with its four major partners: the biennials of Berlin, Istanbul, Liverpool and Lyon. Associated partners include the biennials of Venice, Goteborg, the Periferic Biennial for Contemporary Art in Romania, the Tirana Biennial and the Manifesta exhibition. Members representing the four major international biennials mapped out the history of each biennial and provided figures on attendance, budget, venues and number of participating artists. Theoretical issues were explored in the second part of the conference. Lars Bang Larsen, an independent writer and curator based in Copenhagen and Frankfurt, gave an in-depth lecture on the role of culture in contemporary society and analyzed contemporary art biennials in that broader context. Larsen spoke of how art and artistic creativity has changed from transgressive to normative and how art has become a tool for management. He also spoke of the importance attached to the «experience» of culture and the value that is accorded to the notion of subjectivity. Larsen then went on to analyze the impacts that this notion of contemporary culture has had on curatorial projects. Chuz Martinez, director of the Frankfurter Kunstverein, raised the question of whether contemporary art biennials can serve as platforms of curatorial research. She spoke about the priority that is given to «visibility» and «accessibility» and explored their effect on a more profound presentation of art. Helge Mooshammer (visual culture professor at Goldsmiths College, London, and research fellow at the International Research Center for Cultural Studies, Vienna) and Peter Mortenbock (visual culture professor at the Vienna University of Technology), who have collaborated on various curatorial projects on art and architecture, analyzed the notion of cultural networking. They also expounded on other cultural phenomena – such as the international mobility of artists and art events – and art’s role in late capitalism. Overall, the conference touched on both practical and theoretical issues. Potentially, it may help find solutions to organizational problems faced by curators but may also help raise a more critical understanding of this growing phenomenon of contemporary art biennials. Info: www.athensbiennial.org, www.europeanbiennialnetwork.org, tel 210.523.2222.