Asian Biennales: Nationalism in a post-colonial world Internationalism versus Nationalism
Currently, one third of the world’s biennales take place in Asia, with the first being the Tokyo Biennale in 1952. Yet, the international art biennale started with the Venice Biennale which was founded in 1895, a year before the Olympic games, at a time when world’s fairs and international exhibitions started growing in popularity with the idea that nations can showcase the best of their talents. However, this type of showcasing of national pride often leads to nationalism and sometimes to conflict.
What do you think about exhibiting art in national pavilions? Are artists and their works defined by their birthplace, their nationalities or their current places of residency? Isn’t this idea of nationalism carried over into today’s biennales? In the case of Taiwan, I would say yes, as the artists representing Taiwan, either in the Taipei Biennial or in the Taiwan Pavilion at Venice, are ethnic Chinese/Taiwanese and never aboriginal, Japanese or Western. Contrast this with Singapore that includes a diverse ethnic population of its local artists in its biennale.
“Farewell to Post-colonialism” is the theme for this year’s Guangzhou Triennial. For the catalog essay, curator Gao Shiming wrote: “Of course, the Triennial is primarily a reflection on the exhibition experience and its “internationalism”. The questioning of the international exhibition platform is not new. In 2007, a book titled The Next Documenta Should Be Curated by An Artist was released at the opening of Documenta 12 in Kassel. It alluded to the fact that artists’ discontent with curatorial practice had reached an intolerable capacity, compelling one to ask: What, exactly, are artists dissatisfied with? Are they unsatisfied with the international exhibition system, the spectacle of discourse, or the plethora of euphemistic cultural-political strategies deployed in curatorial practices? All these troubles seem to stem from the “international” element. However, for contemporary artists, what kind of space is considered “international”? and: “If the key issue of post-colonialism in international curatorial practice is negotiating value, then is the final value based on a consensus? Or rather, do we need to reach a consensus? Can the consensus eliminate difference?”
Let’s also discuss the political issue of the biennale’s structure and organization, and in particular the selection of biennale curators. In the case of Taiwan, since 2000, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum first picks a Western curator via committee. The appointed Western curator then chooses the Taiwanese curator. This happened in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008. I find this highly problematic.
Art Compass 2008
September 2008 saw several Asian biennales and triennales: Sydney(6/18-9/7) http://www.bos2008.com/app/biennale, Gwangju (9/5-11/9) http://www.gwangju-biennale.org, Busan (9/6-11/15) http://www.busanbiennale.org/, Guangzhou Triennial (9/6-11/16) http://www.gztriennial.org, Shanghai (9/8-11/16) http://www.shanghaibiennale.org/, Singapore (9/11-11/16) http://www.singaporebiennale.org/, Taipei (9/13-1/4) http://www.taipeibiennial.org/, Yokohama Triennale (9/13-11/30) http://yokohamatriennale.jp/2008/en/
With so many Asian biennales, what does this say about the current art situation in Asia?
What is the function of a biennale?
In the mid-90s, biennales tried to link the local scene with the international scene. This helped to shift focus from the dominant western art centers to other locations. It helped strengthen local artist-run spaces while introducing different ideas into the local art scene. Does this paradigm work anymore? Or has the biennale just turned into a tourism-culture industry? Which audiences does the biennale serve: the frequent-flying art world or the local population? Can it serve both audiences?
Does it help promote local artists? And WHO are these local artists? In the case of this year’s Singapore Biennale, 15 percent of the artists are from Singapore and were funded to create new works, thus giving a generous boost to the local art scene. Compare this to Taipei’s, where only 4 out of the 47 artists are Taiwanese artists (and one of the Taiwanese works a spray-painted graffiti-like mural).
How do cities change after a biennale? In the case of Taiwan, in addition to the Taipei Biennial, biennales begin flooding the country like fake Louis Vuitton handbags. There is the Kuandu Biennale located at the art school Taipei National University of the Arts (nicknamed “Kuandu”), the in-planning-stage Taiwan Biennale at the Taichung Museum, and the Fushing Biennale in Changhua County which has a theme: Asia/Contemporary/Post-colonialism, but its website is only in Chinese, thus limiting its audience.
This is just the beginning of the provocative discussion about Asian biennales and I look forward to your comments and insights. Since I am based in Taiwan, I mention Taiwan as an example.
Let the discourse begin!
I look forward to your comments, Susan Kendzulak November 11, 2008 p.s. This made me chuckle, even funnier, no comments. The Taipei Fine Art Museum’s official website posted my critical blog entry here: http://www.taipeibiennial.org/2008/ContentPage/Contents.aspx?ID=4&SubID=... What do you think of this being posted on their site?