The new year just started and I took a chance to look back on my curatorial work, focusing on one of my central projects in the last years: Copenhagen Ultracontemporary Biennale (CUB). In the following text, I will share some reflections about what my curatorial approach to CUB has been, why I find it important and how I wish to proceed to develop the concept in the coming years.
For almost three years I have been working as a curator for Copenhagen Ultracontemporary Biennale (CUB): partly a poetic art project developed with the artist Thierry Geoffroy, partly an actual proposition for a new biennale focusing on critical society-related art created in and about the now. CUB developed into both an ongoing and a biennial platform for exhibiting ultracontemporary artworks the same day as they are produced.
The preparation period and the streaming activities of CUB, have since 2015 been supported by the Danish Arts Council, City of Copenhagen as well as the Ministry of Culture and consisted i.a. of participation in relevant congresses and seminars, e.g. The World Biennial Forum No 2 in Sao Paulo, First General Assembly Of The International Biennial Association in Berlin, and documenta 1997 – 2017 in Kassel in connection with 60th anniversary of documenta, establishment of an educational agency THE ACADEMY OF EMERGENCY ART activated at Holbæk Kunsthøjskole and Borup Højskole, ultracontemporary exhibitions in Sao Paulo (Emma Thomas Gallery), Johannesburg (Museum of African Design) and Copenhagen (The Workers’ Museum) involving more than 50 international artists, different debate artformats activated in around 10 countries, public space ultracontemporary interventions in the streets of Copenhagen as well as in public venues such as the Danish Parliament and a one-year research for establishment of a new type of news-media platform for artists and journalists.
These and other CUB activities have in the last years been covered by more than 25 international TV stations, newspapers and magazines such as Kunstforum, The Art Newspaper and Artribune.
However, in relation to the established structures on the art scene, our ambitions for CUB to be a platform for presenting critical artworks about what is happening in the world at the given moment, provoked some challenging obstacles; both when it comes to what the artworks are presenting (topics related to emergencies of today) and how they are presented (instantly as an immediate artistic reactions).
In hindsight, it is interesting not only to look at why and how these obstacles happen but also how they activated my reflections on interconnection between art, life and politics.
Since the artists in CUB express about emergencies in the society, their artworks often carry controversial opinions on climate, refugees, wars, corruption etc. Their critical approach can be seen as a reaction to the prevailing social norms which lead us into a discussion about the role of art in the society and how art can stay a counterculture without being swallowed by culture industry connected to a global cultural tourism and city branding where critical art has become a high currency.
In the analysis of CUB interventions, it is thus necessary to deal with the gap between art and life. The same gap which situationists tried to reduce and which since then has grown stimulated by commercial interests in a society where art, unfortunately, becomes a commodity rather than a vision. The tension between art and life is strongest in the situations of emergency or crisis where the professional life of the artist melts with the personal one – When the artists’ personal career ambitions become insignificant, their aesthetic experimentations becomes a luxury and instead, they are confronted with a feeling of civic responsibility and a call for action. This brings us then to the field of humanism in art and to the schism between ethics and aesthetics.
When visually analysing the artworks produced during CUB, we reveal a new type of aesthetics shaped by the speed of production. (the process from the idea, concept, production and finally to the exhibiting, has namely been shrunk to one day in the ultracontemporary exhibitions) and the emotional state of outrage about alarming issues (the artistic motivation to express about dysfunctions takes a sentimental shape which shines through the aesthetic style, because the artistic gesture, in the ultracontemporary context, is initiated by the human judgment.) This aesthetics of emergency is conditioned by the notion of pertinence and the speed-time relationship which triggers the question about contemporaneity – how close can art be to the now?
Exhibiting artworks which are produced the same day is an unusual curatorial method based on unpredictability – a condition which became CUBs, perhaps, biggest obstacle in the established art world system, which is normally structured around exhibition programs pre-defined several years in advance. Instead of following their own tempo based on a necessity to react on the surrounding world and its changes, the artists are depending on institutional plannings. Apart from being an organizational and planning tool, the curatorial pre-selection process seems to be a way of controlling and maintaining the existing power structure, where the organizers of the exhibitions are superior to the artists. Furthermore, the planning process also gives the curator a chance to filtrate and file down the critical artistic expression often making it more harmless. The same depreciation of critic happens when curators and institutions, in their planning, decide to exhibit artworks about what is happening in the world today, but in delay, months or even years later, when the situation has passed and has already been communicated and interpreted by established opinion makers. With a discourse of institutional critique, it is interesting to make a closer analysis on how CUB is challenging these advanced indirect ways of censorship, by insisting on the unpredictable curating of artworks produced the same day as they are shown to the public.
Based on the above-mentioned examples, it should be clear why challenging the flexibility of established structures was initially embedded in the concept of CUB, and how my curating within a ultracontemporary framework naturally became a series of critical observations concerning the mechanisms behind the contemporary art scene.
I’m looking forward to continuing my curatorial investigation through CUB by critically analyzing the established structures in the contemporary art scene. I am, in particular, interested in the intersection between art and politics which the biennales have operated within, especially since the 90s and Catherine David’s documenta x. This includes the canonization of the new biennial model, which ties together philosophical, political and contemporary art practice with criticality (Irit Rogoff). The expansion of the aesthetic field of art to include knowledge production (Tom Holert, Simon Sheikh) and social engagement (Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells) has been the fundamental change, leading to the problematic situation we see today, where biennales navigate along with political and economic agendas which are not necessarily in the service of art (Panos Kompatsiaris, The politics of contemporary art biennales, Oliver Marchart, Hegemonie im Kunstfeld. Die documenta-Ausstellungen dX, D11, d12 und die Politik der Biennalisierung). It is becoming more and more clear that an instrumentalisation of the art and the biennales is taking place; a setup which becomes particularly difficult to decipher when biennales are profiled as platforms for critical thinking with humanistic motivations and ambitions concerning social change, while resting on structures based on the opposite: commercial and political interests (Mikkel Bolt). As a curator, I wish to explore this inconsistency between what biennales say they do, and what they actually do.
In the coming year, I plan to organize the existing material about CUB and carry out new studies focusing partly on the newest developments within biennale culture and partly on historic references from the archives. With relevant comparative studies, I will try to highlight the socio-political tendencies underpinning the transformation of the biennales while my thoughts will be theoretically supported by philosophical interpretations on humanism. (Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition). This theoric research will be gathered in a book on CUB planned to be published in 2018.
By further developing the ultracontemporary curatorial system, parallel to the theoric investigation, I also aim to find pragmatic solutions to the transitional problems of curatorial work at the intersection between art and politics, as well as between the ethical and aesthetic parameters. In 2019, during the Venice Biennale, together with Thierry Geoffroy, I plan to develop an exhibition framework where new curatorial methods for establishing a biennale within the biennale, will be activated.
In this sketched-out working process, I’m looking forward to enriching collaborations with supportive colleagues who recognise the authenticity and complexity of my curatorial work.
All the best in The New Year