One of the origins of the word art means, “to join”. What is being joined, for whom, with what intention, for what purpose and with what result are questions that have dominated layers of art criticisms for generations. The divisive nature of the Biennale, however, seems to deny that definition under the guise of inclusivity.
Reading its current reviews, this year’s Biennale introduces what is being touted as a particularly new and exciting flavor, that of the self-taught and/or outsider artist.
This Biennale then, acts as a life-sized 21st century wunderkammer, the nobles’ curiosity cabinet, demonstrating the imperial gaze of ownership of the world thru its newly discovered objects.
My motivation to be a critic selected to chronicle my utilizing the Ideological Guide to the Venice Biennale is based on my ongoing, and some would say incessant, crusade in confronting and revealing the sociopolitical agendas of a cultural ruling class. My equation of activism has three parts: compassion, humor and plain physical endurance. I am particularly interested in factors of place and sustainability as etiological dilemmas and how these affect the creators and dissemination of art.
Although the Biennale is divided, and some would rightly say segregated, by colonial mapping, exactly where is this self-taught art created? Who is left on the borders of this golden mean? How do international art spectacles affect those producing and exhibiting art in the often dismissed geographical areas of the hinterlands, the ‘no there there’ sites and sights, as Gertrude Stein expressed in her sentiments of her own Oakland, California.
I am encouraged by theatre director Peter Sellars remarks that arts organizations are his “favorite fascist structures.” To also describe art producers or consumers with the words novice or connoisseur is equally dubious, problematic and troubling. For the art activist, engaged curator and or progressive arts administrator and educator, the terms are particularly distressing.
The seemingly contrasting and often class divided entities of so-called amateur and sophisticate view each other thru the lenses of doubt, disdain and disrespect. These tendencies severely limit and cloud perception. If creative works are being offered in venues of exclusivity, whether perceived or actual, participatory access is limited even further.
Equally disturbing is the detritus of art fairs. It is rarely, if ever discussed or documented. For example, how does environmental racism effect the placement of the Biennale’s pavilions? How do the municipalities and custodial services of Venice itself handle accumulated debris and de-installation of SO MUCH STUFF? Are the governments that are so proud of their lauded cultural ambassadors equally cognizant of the wake and remnants of their departure?
I am also curious about the sustainability of the works proposed and most profoundly, the affects the Biennales exposure has on the lives of their creators. How many of this year’s outsider/self taught artists will sustain their (charmingly marketable) naiveté? How has the shift from vulnerability to exposure changed their perception and work ethic as these artists go back to their Oakland’s?
Curator Massimiliano Gioni’s public talk on the last day of the Biennale is, it seems, purposefully captivating and intriguing: “Let’s talk about us”. But who is this “us’? Where do they live and what language do they speak? Has the 80’s culture war’s binary language of ‘us’ and ‘them’ been resurrected to create an intentional split? Will this final day of a celebrated Biennial and its curator become a re-creation of another imposing ziggurat, the Tower of Babel?
My experiences as artist, critic and professor have taken me to more than half the globe, from Uzis at the door at Bezalel in Jerusalem, to historic and histrionic cafes in Paris, behind the pristine and protected walls of Yale to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in rural Virginia. For the past five years, I have been the Resident Artist of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, coming in contact with 400 writers, composers and visual artists a year as they are given the rare opportunity to concentrate solely on their work. I have recently also taken on the role as curator of a small, regional arts center, navigating multiple constituents’ beliefs in how they define what their needs and expectations are of ‘art’. In 2014, I will be part of a round table panel at the College Art Association, unpacking the perceptions and outcomes of regionalism. My essay, “Drawing a Breath” discusses drawing as a particular phenomenology and will be published by Ashgate in 2015.
In academe, I consistently straddle the worlds of privilege (Yale, RISD, Carnegie-Mellon, currently University of Virginia) and its isolated communities, by creating bridges to and from its rarified environment. I challenge outmoded ideologies and create new models of engagement within curriculum, develop outreach and initiate public projects. In particular, I ask that the ethical issues and decisions that artists and designers make along with their responsibilities and accountability be viewed thru the lenses of interpersonal, social, global and environmental contexts. I also ask that stakeholders investigate issues from multiple perspectives, critically analyzing and experiencing how works and lives are impacted. A key feature is the consideration and development of empathy.
I am certainly not a “prominent artist, curator or theoretician” as are the creators of the Ideological Guide to the Venice Biennale 2013. I am however, someone who believes and is dedicated to actively encourage inquiry and not indoctrination.
The arts are, to paraphrase Audre Lourde, a necessity, not a luxury. Social media must account for and look to marginalized populations within the wealthy, particularly asking how culture is defined, where it is being created and how it can be sustained.
I would be thrilled and proud to be selected as a Biennale Traveler. The insights and information from the Ideological Guide to the Venice Biennale interface seamlessly with my goals of bringing international perception and perspectives to multiple communities.
This includes not only academe, but also literacy and cultural programs that serve at-risk populations. Ideally, I would aim the my travelogue not only be published on the e-flux online platform, but act as threshold for inviting communication and interpretation of the arts to audiences that are not typically part of the dialogue, that is, not asked ‘to join’.