In his paper at a seminar organized in 2006 by the International Association of Art Critics (AICA), ‘Art Criticism & Curatorial Practices in Marginal Contexts – Addis Ababa’, Henry Meyric Hughes looks at “the sudden burgeoning of biennales in number, scope and geographical diversity in the 1980s, and especially the 1990s onwards, when they have become the characteristic platform for a new generation of artists,” saying that one is bound to arrive at the conclusion that, “this was a reaction, both to the atrophy of the traditional museums system and to the over-dominance of the Western-orientated art market.” The biennale has come to be seen as a site for alternative proposals within contemporary art. Often, it identifies itself with the margins, reading them as potent spaces that do not inhabit remote geographies but exist everywhere. Consciously removing itself from the homogenizing tendencies towards a ‘global’ contemporary art – as shaped by the market, art fairs, museums and auction houses – the biennale can be a site of resistance and retains the potential to be global as well as local. Our historical time is self-aware of its own multiplicity, and attempts to constantly question, overwrite and critique while trying not to drown itself in an incoherent plurality. The biennale becomes its most defining masthead. From having travelled to biennales, art fairs and other global venues, the importance of these sites seem to strike me as all the more conducive to the problems we are troubled by today, be they economic, political, geological or humanitarian, as difficult as it is to form such categories as they constantly overlap. It remains all the more relevant to study such polemics in the light of India being an emergent power, and its recent participation in the Venice Biennale with the India Pavilion was curated by Ranjit Hoskote. It is in view of these factors that a special issue of TAKE, dedicated to the biennale as a form, seemed a necessary and important intervention, especially for Indian viewers and readers, who have been overdosed with the controversial rather than the constructive aspects of the biennale phenomenon. The idea for this issue grew over e-discussions with the Guest Editor Ranjit Hoskote, during the 54th Venice Biennale, and the need for us to explore the various conceptual models of biennales, their histories and methodologies. Biennale culture, or the biennale condition, as Ranjit states elsewhere in the issue is “no longer merely one among many of the features of global contemporary art; it has become, in a profound and constitutive way, its primary matrix”.
In this issue, Ranjit brings together a number of perspectives that look at particular biennales, and also contemplate the biennale at large, its achievements, problems and possibilities. The story is told by practitioners in the field – curators, theorists, artists and organisers who are closely involved in the phenomenon, negotiating its role in the contemporary. Gerardo Mosquera, speaks from his instrumental role in its founding of the Havana Biennale, that has come to be a point of reference for all biennales since. Nancy Adajania, joint artistic director of the 9th Gwangju Biennale, converses with Rasha Salti on her experience with the Sharjah Biennale. Debates, criticisms and targets with regard to understandings of the biennale emerge at the TAKE/Biennale roundtable chaired by Ranjit Hoskote as internationally distinguished figures from the art world such as Abdellah Karroum, Jitish Kallat, Maria Hlavajova, Marieke van Hal and Nikos Papastergiadis exchange ideas. Praneet Soi contributes to the issue, reflecting on his role as participating artist to biennales around the world. With this issue, we have attempted to make a significant difference as a publication – rather than reportage after the event of a biennale, or random opinions about biennale culture in general, we have brought our readers knowledge produced from within the field.
Our regular pages have not been neglected. We carry Ekphrasis – our poetry series by Himali Singh Soin, The Phantom Lady is back after a hiatus, we have reports, reviews, and Manisha Gera Baswani’s Fly on the Wall that moves away from its regular style and pays homage to the legendary sculptor Sarbari Roy Chowdhury. Natasha Ginwala interrogates Grant Watson on his projects and Bharti Lalwani reports on the Jogja Biennale. Anne Maniglier visits the life and times of Homi Vyarawalla and pays her tribute to this amazing lady whose demise ended a golden era. The photo essays include a spread by the RAQs Media Collective and the rest stand testimony to TAKE on art’s presence at the Dhaka Art Summit and Art Dubai this year. TAKE continues to make its presence felt overseas as we travel with the magazine to Art Basel and Art HK.
I would like to thank Ranjit profusely for this brilliant issue, as well as the contributors who pitched in with their experience and knowledge to produce such a stimulating discourse through the pages of TAKE/Biennale. I am extremely grateful to Hans Haacke, IKSVIstanbul, Gregory Sholette, the Gwangju Biennale Foundation, Alan Cruickshank (Editor, Broadsheet), WHW, Zinny and Maidagan, the Biennale of Sydney and others who readily helped us out with their resources.
Here’s to a thought-provoking issue and exciting launch events in Mumbai and Delhi.
As always, happy reading!