Farewell to Fear
The Biennial Season starts

No less than eight biennials begin this fall, showing that the global art world is up to. A common tendency is to show how current artists engage with the pressing problems of our age. Achim Drucks on the themes and theories of the upcoming biennials, at which many artists from the Deutsche Bank Collection are represented.
The Eighth Climate: The title that Maria Lind chose for this year’s Gwangju Biennale is cryptic. It does not refer to a meteorological phenomenon, but to a transcendent world outside of time and space. It is a place we can only with our imagination, to which each person has to find his or her own access. Twelfth-century Persian mystics coined the term, and the French philosopher and Islamic scholar Henry Corbin took it up in his essay Mundus Imaginalis from 1972. In the essay, Corbin stresses the importance of “active imagination,” which gives people access to spirituality.

Maria Lind, who otherwise heads the renowned Tensta Konsthall in Stockholm, counters this approach, which some may find too esoteric, with a very specific question that she put in parentheses after the title: What Does Art Do? For the curator, art sparks our imagination, and thus, she says, has an “active relationship to the future.” Lind asserts that art can feel out coming developments like a seismograph. In Gwangju, she intends to show this with works by around 100 international artists. One of them is Iza Tarasewicz, who received Deutsche Bank’s Views award in 2015. Her quasi alchemistic installations are inspired by ancient philosophers as well as modern chaos theory. Lind also invited The Otolith Group. The British artist-led collective, which participated in the Globe performance program marking the opening of the Deutsche Bank Towers in Frankfurt, investigates failed utopias, future visions, and current sociopolitical issues in its essay-like films. The young Korean artist Siren Eun Young Jung, meanwhile, casts a feminist-influenced glance at a theater tradition of her home country. In musical comedies called "Yeosung Gukgeuk", only women are on the stage, where they create a utopian world in which the boundaries between the genders dissolve.

The current edition of the oldest biennial on the Asian continent – the first was held in the the South Korean city of Gwangju in 1995 – is closely linked to the local art scene yet also relies on a comprehensive educational program that incorporates locals even before the exhibition begins – an approach also taken by other biennials. The "active imagination" should not only be stoked by insiders in the art scene, but also by society in general.

The Chinese, Japanese, and Korean avant-gardes of the 1960s and 70s also championed a kind of art that intervenes in everyday life and political conditions. An exhibition of the Busan Biennial, the second-most-important biennial in Korea, is devoted to them. On view are artist groups such as Gutai and Mono-ha, whose future-oriented artistic practice has been taken up by current artists, including Koki Tanaka, the “Artist of the Year” 2015. In a second show, the biennial, titled Hybridizing Earth, Discussing Multitude, presents 56 current artists including Choi Sungrok, Laura Lima, Dana Lixenberg, and Katharina Sieverding, who explore social phenomenon such as globalization as well as ethnic and sexual variety.

Two important art events are also opening in Singapore and China this fall. An Atlas of Mirrors is the poetic title of the Singapore Biennale, which focuses entirely on artists from eastern and southern Asia. "Atlas" stands for travels and encounters with "foreign" people, while "Mirror" represents an investigation of oneself. Accordingly, the more than 60 artists on exhibit, including the sculptor Han Sai Por, the young painter Fyerool Darma, and the Hong Kong artist duo MAP Office, examine themes such as migration, identity, and entanglements between different countries and cultures in the region.

The eleventh edition of the Shanghai Biennale, curated by Raqs Media Collective, also interrogates these themes. The title is Why Not Ask Again?, referring to the Indian trio’s discursive approach. “There is me, (one), there is you, (two), and then there are many (three),” explains Raqs Media Collective, which realized an installation for Deutsche Bank in Birmingham in 1914. “Three marks the beginning of plenitude, the escape from the prison of I-and-thou, self and other, into the world.” Their biennial, to which they invited Tomás Saraceno and SUPERFLEX, among others, has no prefabricated answers and solutions. Raqs is primarily interested in asking the right questions. “Questions are like pressure points – the vital points along the meridians of the body that are crucial to health and sickness, pleasure and pain. Giving them primacy in this edition of biennale is like attending to the pressure points in the body of our contemporary world,” they say. It is a matter of saying goodbye to dogmas, confessions, fixed identities, and fear of change, “where the unpredictable is something to be welcomed, not feared.”

The 32nd Bienal de São Paulo, one of three biennials opening in the Americas, also deals with the unpredictable, with the uncertainty people feel in the face of climate change, terror, and economic crises. Under the title Incerteza viva, curator Jochen Volz brought together some 90 artists including Francis Alÿs, Öyvind Fahlström, Pierre Huyghe, and the regular biennial guest Hito Steyerl. Many projects are being created at the location in Brazil. In cooperation with the Instituto de Botânica de São Paulo, Carla Filipe designed a garden with edible plants, while Iza Tarasewicz searches for musical traces. Tarasewicz is researching the presence of the Polish mazurka folk dance in Brazil. For his part, Pilar Quinteros is following the trail of British explorer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared along with everyone in his expedition in the jungle of Mato Gross in 1925 while searching for the mythical city Z, a high culture in the middle of the hostile Amazon region. At the time, many considered him a romantic fantasist, but in the meantime researchers have discovered the remains of a thousand-year-old civilization in this very jungle.

“Art feeds off uncertainty, chance, improvisation, speculation,” says Jochen Voltz. “It makes room for error, for doubt.” He adds that precisely this kind of open thinking and experimentation for which art stands can be transferred to other disciplines to find new and unusual solutions. Volz is concerned, no less, with the acceptance of one of the essential conditions of human existence. “Understanding the significance of Live Uncertainty on a day-to-day basis means remaining aware of the fact that we exist immersed in an environment that is ruled by it.”

Given the current state of the world, it is not surprising that the 13th Biennial in Cuenca, Ecuador, is devoted to a very similar topic. Instead of "uncertainty," it focuses on "impermanence," evanescence and ephemerality. Its artistic director Dan Cameron has a wealth of biennial experience. The former New Museum curator has already organized biennials in Istanbul, Taipei, and New Orleans. Cameron draws an interesting connection between life in the globalized present, characterized by instability and rapid social and technological change, and the growing fleeting and performative artworks corresponding to this situation. The works on show, by artists such as Kader Attia, Cao Fei, Alejandro Cesarco, and Los Carpinteros, who are all represented in the Deutsche Bank Collection, reflect the “the frailties and follies of human existence.”

While Cameron’s concept has a spiritual background – the idea of the fleeting nature of all earthly things is one of the central ideas of Buddhism – the Biennale de Montréal was inspired by two provocative literati, Jean Genet and the Marquis de Sade. With the show, entitled Le Grand Balcon, director Philippe Pirotte, embarks on a search for "hedonistic politics" and an "ethical hedonism." Among the participating artists are Thomas Bayrle, Shannon Bool, Judith Hopf, and Frances Stark, all represented in the Collection. Pirotte, who is the rector of the Städel School in Frankfurt, is interested in the “the liberating potential of artistic experiences” and “their insistent resistance to the status quo.” Although he tends to argue from a political standpoint, Phillippe Pirotte in Montréal, like Maria Lind in Gwangju, attempts to create a “mental space” with art in which the prevailing state of the world is radically questioned.

The 3rd Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the year’s last important biennial, opens in December. The show is the first and only biennial for contemporary art in India. And it has been extremely successful. The first two editions together drew nearly a million visitors. The exhibition reflects the cosmopolitan spirit of the southern Indian region. Kochi has been a flourishing center of global trade for more than 600 years. For this year’s show, the multimedia artist Sudarshan Shetty is working as a curator for the first time. In times of growing nationalism in India, as in many other places, he views his biennial as a place of exchange between cultures and an event that dispenses with social borders. In addition to Pawel Althamer, Charles Avery, and Orijit Sen, Shetty invited Raúl Zurita. The Chilean poet was the first artist accepted for the biennial. His work, in which poetry and political involvement are inextricably entwined, is a kind of foil for the show. “The radical concept of freedom is what constitutes art, making it different from all other kinds of human production. It’s the only thing that counts,” says Raúl Zurita. “While in the exact sciences one exception is enough to disprove a theory, in art everything is an exception.”

11th Gwangju Biennale
9/2/2016 – 11/6/2016   

Busan Biennale 2016
9/6/2016 – 11/30/2016

32nd Bienal de São Paulo
9/10/2016  – 12/11/2016

Biennale de Montréal: Le Grand Balcon
10/19/2016 – 1/15/2017

13th International Cuenca Biennial
10/21/2016 – 12/31/2016

Singapore Biennale 2016 - An Atlas of Mirrors
10/27/2016 – 2/26/2017

11th Shanghai Biennale
11/11/2016 – 3/12/2017

3rd Kochi-Muziris Biennale
12/12/2016 – 3/29/2017