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CONVERSATIONS

Second Yinchuan Biennale

Interview by Anna Lovecchio

 

Anna Lovecchio: Last April, you presented the concept for the Second Yinchuan Biennale, entitled Starting from the Desert. Ecologies on the Edge, at the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. You began your lecture by showing an excerpt from A Tale of the Wind, the last film by the Dutch director Joris Ivens—realized with Marceline Loridan in 1988—which pursues the utopian desire to capture on camera an utterly invisible natural agent, the wind. Set in the Gobi Desert, the footage unleashes a powerful imagery of dust storms, swirling sands, and wavy terrains. Let’s follow this wind and drift into the desert which became the framework of the Biennale…

Marco Scotini: Although A Tale of the Wind is not included in the exhibition, Joris Ivens will be present with two other extraordinary works from 1977 dedicated to the Yugur and Kazakh ethnic minorities in China. Nonetheless, his last film made in the Gobi Desert was a sort of activating agent for the idea of the Biennale. I repeatedly asked myself what it was that pushed a director like him, who had always been at the heart of all the previous century’s revolutions, to film in the total void of the desert. Was this a (ideological, political, social) withdrawal or an extreme act of resistance? The answer came from the theories of Deleuze and Guattari: Isn’t the desert precisely the background of their War Machine? Is it not true that the desert, as theater of the wind, as the smooth space of dynamic flows is, for them, the origin of a “minor science”? As in Ivens’ case, this is not just any desert but the one that runs from the central Asian steppes to the norther border of China. Thus, Deleuze and Guattari’s Nomadology became the conceptual toolbox for the entire Bienniale. Nomadology fundamentally pits Nomad Science against State Science. If State Science is a theoretical model which prevents turbulence and obliges space to be measured, centered, and subject to rules, then Nomad Science takes on notions of becoming, heterogeneity, and continuous variation. For the two French philosophers, a place where life is, at least to most appearances, impossible, becomes the origin of a new life, a new Ecology.

AL: This is not your first experience in China, having previously curated a section of the Anren Biennale in 2017. How did you engage with the long history, multi-cultural complexities, and multiple ecologies of Yinchuan and its broader context? Can you describe your working methodology?

MS: There is a two-pronged method that, for me, serves as a sort of navigational compass. It consists, on one hand, in defining my observation point (what I call a topographical point) and, on the other, in adopting an archaeology of knowledge, following Foucault. This means interrogating the discursive formations that a culture has generated rather than the things themselves. In Anren, I turned to the theater of masks. In Yinchuan, the urgency was to tackle the idea of the environment, a theater of the wind. Together with the curatorial team, we decided to focus our attention on the eastern border of China, given that the history of this extensive territory originated here and that futuristic, megalomaniac plans, such as the One Belt One Road, are moving the barycenter back to this region.

AL: You travelled extensively across the region and looked beyond the confines of contemporary art. From the list of participating artists, it is clear that you attempted to “ground” the biennial tracing specific trajectories in its socio-political context. What does it mean to “situate” a biennal? How did you engage with the artists?

MS: Situating a biennial, just as Donna Haraway talks of situated knowledge, means liberating oneself from all the principles based on neutrality, objectivity and universalism. We tried to identify artists from Mongolia to Eurasia, from Pakistan to Nepal, Cambodia to Indonesia, who would work on the subject of ecology in its widest sense. We also followed the traces of the ancient Silk Road so artists from Italy, Belgrade, Turkey, Dagestan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan and Afghanistan are also included. The dialogue with the artists always has various declinations and we commissioned around forty works for the Biennale. The search for the things to be exhibited is always very complicated, all the more so considering that I find it difficult to separate works of the past from those of the present. At the same time, one of the elements that characterizes my research is the impossibility to divide the aesthetic field from what is assumed to be extra-aesthetic.

AL: Biennials are a (infra)structural component of globalization. Terry Smith remarks that they provide a “a winning combination for the global trafficking of art” by merging the local and the international. Furthermore, they are also instrumental in advancing the global standing of a city, or even an entire country, by increasing its cultural credentials. The proliferation of biennials in Asia is stunningly unremitting. In the upcoming months, Thailand will make its debut with not one but three biennials! In both your curatorial practice and texts, you consistently argue against dynamics of homogenization and the perpetuation of hegemonic power structures. How did you twist the format of this biennial to mobilize a different set of values?

MS: I believe that, today, biennials are a device of governmentality, they go hand in hand with the presiding idea of western democracy and capitalism. Belonging to the contemporary art world means renouncing to one’s own specific nature to embrace a monolinguism without proliferations and transversality. Biennials operate like political organizations so that “being equal” means nothing more than being part of the same Art Institution. As a consequence, emancipating oneself would mean belonging to Art as a same World, in which the system continues to reproduce the dialectics of integration-exclusion. On the contrary, in the clash with “difference,” the notion of art can do nothing more than fall apart, dissolve into sand.

AL: In recent years, environmental issues and ecological politics have been at the forefront of contemporary art practice and discourse. You regard with skepticism a certain rhetorical emphasis placed on climate change, desertification, global warming, etc. In a shift from ecology to “eco-logics,” this biennial aims to posit a different ecological paradigm…

MS: I think that the apocalyptic way in which environmental problems are posed today can only generate a new aesthetics of the sublime which still lies within the technocratic dimension of modernist, and capitalist, rationalism. What can an artist (or any civilized subject) do within such a scenario? State and business only encourage techno-bureaucratic and “economistic” solutions through authoritarian decisions. But artists can shape new values and new imaginings to perceive and consider the world. Or, rather, in Silvia Federici’s words, to re-enchant the world.

 

Yinchuan, China
until 19 September 2018

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