In the back of the latest issue of Art Journal (spring 2017 on the politics of legacy), there is a review “The Prehistory of Exhibition History”by grupa o.k. (Julian Myers and Joanna Szupinska) which rounds up exhibition histories, written decades earlier than our current fad. They mention Rasheed Araeen, who was included as an artist in Magiciens de la Terre in 1989, and then dedicated a whole issue of Third Text (no. 6) to reproduce in English the exhibition’s attendant French discourse and critique both the exhibition and the (majority of the) texts published on it for their flattening of histories into an equality that only exists in a carnival. The authors in Art Journal note, this kind of flattening is now so commonplace as a working method in biennials that no one even thinks to comment on it. This is something I will delve into a future post, as I think it’s true, but it is worth fleshing out how biennial festivalism departs from this same ethos but in a more insidious fashion and with important differences from the more obvious modernist approach espoused by Jean Hubert Martin in 1989.
The current documenta (14), oddly, highlights Third Text in the “neue neue galerie” with a grand installation of the magazine and the entire archive presented in a site-specific reading room by Araeen. And they employ a strategy in 2017 similar to that which Araeen critiques (back in 1989) and mobilize his magazine and enfold that discourse, literally, spatially, in the process. But as I said, needs to be considered further once this document has some time to digest.
But if something is ending, and we are part of the ending, maybe we can end that underlying impulse as well– I am referring to the one that vacuums up all the decent art around the world, across time and space and dumps it in one space for a limited period of time. It’s like the fast food. Is it? Somehow it is, or the experience can be, a drive through fashion of obtaining an overview but what do you leave with? You consume things your body can’t use, doesn’t want, rejects but you feel full. Or at least bloated.
Let us declare a moratorium on biennials until someone reports a vision. Let us stop pretending that there is a reason for all these exhibitions beyond the runaway train–a system that has been set up for reasons of city-marketing and tourism but has nothing to do with anyone having anything interesting to say every two years, 100 times per year. Or it feels like 100. No more of this. Art used to mean to something to people. It used to do something for a society. And maybe it still does, it is just our region, we who need to see everything who are bored and tired and need to get new jobs.
Araeen’s essay is pasted below, and it introduces a series of texts translated and reprinted in English, from French. You can access the text in an easier format as well as the entire issue here. First, some notable passages from Araeen’s brilliant intro:
“If the relationship between the ‘centre’ and the ‘periphery’ is of inequality, is it possible for an equal exchange to take place within a framework which does not challenge this relationship?” (pg. 4)
“The idea of ‘anything goes’ is legitimised by the benevolence of dominant culture, creating a space in which the ‘other’ is accommodated in a spectacle that produces an illusion of equality.” (pg. 4)
“In order to understand the function of art, and the privileges of its producers (artists), in our modern culture, we need to confront the fact that the production of the commodity is fundamental (both materially and ideologically) to the very historical formation of this culture. Therefore, is it not necessary that we address ourselves to the value of the commodity and to the role it plays in global domination, instead of becoming enchanted by humanist proclamations against its fetishization? Is not the constant attempt of the bourgeoisie to humanise its dehumanised body, a condition which constantly requires stimulation for its survival, creating a beautiful Mirage of many colours? It will not be realistic to deny the magical effects of such spectacle, but we should also know that there is nothing magical about it.
The concern for mass participation in our contemporary culture is understandable and is laudable, but mass participation in capitalist society is an illusion which can mask its fundamental contradictions. In the carnival everybody is equal! But what happens when the carnival is over?” (pg. 6)
“In the beginning it was Modernism, modernism for everybody all over the world irrespective of different cultures. When the others began to demand their share of the modern pie, modernism became postmodernism: now there is ‘Western’ culture and ‘other’ cultures, located within the same ‘contemporary’ space.” (pg. 6)
“My main criticism concerns the lack of any radical theoretical or conceptual framework that can justify the togetherness of works which represent different historical formations.” (pg. 7)
“Is it possible for ‘difference’ to function critically in a curatorial space where the criticality of ‘difference’ is in fact negated by the illusion of visual similarities and sensibilities of works produced under different systems, displacing the question of the unequal power of different works from the domain of ideology to cultural aesthetics. No wonder the common denominator here is a presumed ‘magic’ of all works which transcends socioeconomic determinants.” (pg. 7-8)
“But what is special about this exhibition is its extreme ambiguity, masked by the goodwill and dedication of its organisers. And yet it can be located within what is often described as colonial discourse.” (pg. 9)
Image caption: Rasheed Araeen, “The Reading Room” (2016/2017)
Steel and glass tables, wooden stools, and copies of Third Text journal, paintings on canvas. Installation view: Neue Neue Galerie, documenta 14, Kassel, 10 June – 17 September 2017. © Photo: Haupt & Binder