Curating Resistances : Crisis and the limits of the political turn in contemporary art biennials
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Curating Resistances focuses upon the socially interventionist and activist agendas of two contemporary art biennials in Europe during and in response to the current economic crisis. This thesis seeks to untangle their tensions, conflicts and intimate socialities as they evolve against the backdrop of neoliberalism, austerity, crisis and the rise of Occupy cultures. Drawing upon primary ethnographic research on the 3rd Athens Biennale (2011) and the 7th Berlin Biennale (2012), as well as on the examination of curatorial, journalistic and archival documents, I argue for an approach that takes into consideration the threefold nature of these sites, as institutions, organizations and events. A central area of investigation is the post-1990s curatorial idea of strategically occupying the institution from within and mobilising it as a space of radical knowledge production. This idea gave rise to a model of exhibition-making, that I call the ‘discursive exhibition’, which shapes the vocabulary and forms of curating cultures at least since documenta X (1997). I argue that this model was challenged during the European crisis through the post-2010 art activism that brought ideas related to class, labour and the commons to the centre of debates on art and politics. Through their attempts to radicalise in response to such challenges, I argue that the two biennials I examine expose the limits of biennials as sites of activism and political resistance. In employing the research perspectives of place and translocality, terms borrowed from cultural geography, I argue that rather than imposing a global art language, biennials unfold through complex socio-spatial dynamics, manifesting a remarkable capacity to absorb, remediate and repurpose their surrounding environments. By discussing how a series of failed statements, border-crossings, internal conflicts, withdrawals, police interventions and press spectacles interconnect with the biennial’s organizational and institutional dynamics, this thesis navigates through the translocal tensions played upon the materiality, infrastructures and economies of curating resistances.