4th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art: Technology Over Rigor
Three things are clear from the 4th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art. First, when artists privilege style over substance, entertainment over interactivity, they abandon an intellectual rigor. This was the message, which the works compiled by biennal’s curator Peter Weibel communicated.
Second, contemporary art in Russia has become an industry supplied by network of curators, managers and the artists. There were nearly fifty with over five-hundred artists satellite exhibitions opened in conjunction with the main program, creating an art glut and hoards of glazed spectators.
Third, arts in Russia has become an expansion of Putin’s governmental policy. The Innovation Prize (FA# ) six months ago, and the Beinnale, proved that Putin’s government wants to impose its anti-democratic ambitions on to contemporary art practice and that so far the artist community has not offered substantial resistance to this policy.
Weibel, who is now 67 curated the Biennale under the title “Rewriting Worlds” bringing an array of video, installations and art objects that heavily reliant on technology. The installation by India’s most successful young artist TV Santosh that Hounding down presented in TCUM (one of the Biennale’s venue) was a pack of twenty six chrome dogs, which carry large digital timers fixed on their backs. Presumably, these timers count minutes in the dogs’ frozen race. The way the clocks were mounted – large and clunky has conjured another reading of the work that is of twenty-six clocks mounted on the dogs. The installation was made in response to last November’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai but when styled a-la Jeff Koons it fails to show seriousness of the artist’ intentions.
Several works required direct viewer participation. Achim Mohné & Uta Kopp invited visitors to write messages, which have been instantly transmitted through the satellite on to the roofs of the city map displayed on the floor. Perhaps from over exposure to art, the visitors responded predictably, writing everything between “I love you” and “F” you”.
The installation by Ahmet Ogut “River Crossing Puzzle” perhaps was a clever puzzle for the viewer involving several characters which have to interact with a suicide bomber. Employing the visual language of cartoons, Ogut seems to simplify political issues for the sake of interactivity.
Overall the exhibition was interactive through the proxy of technology, entertaining in a populist way but the rigor of ideas came in last. Although many of the works have addressed the subjects of global threats this event fall through to notably elucidate its title of “Rewriting Worlds”. Collectively coherent narrative of social change, which the artists are able to construct was obscured by the medium attractions. Weibel, born in Odessa but living outside the former USSR in Austria during the Cold War, and now in Karlsruhe, Germany, has rushed through the artists selection with caution and moderation. The video piece by Ai Weiwei featuring the artist battling against traffic in Beijing’s was overshadowed by the gimmicks of technology.
Despite of the economic recession, which severely cut the main budget, its satellite program organizers were able to attract developers, who seek personal publicity through the art world. Sponsored for a variety of commercial reasons, these fifty exhibitions of various sizes were disappointing. Art in bulks never works. From all the curatorial efforts the Impossible Community curated by Victor Misiano presented an investigation of art collectives who worked through the 1990s. Bringing together Russian and the artists from abroad Misiano exemplified that the process of re-thinking of art collective practices has happened within both contexts: a budding dominant art system in Russia and already developed Western art market.
The Russian official art circles is a field of leveling ambitions which have nothing to do with the contemporary art. Unexpectedly Stella Kay, the owner of Stella Art Foundation was awarded by an art award from the Austrian government, but the cultural ties between Stella and Austria still remain unknown.
In the exhibition’s press kit, Weibel said that he reviewed 300 portfolios from Russian artists and found two trends for in his words “decompression” and “deframing.” Both are the reactions to the government which has taken another big step away from democracy.