The Russian art-activist group Voina (War) has been appointed to co-curate the 7th Berlin Biennale that will be held from April 27 to July 1, 2012. Artur Żmijewski who is the curator in charge, Voina, and Joanna Warsza from Warsaw, will work together to develop the concept and program of the 7th Berlin Biennale. This will be an unusual collaboration mainly because of the police trial, Voina ( Oleg Vorotnikov, Natasha Sokol and Leonid Nikolaev ) are unable to travel abroad.
Zmijewki has said that it is not expected that Voina will engage in conventional curatorial practice. Instead the group has been given a fee-hand to propose their contribution to the Biennale whether curatorial or artistic.
The decision to include Voina in the Biennale curatorial team is a gesture in support of Voina’s practice but by and large it will be art that examines social and political agendas. Zmijewski stated that he is aware that political art had been eclipsed under the pressures of market forces and the lure of neo-liberal funding. In September this year Zmijewki took part in the Auditorium Moscow, A Sketch for a Public Space”-a curatorial project which tried to map the challenges of contemporary artists as experienced in the very center of two cities: Moscow and Warsaw, and at the heart of it was the contradictions that these megapolicies posit.
During one of the roundtable discussions Zmijewski offered a sharp critique of the Chto Delat ( What it to be Done?) group and its deviation from a political agenda into the realm of art making, abandoning real actions for the practice of endless debates. With their recent high-budget film production the group has been admitted into a circle of well-wishers, curators and project managers. Previously, I myself have been critical of the work of Chto Delat group, questioning their artfulness and increasing exhibition success.’
Although their name What is to be Done ? is borrowed from Nikolay Chernyshevsky 1862 novel, the first answer I had is – ‘nothing is to be done’ at least not with the elaborate and cinematic ambitions that the group adopted as their political agenda. I argued with the WHW collective and their total approval of the group’s work during their curating of the 11th Istanbul Biennale.
In contrast, Zmijewski places a lot of hope on Voina as the last surviving outlet of political activism in Russia, which has not been included in mainstream art . Although these attempts have been made already by offering Voina an Innovation prize, Voina refuses to participate in institutional practices imposed from above. (The audio record of Zmijewski’s critical remarks has now been removed from the Auditorium Moscow website)
Zmijewski articulates his support of art as a service to the public and art that is an influential element of public opinion, in the pages of the leftist magazine Krytyka Polityczna, which he founded in 2008, and still edits.
There are several concerns the least of which is not Zmijewski’s goal to create an exhibition which presents political art from around the world. He issues an open call for art work based on its political focus, asking the artists to identify as, rightist, leftist, liberal, nationalist, anarchist, feminist, masculinist, or whether they are not interested in politics at all. In the discussion at Auditorium Moscow the curator mentioned that he has already approached some of the activists, inviting them to occupy the Berlin Biennale. In the context of the Biennale concept, which has outlived itself as a progressive format, the question may be asked as to whether or not Zmijewski is trying to squeeze political art into an institutional scheme while at the same time he claims that political art has been already corrupted by the institutional lure.
Meantime several art venues including the KW Institute for Contemporary Art are waiting to be filled with political art. One might hope that Zmijewski will scout the art which is sincere, and politically engaged.
The 6th Berlin Biennale was curated in six venues by Kathrin Rhomberg under the title “what is waiting out there”. The exhibition was reviewed as having an over extended theme. Its 7th edition might find a way to biennalize art under more critical umbrella