Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Biennal Mardi Gras

Does New Orleans need a Biennal?
There are alot of possible pros and cons for an event like this in our city.
One might question who benefits from something like this, and how.
Does this event improve our public schools or our murder rate? Can a contemporary art that denies its social responsibility have a positive effect in a city that's desperate for social responsibility?

On the flip side, much radical and contemporary art has been made in this city, and it's under the art world's radar. Could a biennal change that?

We live in New Orleans becaue it has a certain quality of insulation to it, like it or not. it's not NY, Los Angeles, Miami or Venice. Will the work of the art industry, in attempting to put N.O. on the comtemporary art world map, a la the above cities, change the character of the city in such a way that those making art here now will want to leave?

There's much to discuss about this. The art industry community has actively set their sights on New Orleans as a location for a biennal. I am curious as to how the artists and arts administrators feel - whether or not this may help them, short term or long term.
What exactly is the goal / hope for an event of this nature being held in N.O. and why specifically N.O.?


-Master of Disaster, guest moderator


c.e. said...

I think it would be a huge oversight to leave out an art / activism component in a biennial set in New Orleans. However, the goal of these events is to sell art, right? does activist art mesh with sales? sometimes it does.

Why we are the bulls eye is interesting. will it be cheaper here? is it the "poor folks they need the tourism" response?
no matter why, I think it would bring alot of attention to the city and could be leveraged by local artists, whether or not there is official participation. for instance, spin-off events are common in biennial cities and could maybe work here as well.

Example: Harrell Fletcher, when asked to be in the Whitney Biennial, responded by doing a publication free and available at the show of other artists' work he liked. of course all his work is like that. but it's a good example of working inside and outside at the same time.

Tim Best said...

Is it socially responsible to keep a biennial from coming to New Orleans? A Biennial would bring a lot of attention and other benefits to the city. A biennial can offer some things that a regular conference cannot. It brings dialogue among the art world as a whole, ideas, it presents its location as a center for culture. These would be positive influences. On the other hand, keeping outside influences out, we keep inside influences sheltered and protected, thus change, especially social change, becomes impossible.

Inclusion of local artists in the biennial would be crucial to show that New Orleans is a place that nurtures new ideas. I agree that we are not a NYC, Miami, Los Angeles, or Venice. We have a unique history that our culture has formed over centuries. Because we are our own city puts us in a unique position to show people to look beyond the major metropolitan areas for ideas and perspectives.

Anonymous said...

I think a Biennal is going to be great here! The opportunity for inspiration, collaboration, and a huge variety of off-shoot projects is immense. I only wonder at the competing arts organizations various plans for "a Biennal" - could it be they're suffering from the N'Orleans malaise that plagues our bueracrats - ie: competition, lack of communication, cronyism? I'm curious how the Arts Council -v- Louisiana ArtWorks -v- the CAC will get it all together. I am however much more curious about how to get Louise Bourgoise down to Mimi's for some tapas and champagne.

Anonymous said...

What is the possible argument AGAINST a biennial in New Orleans? If ANY art EVER done in New Orleans had EVER solved any social problems, there would be no poverty and great schools here now. Art does not solve large scale social problems. That is a fantasy of narcissistic artists looking for relevancy and meaning.

ARTinACTION said...

As a human being I bristle at this banal insistence on absolutes, as an artist I can't help but be amazed by the lack of imagination of such absolutes, and as an activist I am appalled by the naivite of this attitude.

Why does art have to be "gigantic"? Why does its influence have to be completely huge in order for it to be considered valid? ie: if it were possible for art to affect social issues than New Orleans would have great schools blah blah blah. Though this statement somehow reinforces the argument that "art can be meaningful and change things" ie: the utter and consistent LACK of it in New Orleans is why the school system is so criminal. But I digress.

I believe in the intimate possibilities that exist in small moments of openness and expression. As an artist who has done a great deal of work "in the field", volunteering to teach art workshops to the disenfranchised, and basically going out into the world with the attitude that THE CREATIVE PROCESS is bigger than any individual, I can PERSONALLY vouch for "art's" capacity to have meaning beyond an egotistical one and to address and influence social issues. Like a rock thrown in a lake, the ripples are inevitable, sometimes private, and felt in some way some how. Why isn't it possible for those "ripples" to be felt in an empowering, energizing, connective way? I know that it is. I have countless stories of actual examples of this being true.

If the only way that art can "function" is on a grand scale, as a description of the world versus an actual engagement with the world, than it has become the very epitome of narcissism. I assume that your fierce rejection of the idea that art can function in ways other than this is your attempt at trying to keep art "free" - "free" of the responsibilities of responsibility. But sadly it paints a picture of the world and of what is possible with ANYTHING, much less art, that is narrow and possessive. Do you own the rights to the definition of art? Do you have the final say on who is and isn’t an artist? (That would be a hilarious commentary on the state of the contemporary art world - trademarking the word "art".)

I don't disagree that there is "huge" art in the world, mammoth prints and sculptures, art stars, and loads of dough to be made off of people painting paintings and making videos etc. Fine, I don't suggest that should end - and lord knows I've gotten some great pleasure from standing in front of a Franz Kline, a Damien Hirst, etc. But I also KNOW that there is much more to art than that, that it doesn't have to be a razzmatazz showstopper in order to touch someone, and that this is not a new experience or idea. You want to tell me that not one young African American child of the 60's reading Langston Hughes did not become inspired to dream big, to feel recognized and hence emboldened? Or that the women artists of the 70's making fierce political statements about gender and the canon didn't act as an epiphany for some girl in San Diego who up until that time didn't think "women could make art"? That an installation of surprising artwork in the wasteland of Chalmette or Gentilly or Lakeview etc doesn’t have the capacity to affect someone on a personal level to the point where they feel less alone and thereby have a small uptick in their energy for fighting the LRA, FEMA, and thugs killing off their friends? If it weren’t possible I wouldn’t be able to envision it. Not that I’m some kind of visionary – rather, I have concrete faith in my ability to make my vision a concrete reality. Don’t you consider the radical pleasure that can be gotten from just “giving it away”, from one on one conversation with someone witnessing your process who might not be an artist but who certainly can activate what they see you doing in their efforts to keep on living, from playing with your talents the way you did when you were a kid, of believing that sometimes people actually can make a difference? (And frankly, New Orleans is the perfect example of how people can make a difference – if only from the most cynical perspective remembering and living with how the LACK of people “makes a difference”.) Or has the world become so “real” to you that “meaning” can’t be fucked with/made anymore?

See I’m not so convinced that art and artists are special, are that different than, say, bus drivers with the service they provide, or teachers, therapists, mothers, cops, hobos, criminals, yogis, etc. It didn’t take me long on this planet to figure out that every action has a reaction, that every intention creates a reality. How is art/art making different than that? Honestly, how can it exist separate from every physical, biological, and spiritual “law”? More important to ask: why should it? It’s sad to me that to even talk this way is suspect in the contemporary art world. It’s sad to me that in a world on fire, flooding, starving, bombing, gossiping, competing, wrestling, cruel and hateful, that our culture is still so wrapped up in the ideology of “the individual” and the “separation between mind and body” that it’s impossible to consider that maybe, just maybe, we’re connected. And that what we do with our lives, be it sculpt or cut lawns, has value. And that we are responsible for our world, and compassionate, and brave. Why maintain the same old dusty bloody - dare I say it? - patriarchial constructions of how we determine value and how we justify our actions? I don’t see much good coming from that. I certainly don’t see how that’s going to “save New Orleans”. It’s boring and it’s obvious. Aren’t artists supposed to be renegades?

“You” might want to keep the world and subsequently art in tidy compartments where things do only as "you" insist (mind you I am wholly aware that you speak for hundreds if not thousands of grad students and arts administrators and the “you” I use is general) but I guarantee that's a recipe for nothing but a defensive P.O.V. and, in the cold hard light of day (somewhere in Canada where it's cold), you will be disappointed – if not by the sheer virtue of your having been wrong about something so utterly crucial than by the fact that you missed so many opportunities to experience life on a deeper more magical level than the one you are now.

(And though I am logged in as “ArtInAction” I am writing this comment solely as “Elizabeth Underwood”. I can’t presume that everyone who participates in AiA feels the same way that I do – however I am not the least bit embarrassed that I do.)

ARTinACTION said...

I would also like to add/assert/communicate (there's more?!?) that work that is "big/grand" made by "art stars", ie: work that came out of the mythology of the artist as a radical autonmous being (pretty much everything in the Western canon) ALSO has the capacity to "affect social change". How do I know? Because my life is proof of it - the work of tons of major artists deeply entrenched in the art industry has moved me, affected me, inspired me, saved my life, literally. It happens - connection, inspiration, support, change - all the time.

I don't speak/feel about "art" the way that I do as an academic, I speak and feel it as someone who would not be here on this planet without the intervention that art and the creative process performed on my own life. If I weren't so personally convinced and motivated, I wouldn't be able to stay passionate about the work that I strive to do. There's too many people telling me it's invalid, there's so many sacrifices, and very real dangers - my point being that these ideas aren't ideas, they're ethics that grow out of experience. And I'm not unique or alone in this.


Anonymous said...

It seems to me that nobody has addressed the questions asked here. It's like people are responding to a hard honest critical questioning in a defensive way. These are good questions and maybe that's why they're frightening. I don't know. I do know they are complex and haven't gotten the response they deserve.

But I am going to think about them, particularly the comment regarding the effectiveness of art that doesn't consider its effect on the world. It makes me wonder, what's the point? Not nihilisticly way but angrily, thinking I want to burn their "art" up.