Accepted Paper:

Contemporary Art Biennials as Ethnographic Sites: Value, Activism and Politics in Large Scale Exhibitions  

Author:

Panos Kompatsiaris (Higher School of Economics, Moscow)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation examines the art biennial as an ethnographic site, looking at how the in-built tensions between the domains of art and politics take shape when spectacular displays attempt to operate as immediate activist sites.

Paper long abstract:

Contemporary art biennials are at the forefront of a process of claiming a new socially relevant role for art within our societies. They are sites of status, novelty and experimentation, where the category of art is meant to be rearranged and redefined by opening itself to the world and its contradictions; to the world of politics and critical theory; to the world of business and creative branding; to the world of flexible labour and urban renewal; to the world of left-wing activism and social intervention. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork from recent biennials across Europe, this presentation examines the art biennial as an ethnographic site, looking at how the in-built tensions between the domains of art and politics take shape when spectacular displays attempt to operate as immediate activist sites. It explores how biennials attempt to reconcile the destructive and elitist ethos of avant-gardism with the pacifying and popular taste of the general public, asking the following questions: What does it mean for a biennial to mobilise political energies and for whom are these energies mobilised? How are these two spheres of action - art and politics - entangled, layered and performed by biennials and their participants? What do the in-built tensions of this conjunction say about the trajectories of the historically conditioned category of art and the contemporary biennial as its key contemporary articulation? What are the forms and affects that this category releases to the world through the institutions that represent it?

Panel P079
For an anthropology of the art world: Exploring institutions, actors and art works between circulation and territorialisation processes