Issue #30-31, 2008
scene

The Map Conflict
Daria Ghiu

BB3, a concept biennial

BB3: The Map and the Territory

BB3. Being Here: Mapping the Contemporary. Between May 23 and June 21, the third edition of the Bucharest International Contemporary Art Biennale took place in Bucharest, in five exhibition spaces (The Geology Museum, Unicredit Pavillion on Titulescu Boulevard, Simeza Galleries, Orizont and Hanul cu Tei). On the very closing day, the organizers, Răzvan Ion and Eugen Rădescu issued a press release, a final report in which they talked about the unprecedented success of the present edition, the much more consistent media attention paid to it, the fact that the number of visitors doubled compared to the precedent edition, reaching 51,000 persons. An all too optimistic and easily questionable figure, if we consider the fact that the entrance was free – thus making it more difficult to control the visitors – and that there were four exhibiting spaces and a person has visited at least one of them. Besides, it’s hard to believe that there is such a large number of potential contemporary art visitors in today’s Bucharest and in Romania. This figure continues, on the other side, the statement of the Bucharest Biennale1 as part of a coherent plan which the two organizers pursue each time. We are talking about one of the BB missions, that of acquiring a “balanced status between the aesthetic/artistic quality and the popularity by determining the public to get beyond the feeling of estrangement towards modern art“, to transform Bucharest “into an artistic action field“ and to “encourage the public access to culture“ and “the dissemination of art“.

The visibility of the BB is incontestable – Răzvan Ion and Eugen Rădescu really invest in promotion and do rely on it; they are all too present and active in everything pertaining to the Romanian art world and its meeting places, be them real or virtual. The BB3 stickers had already invaded the city last autumn and they are still present, the BB web-site is highly professional (the final report also talks about some 30,000 site visitors from 73 countries, during the event) and it is amazing that, less than a month from the closing of the BB3, the home page of the BB has already presented a new chapter: BB4 – with a new concept, Handlung: About the Production of Possibili­ties and a curator, Felix Vogel, who, being just 23, will probably be the youngest curator in the international history of biennials.

The BB uses the instruments and the structure of a large scale event even in evaluating its results. By not taking into consideration the annoying “errors“, both the typos on the works’ labels and cata­logues and the management ones (doors which were closed many times at hours when they were supposed to be open), the BB is a well organized and planned event. Nevertheless, the Bucharest Biennale is still a small or a niche biennial. This doesn’t mean that the organizers don’t accomplish, little by little, what they had in mind. Reading about the BB3 and attending it, it clearly comes to the fore that the organizers attempt this continuous approach of the contemporary art public (by creating, for example, some focus-groups of high-school visitors and several events parallel to the exhibition itself, well thought of, but which unfortunately didn’t succeed in gathering a crowd, maintaining the appearance of an ever present and already monotone, familiar, simulated meeting of “us“ and “ours“), that they wish to be a structure meant to “break the cultural isolation“ (even by the very fact that the number of Romanian artists at the BB3 was quite small, only three, Lia Perjovschi, Cezar Lăzărescu and Adrian Matei) and to create a dialog between the local and the global, with a systematically formed public.

On the existing background, BB is still an event meant for very few. To be successful due to a contemporary art event or at least to succeed in acquiring a certain normalization in attending contemporary art in the society you place yourself in is an intricate and long formative process, and more so in an eastern space like Romania and Bucharest.

The BB raises its own public by “aerating“ with art and thus spacing not only an urban framework, but also a mental framework both crowded and hard to breathe in. The map intervenes into territory.

The Map As an “Intercept“: The Message is the Noise

The BB3 takes one step further. It places itself on a “still warmish“, passive artistic scene, as Răzvan Ion calls it in an interview2 taken, along with Eugen Rădescu, to the curators of this edition, the Swedish Jan-Erik Lundström and Johan Sjöström (the former, manager of BildMuseet in Umeå, a contemporary art and visual culture museum in Sweden, the latter, curator at the same museum). It commits, “it take over“ this space by the fact that every artistic project created here has social-political implications, that it uses the “energy“ and the eclecticism of Bucharest as an instrument (an energy of opposi­tions and disputes, at the level of the divided contemporary art scene of Bucharest), its “stormy history (or hysteria)” (Eugen Rădescu), by deciding that the BB3 topic should be mapping the contemporary.

Choosing the mapping of today’s world as a topic for a biennial which is still self-legitimating and, moreover, launched in a process of “alphabetizing“ the local contemporary public, which aims to “encourage the cartographic alphabetization“, as the curators defined at one point their action, means the inevitable alphabeti­zation which such an event should perform. That is because, trying to define the extensive territory of the biennials, we could say that these are mappings of the space which produces them, maps of the contemporary world, inter-maps of equally the present artistic, social and political life, intercepts of present societies. The biennials have the capacity to draw a society, to mark it, to define its present state of affairs. Or to choose mapping as a topic equals with the very legitimization of the process, as well as with the attempt to open widely the eyes of the uninformed public to a “policy of knowledge“ (“A very important aspect of BB3 is producing knowledge as a com­pre­hensive definition“, says Johan Sjöström during the same inter­view). The contemporary art biennials, thus incipiently BB3, “listen” to society and “put it in a message“. The concept of intercept, pro­posed by the young philosopher Mehdi Belhaj Kacem, refers to the very “rumour-like“, diffuse-auditory aspect which contemporary art implies when relating to reality.

Self-Mapping of the Art: The Meta-Biennial

It is interesting to notice the international background which this third edition of the Bucharest International Contemporary Art Biennale is set in. The second oldest biennial in the world after the Venice one, the São Paulo Biennale, which has reached the 28th edition and which is taking place this year, between October 26 and December 6, is taking a “break”3 in its normality and coherence for a moment of critique and self-reflection, it stops for a “meta-biennial“ edition. Ivo Mesquita and Ana Paula Cohen, this edition’s curators, trigger a mechanism meant to analyze the global phenomenon of the biennials, to revaluate its objectives and mistakes, starting from the two fundamental missions which Lourival Gomes Machado, the artistic director of the 1951 São Paulo Modern Art Museum Biennale, has pointed in the opening catalogue, using that hopeful and optimistic post-war rhetoric. The biennial has achieved its two major tasks, that of placing Brazilian modern art not in a mere domestic competition, but in a live contact with the world’s art and, at the same time, of positioning the city of São Paulo on the map of the world’s major art centres, since now it is a reference point on the globalized art scene. Mission accomplished.

An old biennial which in the 21st century becomes, as its curators state, “redundant in its local context and yet is unable to critique the globalized age in which it is inscribed“. The São Paulo Biennale case is emblematic for a pathological international state of this phenomenon. Recycling the topics, exhausting the artistic practices – a repetitive mechanism with “limited possibilities”, an “exhausted and triv­ial” model. At the same time, Ivo Mesquita discusses the issue of biennials competing with a more recent phenomenon, that of the art fair, and the disappearance of the border separating the two pheno­me­na: the exhibition space as a selling, commercial space is no longer specific to an art fair, but also to a biennial, which is currently undergoing the danger of becoming a “political and social alibi for the transnational capitalism”.

The text of the two curators of the São Paulo Biennale performs a critical excurs, in just a few pages, on the phenomenon of contemporary art globazization. Their radical gesture (leaving, among other things, an empty, suspended exhibition space, “The Void”, dedicated to the reflectinon on the contempoary art mutations) is meant to draw attention on all the other world biennials, to prompt them towards this “pause for reflection“ which can deliver still valable positions, an inevitable pause if we don’t want to witness, very soon, the total death of the phenomenon.

Instead of exhaustive visions on art and of a continuous, excessive imagistic presence, Ivo Mesquita advises biennials to produce “detailed cartographies” and to interrogate “the movements and transformations perceived in a pre-determined circuit, including its reverberations and echoes”. 

The Inter-Biennial: Between the Global Mapping Panopticism and the Lived Map

What does the BB3 do within this global context? How does it posi­tion itself? It follows exactly the wiser advice of the São Paulo Bien­nale through an extremely actual and comprehensive topic, maybe the most comprehensive for now, within an emergent space, unmapped (that is uncoded) yet, as the Romanian one is. The BB3 “manifest” seems to be a pure act of “interception”, looking like an intuitive act, emerging from a small, young biennial which didn’t have the time to give up its content, but which was born in an international context of exhaustion and a local one which, above all, still needs a demarca­tion, the establishing of the specific difference. It does not put forth a meta-biennial, but chooses mapping as the ultimate way of representation, as a “total significant“.

As it defined itself, BB3 whished to be “an exhibition, a project, a centre for resources and a manifest” (according to the curators’ text in Pavilion, vol. 1). This edition wasn’t very spectacular or, in other words, its spectacular was not at hand, immediate, but only perceptible after a thorough examination, which took much time and patience. The spectacular of the contemporary world, a world made out of charts and networks, a world reduced and highly simplified through different techniques and focusing on certain aspects. At the same time, it is a world infinitely reduplicated, arborescent, open, demountable, rhizomatic. It is the world map looked at exhaus­­tively and successfully exhausted: the BB3 has presented not only artists projects, but also complex maps created by organizations interested in various networks and relationships at a planetary level and massive world atlases. We can only abide on several projects, as their number is far too large, making the act of mapping a compulsive, excessive one.

From the World Metropolitan Atlas to the ample projects TheyRule.net (of the American interrelated leading structures) and hackitectura.net, to the air-ocean Dymaxion Map of the world, to Le Monde Diplomatique Atlas, focusing on social, political and cultural issues in differ­ent key-spots on earth, to the Prison Map, the Peters Projection, with the real dimensions of each continent measured not according to their position to the Equator, but using the same scale for each square metre of the map, or Atlas Linguarum Europae, the latter being familiar to all philologists.

Next to the map collection, the artist used the five exhibition spaces (themselves producing the map of a certain time and space of the capital city, on the North-South axis, from the most northern point, the Geology Museum, to the most southern one, Hanul cu Tei) in order to create their own mapping, which we can literally describe by using the paradigm of the artist cartographer or geographer, as Hal Foster calls it, and which Jean-Claude Moineau talks about at some point in his book Contre l’art global.4

The BB3 “inter-biennial“ places itself and thus places art between the global cartographic panopticism and the immediate, artistic sensorial maps produced through the organizing crossing of the spaces already historically organized. The latter are invented maps, mental spatial rearrangements, resulting from the creation of new topogra­phic instruments and the artists using that “topo-critical“ working manner5 which we have already met in a vast exhibition at Palais de Tokyo in 2003, GNS (Global Navigation System), curated by Nicolas Bourriaud and which raised, in a larger framework, the very question of mapping and the place it has in contemporary art through proj­ects of artists like Pierre Joseph, Matthew Ritchie or Kiersten Pieroth.

The Map, the Archive, the Collection

The already known project of Lia Perjovschi, Globe Collection Unlimi­ted, 1990 – Today, the collection of more than 1,500 objects of the form or inscribed with the image of the planet, strewn in the Geology Museum, transforms the visitor into the player of a performance without him being ready for it. Discovering the intruder-objects or those who end by being mistaken for the exhibits turns you into a detective, sometimes confuse, of the strangest contemporary forms. “My obsession with collecting and archiving is a desire to make history. It is a response to the lack and distortion of history“6, says Lia Perjovschi about the Globe Collection Unlimited, 1990 – Today in an interview taken by Kristina Stiles in October 2006, issued in an extra­ordinary book dedicated to Lia and Dan Perjovschi, States of Mind, Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, in 2007. Kristina Stiles writes about the same collection, grouping it along the Knowledge Museum, the Mind Maps and the ample CAA – a retrospective accom­plished on September 15 within the project Spațiul Public București | Public Art Bucharest 2007 – by saying that The Globe Collection “aesthetically models the way information can be collected, organized, and analyzed. In this way, Lia’s installation implicitly suggests how a more integrative, self-reflective life might be lived“, by creating, on the background of a capitalist society and a con­sumer’s culture, a collection “as a practice that responds to an individual’s actual needs, experiences, and goals“.7 The individual collecting and archiving thus appear as immediate solutions, respond­ing and resisting the apparent chaos of the contemporary world, yet strongly commercially-oriented, denouncing the abyss of collecting useless goods. Lia Perjovschi’s work is one of the few works to respond best to the “mapping“ asked for and desired by the BB3.

Ultimate Personal Maps: De-Cartography

Artistic maps belong to a very personal and subjective route. Mikael Lundberg creates Lifeline, five years in the life of the artist, followed day by day, captured with the help of a GPS, a route which becomes repetitive and monotonous, reduced to a scheme. Then it’s Mona Hatoum’s Bukhara, the Persian carpet identical to that in the child­hood, worn, moth-eaten exactly in the shape of the world, the Flesh Map of the American continent created by the artist Karlo-Andrei Ibarra, which raises the question of the Latin America post-colonialism and his place of origin, Puerto Rico, a space now associated with the United States, but with a “behaviour“ specific to the Latin America, the Memory World of Emma Key, as well as Romania being drawn on cheap pink toilet paper by Adrian Matei, hence “social hygiene“. There is also the extraordinary project of Lukas Einsele, One Step Beyond, a report on antipersonnel mines and its victims, an emotional study available at http://www.one-step-beyond.de.

The work of Renaud Auguste-Dormeuil, The Day Before_Star System, exhibited at the Orizont Gallery, is the image of the sky one day before the military bombing. Guernica, Hiroshima, Bagdad, New York. It’s not a drawing of a map or creating a new technique, but the photograph of the constellations, the photograph of calm, of the silence before – the sky as a victim, seen as a target for the attacker (it is along the same lines that the young Israeli artist Sagi Groner, who lives in Amsterdam, places himself with his latest project, Scale Tale, which was presented this year at Casino Luxembourg, in the Locked In exhibition, where he built exact models of the places destroyed by the bombings: the model not as something to come and which is still a project, but as something that has been and now it’s gone). Dormeuil’s sky is also the image seen by those who were about to die within a few hours, is the last image captured by the retina, that image which science is unsuccessfully trying to capture for so long, and which the French artist simply presents us with it. When the Earth is being invisibly mapped from the sky in order to be destroyed, the supreme, the ultimate map is that of the sky given back to the cosmos. The map as deterritorialization.

An Awaiting Biennial

The BB3 has unfolded maps of the contemporary world, investigat­ing the opposing multiplicity of the present mapping of the human. For art, the map is not calculation, but rhizom: “the map can be drawn on a wall, may be considered a work of art, may be built like a political action or a meditation“ (G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, Mille pla­teaux, Paris, Minuit, 1980, p. 20). BB3 leaves behind both a collection of critical texts built around the concept of map and of maps and artistic projects of mapping (visible in Pavilion, vols. 1–2), as well as another lesson of contemporary world alphabetization with regard to its new life conditions and its new existential condition­ings. A small, even “minimalist“ biennial, a concept-biennial, but a “trendy“ one, very attentive to the “voices“ of the present artistic thought. But, who knows, maybe the future of the biennials consists exactly in the “mini­malism“, in the cartographic dissemination and folding.

Translated by Alex Moldovan

Notes:
1. http://bucharestbiennale.org/old_ed/2007/ro/about.html
2. Interview published in the BB3 newspaper, also available online: http://bucharestbiennale.org/old_ed/2007/ro/bb3_newspaper.pdf.
3. http://bienalsaopaulo.globo.com/english/default.asp
4. Jean-Claude Moineau, Contre l’art global: Pour un art sans identité, Editions èRe, Maisons-Alfort, France.
5. Cosmin Costinaș, “Personal Plus-spaces and Infinite Geography”, about GNS (Global Navigation System), Palais de Tokyo (June 5 – September 7, 2003), IDEA arts + society, #15–16, 2003, p. 101.
6. Kristine Stiles, States of Mind: Dan & Lia Perjovschi, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, 2007, p. 177.
7. Ibid., p. 89.