1st Antarctic Biennale of Contemporary Art
Mobilis in mobile
Initiated by Nadim Samman, a curator at TBA-21 in Vienna, and Russian artist Alexander Ponomarev, it will be first major contemporary art showcase on the remote continent.
Antarctica is the last continent of freedom. Under the 1959 international treaty it belongs to no state and is intended exclusively for creativity ‘in the interests of the entire mankind’. Antarctica (from the Greek antarktikos, opposite) is pure, hard-of-access and enigmatic like art itself! this white continent is like a white sheet of paper on which artists of different lands and nationalities will try to write new rules of cooperation.
Head-over-heels Biennale “Mobilis in mobile” (Motto of Captain Nemo and his Nautilus)
The Biennale is to be held aboard research ships Akademik ioffe and Akademik sergey Vavilov of the russian Academy of sciences. These expedition ships are well-suited for sailing southern latitudes and are capable of comfortably accommodating the Biennale team.
The Biennale activities will take place during the voyage from the port of Ushuaia (Argentina) to the falkland islands, south Georgia and on through the Drake passage, when the expedition arrives to the Antarctic continent and goes ashore in the area of the Antarctic peninsula. During these landings the artists participating in the project, jointly with the support group, will make objects, installations, performances and stage actions. Their constructs are to be portable, designed to withstand weather conditions, to cause no hazard to the environment and to be dismantled by the end of the stopover. Every landing is to be documented in detail with the help of cameras and camcorders. Several laboratories, including photo, graphic and video, as well as a discussion club will function onboard during the voyage.
The expedition may have from 50 to 100 members. the artists are to account for nearly one half of the expedition, with the other half to consist of organisers, the technical support group, critics and reporters, as well as guests of honour to be represented by sponsors, museum workers and collectors.
A filming crew will shoot a documentary. After the journey several exhibitions are to be staged at Russian and European museums. In advance the ships will cruise from Kaliningrad, their port of registration, calling at a european port to take onboard elements of artistic structures and special equipment. Next the ships will head for Argentina (if wish be some participants may cross the ocean). The main group is to come to Ushuaia by plane and to board the ships there.
Biennale activities are to last from 12 to 15 days. Depending on expedition goals and weather conditions, the ports of calls are subject to change.
The ultimate antipode, where all longitudes lead: Where south cannot be found on a compass – its needle unsteady like a sailor in the wind. The frozen end of the world and the outermost reach of geographical thought. The very end of it all.
The last continent is not somewhere one associates with contemporary art. Doesn’t the latter term ring sweaty when mentioned in the same breath as the Ross Ice Shelf? Something other than miles separates our art world from the polar one. We who walk the baking flagstones of San Marco, who press flesh at the prosecco intermezzo – where chatter flits from the surface of the artwork to the decoration of the palazzo and the cut of dresses – we are very far removed. Perhaps this is a good thing. Antarctica is a place that does not forgive hubris easily; a place where people sometimes eat their boots to avoid starving. How was your canapé?
A Polar region. But a polar opposite? There is a city whose name recalls Murder and Chicken Nuggets. McMurdo: Where a soft-serve ice cream machine dispenses every day from ten oclock – the vanilla-swirl stain on a continent frozen to its very core.
Antarctica – no ring for it on the Olympic flag and no pavilion in the Giardini. The only continent without a biennale. Has its art history been written? It is only a matter of time. Literary anthologies and post-colonial criticism of explorers’ tales already exist, and sketches of icebergs have been made down below since 1895. Since then the depictions have kept coming, heroic dilettantes replaced by debentured creators funded by government committees.
We have a better hypothesis: ‘a biennale upside-down’. The idea is more ambitious than the strategy of ‘embedded’ artistic practice that dominates the short history of Antarctic enterprise. It is also independent, so artists will be able to explore creative terrain further afield than the hegemonic issues of imperial conquest and ecology. Despite geopolitical overdeterminations – just in terms of sense – the southern realm provides an unparalleled counterpoint to the rest of the world inhabited by humans. What will artists find there? The sublime, perhaps. But there is more to discover. What will a hundred artists who travel there on two icebreakers have to say? What will they teach the scientists based there who, presently, set the interpretive agenda?
But every two years? Who will go? Do we really have the resources? And even if we do, isn’t our plan just another assault on the last great wilderness? Fear not. Ours is a topsy-turvy biennale – so perhaps we will only go once. That said, Antarctica’s ice caps are melting, and as they become liquid venice will most certainly sink. In this case, people will find time in their diaries.