In September 2010, Christchurch’s SCAPE Biennial of Public Art was three weeks away from opening when the city was struck by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake, damaging the city and halting the sixth biennial. Half a world away, a biennial had been founded in New Orleans in 2006 precisely because of the catastrophe caused by Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing political and social debacle. In both places, two different concepts of what art can do in times of pressure and disaster are at work, but both instances raise questions about the role of art in extreme situations—whether caused by natural disasters, extreme political pressure, oppressive regimes or terrorist threats.
As Christchurch continues to come to terms with the series of massive seismic events five years ago, it will host the international symposium “Curating Under Pressure.” It was initiated by Leonhard Emmerling, Goethe-Institut, and Elke aus dem Moore, ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen), realized in partnership with Creative New Zealand and the University of Canterbury, and is supported by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany.
Bringing together a rich cohort of curators, artists and theorists, the symposium will focus on the audience and the ethics surrounding the biennial structure. Is there a responsibility towards the audience, and if so, how could it be described? What are art’s promises towards the audience? Does art have the power to heal trauma and to build resilience against hardship and disaster? Does art have the power to instigate change—political or social? And if not: What are the consequences for cultural producers, artists, curators and exhibition organizers?
Over four days, a variety of speakers will explore these questions via prepared presentations, panel discussions, guided tours, public gatherings, and loosely programmed encounters and conversations. The first day will contextualize the post-quake Christchurch situation as experienced by locals in relation to the city’s multiple histories. The second day explores other significant natural disasters, including those that have occurred in Japan and Indonesia, and the responses to these events in the artistic and wider communities. The third day addresses political pressure, asking—among other things—how biennials can avoid servitude to states and governmental organizations seeking cultural tools to conceal oppressive politics. On the final day we will seek a way forward: in close group discussions, participants will be asked to contribute to a working manifesto of curatorial ethics.
“Curating Under Pressure” is a free symposium that takes place in Christchurch, New Zealand between 5–8 November 2015.
For program details see www.curating-under-pressure.