The Beggar's Opera at the 4th Athens Biennale, AGORA . Source.
If you thought the Greek economic crisis had faded into irrelevancy, think again. Greece may not dominate headlines as it once did, but here, issues of value, capital and labor are fermenting, combusting, imploding, and reforming in ways that have international significance. The 4th Athens Biennale (AB4) has broached this reality head-on by installing a biennale in the old Athens Stock Exchange building that closed in 2007, and by taking as its title the word AGORA, which has come to mean "marketplace" in modern Greek, but which, in ancient times, referred to a gathering space that had overlapping social, commercial, and political uses. In order to create a space of true and viable exchange in a building once defined by power imbalance and manipulation, the biennale was organized according to a radical system. Instead of a single curator, the exhibition was organized by some forty people who responded to an open call put out only six months ago. The result is an electrifying example of networked culture in practice; of collective action enacted within what is arguably still an institutional frame of the art world itself, an agora. To get a deeper understanding of AB4's aims, and to learn how this all worked in practice, I caught up with Poka Yio via email after visiting the exhibition during the opening days. An artist himself, Yio is co-founder of the Athens Biennale along with Xenia Kalpatsoglou and Augustinos Zenakos, and a co-curator of the current biennale.
Stephanie Bailey: Can you talk about how the 4th Athens Biennale was organized in only six months, and through an open call inviting not one, but many curators?
Poka Yio: When asked what, in our opinion, a biennale is, our answer is: "an X-ray of today." But what is today? In the past, the two-year period was perfect to put together such a big endeavor as a biennale, but this has changed dramatically. Now we are witnessing an unprecedented acceleration of history, and creators, theorists and all sorts of analysts fail more and more to grasp it. The financial analysts have failed to overcome the crash, the political theorists have failed to arm us with the political means to withstand the social pressure without the loss of civic and human rights, and art fails to present "today" in its meta-language.
In the summer of 2013, Studio for Propositional Cinema (SPC) launched itself during the Kunstverein Düsseldorf's congress "Proposals and Propositions" with a talk by Hans-Jürgen Hafner, the director of the Kunstverein, which was theatrically disrupted by an audience member planted by SPC. The project with the Kunstverein continued with regular presentations and events throughout a three month period, which included an exhibition, a performance, a reading, a screening, a poster project, and so on, each taking place at a different type of venue. The project included collaborations with a range of cultural producers, including Henning Fehr & Philipp Rühr, Aaron Peck, Calla Henkel & Max Pitegoff, Pablo Larios, Dena Yago, and Rachel Rose.
This interview seeks to understand the intentions the SPC have for cinema in the 21st Century, taking into account cinema’s contemporary and historical modes of production and dissemination.
SB: What is the SPC's form and function?
SPC: We are a structure for generating images and language, and act as a functionary of that structure. One of our primary functions is to ensure that the structure remains formless.
We exist in order to find new ways to research, to produce, to disseminate. Within our cultural context, all forms of cultural production come with a set of traditions and accepted orthodoxies that function as models for the territory or language in which it is considered viable to function. We formed out of dissatisfaction with these impositions. We attempt to function just enough outside of the model to see which and how many aspects of the model we can remove, destroy, or rearrange while still viably, or at least arguably, working within the form of cinema, since it is our purported form of cultural engagement at the moment. Since our primary starting point comes from a notion of a disassembled cinema, we consider every element within the cinematic apparatus as simultaneously expendable and expandable.
Tim Ivison, Julia Tcharfas, George Moustakas and Rachel Pimm. View of Recent Work by Artists (2013).
Auto Italia South East is no stranger to precarity. The inaugural event for this artist-run project’s new space located on York Way in King’s Cross was a conference titled "Immaterial Labour Isn't Working" (20th April—12th May 2013, organized in collaboration with Huw Lemmey), which built on and extended a growing international discourse surrounding art and labor. The title was suggestively open-ended. It could be taken to mean that immaterial labor—the post-Fordist condition in which work is based on knowledge, and may not even be recognizable as work in a traditional sense—leads to untenable and precarious situations for workers. Or, it could be taken to mean that immaterial labor isn't work at all, because it is so close to leisure.