artistic director of the Biennial of Moving Images
(Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement)
Andrea Bellini (b. 1971) is an Italian curator and contemporary art critic based in Geneva, Switzerland. Since 2012, he has been director of the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, and artistic director of the Biennial of Moving Images (Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement) in Geneva. Between 2007 and 2009, he worked as a curatorial advisor at MoMA PS1, and from 2009 to 2012, he was co-director of the Castello di Rivoli with Beatrice Merz.
In 2014, with the support of the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, where he works at the moment, and with curatorial help of Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Yann Chateigné, he proposed a new format for the Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement in Geneva, a biennial that started from a workshop in 1985 and has grown ever since to become the only biennial of its kind in Europe.
1. What was your motivation to work on a biennial? What was your position/task?
When I arrived in Geneva in late 2012, I was asked to re-think the city’s Biennial of Moving Images (BIM). The Biennial was founded by André Iten in 1985, during a workshop with artists Silvie and Chérif Defraoui. It was initially called International Video Week and was one of the first events of this kind in Europe. For over 30 years, the BIM represented a very important platform for video art, especially during the ‘80s and the ‘90s, when it was not so easy to actually watch artists’ videos and experimental films. The situation changed gradually over the last 15 years with the development of new technologies and the growing interest of the art world toward this medium. Today, we can see moving images everywhere, using low-budget personal devices like computers, smartphones, etc. I told myself it would have been anachronistic to ask an international audience to come to Geneva just to see existing artworks they could actually see everywhere, even at home. That’s why I decided to focus on production, providing a budget for every artist, filmmaker, or performer, in order to create a new piece. In this sense our Biennial is a sort of strange hybrid: it’s an exhibition, a production platform, a film festival, and also a sort of happening with performances and live concerts.
2. How can you describe the model of the biennial you worked for, also compared to other biennials?
Our biennial model is pretty different from any other. We commission and produce all the artworks we present. We do not show existing artworks in order to illustrate the curators’ concept, as it happens for almost all the others biennials around the world. We focus on the artworks, on their production, on their creation, on their diffusion.
3. What goals/wishes are connected with your biennials? What should be achieved? What were your personal goals?
We really try to consider the artwork as the ultimate goal of all our efforts. In this sense, the relationship with the artists is quintessential for us. Let’s say that if other biennials exist thanks to the artworks they show, in our case more than 20 new artworks exist (every two years) thanks to the biennial we organize. It’s really an opposite dynamic in a certain sense. Even if new productions are the core concept of our biennial, we also make an effort to give every edition a particular taste. For example, the next one (due to open on November 8, 2018)—which I’m co-curating with Andrea Lissoni, senior curator of film and international art at Tate Modern—it will focus on the installation aspect, so we’ll try to create an immersive environment where the moving image will be projected everywhere, except on screens!
4. Biennials have proliferated as the art world has scaled in size and global reach in recent decades; however, very little information exists about the exact number, geographical reach, and funding and governance structures of these arts organizations. Can we compare biennials at all?
I guess we can compare everything. At the same time, I think we should resist the temptation to affirm that there’s a model that’s better than any other one. There’s enough space to explore different ideas and directions.
5. Biennials provide a point of convergence for the art world, expose large audiences to art (and other disciplines and mediums), and catalyze interest in cities and regions with global aspirations. Do biennials necessarily have a positive social and economic impact?
Yes, in different degrees; that’s why we’ve been witnessing the explosion of biennials everywhere. Of course, very few of them are interesting enough to participate in what we could call the “public debate around contemporary art.” But this is fine as well: every biennial is also a mirror of one particular geographical and cultural place, so even if some of them might seem less interesting than others, very often they end up having an important role in any case.
6. Can you talk about the funding processes and sources? How do you think this might affect the biennial? Does it affect it at all?
For sure, it affects it. Having a good budget is always good, especially for those—like us—who produce artworks. It’s also true that we are a relatively low-budget biennial, like the one in Berlin, and those are usually more interesting and prestigious than other blockbuster biennials. Then you have also the case of the Venice Biennale—that’s a very low-budget one, but it continues to be prestigious because of its history, because of the city, because of its structure (with the National Pavilions), because of its glamour. Even if the Venice Biennale is not always a relevant event, culturally speaking I mean.
7. What sort of curatorial, institutional, or technological innovations can help ensure the vibrancy and relevance of biennials going forward?
Well, I guess you need many things. The most important one is a vision and a group of people able to pursue ambitious goals.