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by Eva González-Sancho Bodero and Per Gunnar Eeg-Tverbakk


Could you please describe the driving thought behind the biennial you are involved in?
The main idea has been for us to set up a structure that would help artists work in public space, which is to say, to rethink the biennial format. This new structure considers the specificities of public space, which are very different from the indoor exhibition space. A new framework that could encompass art production and display within the unprotected public space, vulnerable per se, and variable, very unstable in terms of reception and projection, meaning, experience, ownership, authorship, and many other parameters. These are always much more clearly defined in the indoor spaces that usually host artworks, ideas, and discourses (the museum or any other art space fulfilling the pre-established conventions in terms of art, artists, and audiences). A second parameter, closely linked to the first, was to consider and respond to the temporalities of public space, which is not the same as indoor exhibition time. When it comes to outdoor public space, time affects the context in which the art object must operate (whether tangible or immaterial). Thirdly, we did not want to make a biennial in public space that operates as a commissioning regime or as an overflow of an indoor exhibition space; nor did we accept the idea of a biennial in public space as the production of objects and situations to embellish or furnish the city’s physical public space.

Within these parameters, and in response to the original brief to envision a new biennial in public space, we came up with a structural proposal: a biennial lasting for five years with artistic processes (stretching out in time or claiming ongoingness) and works that adopt different life cycles, tempos, and rhythms. The proposal was structured through four main ventures that aimed to respond as well as possible to the life spans of the work of art, which could be episodic, cyclical, or recurring, or changing gradually alongside the unforeseeable shifts and events of public space. As Rosalyn Deutsche has stated: “Social space is produced and structured by conflicts.”[1] And public space is indeed a space of conflict, and not the space of consensus that we are sometimes led to believe. The question is how to apprehend dispute, contest, unpredictability, instability, vulnerability—and the temporalities these imply, the temporalities of public space—within a biennial’s art production and display machinery?

Our curatorial proposal was therefore organized around four pillars associated with art production, public outreach, institutional collaboration, and art collecting, which have been named respectively: Art Production within a Locality, Addressing the Myriad, New Institutional Ecologies, and A Collection for the Passer-by. This biennial platform is for us constantly in negotiation, partly because it is not easy for curators to build structures, and partly because we need to adapt and reset conditions repeatedly in order to maintain the flexibility and freedom that our project and each of its initiatives demand.

Could you please discuss the following shifts: politicization and depoliticization, de- and re-centering of the West, the art-theory interface, and mediation strategies.
Many of the projects have played out in local communities or broader fields. This is the case of Rose Hammer,[2] an artistic persona comprised of a changing group of individuals, who are building and performing a series of short theatrical pieces inspired by pivotal moments in the history of Norway.[3] Rose Hammer deals with the re-reading of history by revisiting certain of its chapters in ways that make it possible to reconsider how those narratives impact and project in the present, and so contemplate the relations between trauma and history. These are pieces made for Oslo and Norway, but not exclusively. They inscribe their impact and effects in a wider geography and broader awareness of history.

Mette Edvardsen’s project Time Has Fallen Asleep in the Afternoon Sunshine[4] is another example of interaction with audience members drawn from diverse communities, and an example of how some of the projects navigate the fields of history, performance, literature, theatre…but also public outreach and communication. This lends a particular status to many of the works, one that seems to resist categorization and affirms their diffusion in time and space, being ephemeral, quiet, and lasting at the same time. But these works did not arise from ideas about mediation strategies. Rather, they form a compendium of possible encounters that we felt the biennial must address: with unknown, indefinable audiences of random passers-by in public space rather than the constituted, countable, and knowable audiences of the conventional exhibition context.

Which curatorial formats are necessary to propose a space of radical democracy?
The possibility of spaces of democracy are partly determined by context. Of course, there are formats that can—in many contexts—push the boundaries of artistic expression, which we as curators have fostered at times (the comic as a platform for free(r) speech, publishing texts of undeclared authorship, anonymous production despite public funding, and so on), but when it comes to the public sphere, the potential space for radical democracy will depend on the approach to each specific context.

In our case, we are not working in a space of consensus, but very precisely in a terrain marked by differences whose resistance to consensus must be acknowledged and indeed embraced. It is expected, or desired (it remains to be seen if this is achievable) that our biennial format offers extra ground for antagonism, discussion, and ongoing re-negotiation both externally (others: free agents, unforeseen events, shifting contexts, known and unknown audiences) and internally (the self: ourselves, artists, our agency, collaborative partners). Within most Western democratic societies, the public sphere is erected through disagreement and struggle as an unstable space between people and collectives in conflict with each other. In these contexts, the public sphere is—and should be—an open space that cannot be hegemonized. If this was the case, it would no longer be a public sphere. Within this setting, time might be seen as an ‘external agent’ that prevents hegemonization. Oliver Marchart has analyzed the dialectics of place and time in political theory, which was of particular interest to us during the pilot that preceded the Biennial and has remained very pertinent to osloBIENNALEN First Edition 2019-2024.[5]

How do formats reflect/interrelate content (in your biennial)?
OsloBIENNALEN First Edition 2019-2024 proposes the curation of an institution (namely osloBIENNALEN) that has set out to foster, support, and facilitate art production in public space, and in particular those practices (immaterial proposals: performance, theatre, music, sound...) that have always been part of the arts and that constitute cultural input in the social and political space of the city (and originated in the early avant-gardes with the Dadaists, Surrealists, and later on Fluxus, etc.), but which are difficult to produce, promote, or even collect. So, practices that diffuse into the city fabric and into public space, the collective public sphere, and collective memory.

A structural project is not an easy task. Often, we do not have all the information we need; we depend on and are part of a much bigger administrative organization, and we have to constantly demarcate and claim the flexibility we need within a pre-existing structure, which is often an antagonistic struggle. We once titled a curatorial text Upholding Variability because it is precisely this impossible ambition that we want to achieve.

More than half of the content of the biennial is immaterial. It is made up of situations that most of the time cannot be completely choreographed or repeated with 100% reliability. We deliberately avoid the urge to control and ensure a tangible result, which are the typical concerns of the art commissioner.

The format we are setting up must allow for this element of unpredictability; the artists chosen and works produced feed off and feed the production framework we are attempting to implement. There is indeed a correlation between format and content. Public space is not exclusively the physical public space of the city; it extends into social media, television, press, radio… These are some of the other means of production that the biennial is adopting by setting up a radio unit and a film production unit.

There is another shared characteristic among the works in the ways that many of them are developing and growing, which is inextricably embedded in ideas of collectivity and therefore co-authorship, co-production, and co-ownership.

Eva González-Sancho Bodero is a curator with a special interest in definitions of new models of contemporary art and its production, the construction of public space, language, and art practices defined as ‘non-authoritarian.’

Per Gunnar Eeg-Tverbakk is a curator interested in developing art projects in public space, creating connections and close encounters with other social systems and discourses, external to the art world itself.


[1] Rosalyn Deutsche, Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics (Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press 1996), xxiv.

[2] Although not exclusively, the name “Rose Hammer” may refer to a) the hammer inscribed on Henrik Ibsen’s grave monument in Oslo; b) the former emblem of the Norwegian labor movement; c) the famous quote attributed to Bertolt Brecht: “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it”; d) the rose symbol that became popular among socialist and social democratic political parties in post-World War II Western Europe.

[3] National Episodes: “Grini and the Futures of Norway” was the first episode. It was based on the historical meetings that took place at the Grini prison camp during World War II.

[4] In Mette Edvardsen’s Time Has Fallen Asleep in the Afternoon Sunshine — A Library of Living Books, a group of performers have each memorized a book they themselves have chosen. Together, they make up a library of living books, which members of the public can experience in one-to-one situations. osloBIENNALEN presents a selection of ‘books’ from the collection.

[5] osloBIENNALEN First Edition 2019-2024 was preceded by OSLO PILOT, a two-year project (2015-2016) investigating the role of art in and for the public realm. It sought to lay the groundwork for a future periodic art event in public space. OSLO PILOT’s programme was aimed at exploring the intersecting temporalities of the artwork, the periodic art event, and the public sphere. More information can be found at: https://archive.oslopilot.no/oslo-pilot/about-oslo-pilot/.

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Issue 46 / June 2020

Contemporary Art Biennales – Our Hegemonic Machines in Times of Emergency

by Ronald Kolb, Shwetal A. Patel, Dorothee Richter

by Daniel Knorr

by Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv

by Delia Popa

by Diana Dulgheru

by Daniel Knorr

by Farid Rakun

by Raqs Media Collective

by Defne Ayas and Natasha Ginwala

by Ekaterina Degot

by Yung Ma

by Eva González-Sancho Bodero and Per Gunnar Eeg-Tverbakk

by Raluca Voinea

by Răzvan Ion

by Daniel Knorr

by Lara van Meeteren and Bart Wissink

by Raqs Media Collective

by Robert E. D’Souza

By Manifesta 12 Creative Mediators: Bregtje van der Haak, Andrés Jaque, Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, Mirjam Varadinis

WHW in conversation with Omar Kholeif

by Henk Slager

by Vasyl Cherepanyn

by Ksenija Orelj

by Catherine David

by Okwui Enwezor

by Sabeth Buchmann and Ilse Lafer

by Julia Bethwaite and Anni Kangas

by Federica Martini

by Vittoria Martini