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by Shwetal A. Patel

“How to Biennale! The Manual” (2018)

How to Biennale! The Manual (2018)

In 2017, I began developing a set of critical tools based on my doctoral research at the Winchester School of Art (University of Southampton), and in particular their weeklong residency at the Tate Exchange[1] (Tate Modern) in 2018.

The impetus for the research stemmed from the fact that, to date, very few practical and user-friendly guides to making and sustaining non-profit arts platforms exist in the field, both in academic and popular literature. Although several high-quality publications, websites, and journals exist in the academic and policy domain, very little is accessible to non-specialist readers. The aim was therefore to fill this perceived lacuna in the literature around biennials and other types of large-scale exhibition platforms.

Front page & back cover


‘How to Build an Art Biennale’ at Tate Exchange (2018)

As part of the Tate Exchange programme, Winchester School of Art occupied an entire gallery for a week of participatory events and workshops, including How to Build an Art Biennale. In conceptualising one of the days of the residency, lead curator Dr. Sunil Manghani, the then head of the school, Dr. Robert E. D’Souza, and I began discussing the creation of an easily accessible guide (or manual) to “making and sustaining art events” like biennials, in the 21st century.

Taking a cue from 1980s artist collective and pop band KLF’s The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way) (1988), we developed the concept for How to Biennale! (The Manual). Conceived as a research and knowledge exchange opportunity, the primary aim of the manual was to crystallise the field into a helpful and accessible “guide” for both professional and novices.

Overall, the manual proposes that, whether you have been engaged in real-life art projects, biennials, and other such initiatives—  even imaginary ones— the underlying need and urgency to biennial (as a verb) is born out of a desire and passion to engender deeper political and cultural needs that can make a difference to society.

As a part of this research framework, WSA faculty and I organised a one-day conference at Tate Exchange that included a series of workshops examining key aspects of the publication. Invited experts and researchers convened to discuss, dissect, and contribute to the draft publication, with the intention that the editors would use these inputs and suggestions in the final publication. The title and focus of the workshop reflected Tate Exchange’s theme of “production”, and WSA drew inspiration from the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and its “productionist,” “artist-led” values and ethos. Staff and students from WSA were invited “to explore the production of art within social conditions examining what underlies the art biennial format, the framing of contemporary art, its labour, and viewership.”

The overall programme sought to work collaboratively across the key areas of the School’s BA Fine Art course—sculpture, painting, printmaking, and new media—as well as external participants, Tate Exchange staff, and audiences. Limited draft editions of the manual were given to all participants, who were also encouraged to develop and contribute their own additions to the final version of the book. The day provided an introduction to “How to Biennale! The Manual" with a series of informal discussion groups, facilitated by practitioners with key experience, across a range of issues from thinking through vision and distinctiveness, to building a team and connecting with artists and audiences.

The programme was broken into three distinct sections addressing the core organisational, conceptual, and practical elements of making and sustaining an art platform or cultural event today.  Fifty participants were split into groups with experts within their field of interest who led the freeform discussions. Participants were then asked to contribute findings and suggestions to the draft based on their insights, processes, approaches, and experiences in the field.

In that sense, the publication is a crowd-sourced compendium of case studies, theories, processes, methodologies, governance protocols, and evaluative frameworks. Crucially, the specific “practice” that emerges from and underpins perennial art events and exhibitions are mostly site-specific and unique. And, no doubt, readers may devise their own manual accordingly!

Content page



How to Biennale! (The Manual) 2018
‘How to Build an Art Biennale’ at Tate Exchange (2018)

Shwetal Ashvin Patel is a writer and researcher practising at the intersection of visual art, exhibition-making and development studies. He works internationally– primarily in Europe and South Asia– and is a founding member of Kochi-Muziris Biennale in India, responsible for international partnerships and programmes. He holds a practice-based PhD from Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton, where his thesis was titled 'Biennale Practices: Making and Sustaining Visual Art Platforms'. He is a guest lecturer at Zürich University of the Arts, Royal College of Art, and Exeter University, besides being an editorial board member at OnCurating.org and a trustee at Milton Keynes Museum and Coventry Biennale.



[1] Founded in 2016, Tate Exchange was the first of its kind in an art museum anywhere in the world. Conceived as an open experiment, which grew and changed over the course of five years. The programme encouraged the spirit of collaboration, community partnership and experimentation.


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Issue 58

Speculations: Funding and Financing Non-Profit Art

by Ronald Kolb, Dorothee Richter, Shwetal Patel