Colombo Art Biennale, A Personal Recap

Video installation at the Biennale.


If I could describe the gestalt of the Colombo Art Biennale, I’d somehow refer to Duchamp’s urinal. I heard the museum-shattering piece referred to multiple times. Part of the appeal of events like the Biennale is that they can break out of artificial artistic elites, but the downside is that they can also conserve them. I think they struck a balance, but I may just be balancing it in my head. I think that’s part of the point.

I attended the opening thing at Park Street and attended a few talks, moderating one. I heard the JAD Perera show was great, but I only saw it briefly on TV. My main issue was that the shows were spread around, and lacking personal transport at the moment… ah fuck it, I’m lazy. I went to Park Street twice just cause I sorta end up going there. Anyways.

I also experienced the art through the newspapers. Actually, I experienced the art in the newspapers through Facebook. Still damn cool that they ran double-spreads of just art in mainstream papers. That’s literally lakhs worth of ad space. When I became a billionaire I was going to buy up all the billboards in Colombo and devote them to local artists, like the artists in those hoods. Maybe iconic images of my face later. I guess that’s been done.

Some Art Talk

For the majority of human history (being sillily called pre-history), art was in your local community or tribe. You’d participate in it and observe it at close quarters. Art was later made to serve religions, states, and now – to a large degree – corporations. There remains this awareness that this is artificial and that art belongs to everyone. That’s an interesting topic.

I had a chance to listen to Roman Berka (Austrian, involved in the newspaper idea). He said that anyone can be part of social sculpture, their life as art. I asked about Facebook as social sculpture, as art, and he said of course it was. His museum in progress has pushed art into public spaces – newspapers, billboards – and it was interesting how that reaches a mass audience, but at the same time requires corporate funding, and subjects art to a sort of corporate oversight. The interesting idea to me was that corporations are the new art patrons. He also said a lot more than that, please take all of this comments and my perspective on theirs.

Also heard from Neil Butler (an artist and curator). He seemed to think that art was returning to the people, and that artists were intimately involved in revolutions and social change. I was most interested to hear his perspective that art is created by the observer. ie, found art like Duchamp’s Urinal (which he called fountain) became (or at least challenged) art simply by being a museum. That idea of frames came up a few times.

The idea of art and skill also came up multiple times. At one point artists were nameless artisans, reputed only for skill. Now, with found objects and stuff, it seems that they can be recognized without. What I think happened is that art has come unmoored of various things – first small hunter-gather communities, then churches and religion and, to a degree, God. Then of course art was connected to the state and nationalism, and now it’s connected to a corporate/capitalist marketplace.

Before and during this evolution, however, the old form – community art, shared among a tribe – has always been there and still is. I see the most art on Facebook, where my friends make and share it. I also see a lot of art on the streets, on the back of buses and trishaws. We are also exposed to tons more visual creations than anytime in history, through advertising. People are quick to say ‘that’s not art’, but even things like the Mona Lisa or Sistine Chapel were done on commission. The art is sometimes in how you fill out the frame more than anything else.

Anyways, I saw some stuff, thought some stuff, etc. I think it was a good Biennale. Till the year after next.

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