Satellites and festivals

16 Aug 2010

Thinking back, or forward, to the evolution of the biennial/annual exhibition format, it's clear there are some mutational forces at work. While the larger and culturally embedded structures look set to remain standing, in relatively familiar poses for the time-being, some of the smaller, younger and lesser-known projects appear to be taking the model in many and, in some cases multiple, directions.

It's not like biennials are falling off the event map -- in this country alone there is the Liverpool Biennial opening next month and the Brighton Photo Biennial. Then there is the London Biennial, founded in 1998, that I've never even heard of, despite having lived in the city for 13 years. Although, looking at its extreme take on international networking and the satellite-event phenomenon this is hardly surprising – it's certainly not the easiest to follow what with the current leg of the 2010 event taking place in New York and other locations including, Rome, Washington D.C. and Berlin.

Perhaps it's just because of summer and the inevitable rash of music-oriented outdoor events, but the word festival does seem to pepper content of just about every cultural round-up. The Edinburgh International Festival is in full swing and this time around media coverage of it does describe a fully-formed and informed arts festival. While the performative arts are naturally still the main draw exhibitions, by artists such as Martin Creed and Richard Wright, are garnering attention.

I was interested to see that Braziers, a small but long-running international artist workshop/exhibition that takes place annually in the extraordinary rural setting of south Oxfordshire has opted for a festival-style approach this year. The workshop, currently running under the title'Super Normal', has been trimmed down and restructured around a theme and will culminate with an art exhibition and series of performances and music gigs. It makes perfect sense, for a community (allbeit a large international one) based project of this kind, given the severe lack of funding faced this year, to work towards generating (although one cannot overestimate the part played by goodwill) a financially self-supporting system.

As for Tatton, this model appears nothing if not influential. ACE and the National Trust have pledged to support further arts initiatives, presumably given the success of this one, in other historic locations. And then there's the prize nominations for this year's project... fingers crossed.

I'm not suggesting that all bi/annual art projects become mainstream entertainments events, but, personally, I think the world of music is a good platform to which artists, curators and events organisers should look when shoring up their survival model. Post manufactured pop, the internet has revolutionised the way people make, perform and distribute music. The 'industry', unlike the art world, appears less a place of mogul muscle and professional hang-ups these days than one of self-made possibilities. The art world has been very slow to grasp the creative and economic potential of online projects and is currently struggling to support a range of hybrid professionalisms that can be fractionalised down to very little.

There is, however, always a flipside. I was interested to read this about smart phone technology and the influence of apps on the museum encounter. This sentence seems of particular relevance to the Tatton experience: “But what about the joy of aimless browsing and discovery? Here as elsewhere, technology has a way of taking the mystery and the surprise – not to mention the unpremeditated educational encounter – out of cultural experiences. What’s more, it subtly transforms a group dynamic into a bespoke, private pursuit.” Lest we forget what people escape to the country for.”

Posted by Rebecca Geldard at 11:42 PM