4th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art, 2013, Interview with Αdelina von Fürstenberg
Claire Fontaine, P.I.G.S, 2011, video still
Under the general title “Old Intersections - Make it New” this year’s Thessaloniki Biennale retains, the same spatial and cultural focus, under the decision taken by the State Museum of Contemporary Art, organizer of the Biennale, to turn its audience’s attention towards the Mediterranean Sea and the constant dramatic changes of the area in recent years. This biennale is the major biennale of Greece. Exhibitions, art events, installations, performances, workshops, conferences, educational programs, interventions in public spaces and guided tours will be taking place in Thessaloniki, during the 4th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art, from September 18, 2013 until January 31, 2014.
This year’s organization will be also hosted in museums, exhibition spaces and monuments and will be realized with the collaboration of the “5 Museums’ Movement in Thessaloniki” ( the State Museum of Contemporary Art, the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, the Museum of Byzantine Culture, the Teloglion Foundation of Art of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art). Over 50 artists from 25 countries - from Brazil and Cuba to Iran and India, as well as many Mediterranean countries, including 11 artists from Greece - will present their works.
The Director of the 4th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art is Katerina Koskina, President of the Board of Trustees of the State Museum of Contemporary Art, Art Historian & Curator. Chief Curator of the main exhibition of the Biennale is Αdelina von Fürstenberg, Independent Curator and Film Producer, President of ART for The World. “Everywhere but Now” is the title of the main exhibition of the Biennale given by the chief curator.. Art noise interviewedΑdelina von Fürstenberg .
Interview: Vassilika Sarilaki*
Vassilika Sarilaki: Adelina, tell us a little bit about what characterises this Biennale and what your involvement is. And as the curator of the main exhibition what questions do you raise?
Αdelina von Fürstenberg : The exhibition actually reflects more my concern for Mediterranean issues. The Mediterranean in the last decades has been full of violence, wars, pollution and every sort of disaster; so for me the Mediterranean Sea is not only beautiful sunny beaches, it also means dead bodies, pollution and dramatic situations. We can’t avoid this, we have to face it. What I wanted from the artists who participated and what I asked from them was to tell the truth; they were all committed to show reality, because for me contemporary art is interesting only when it approaches and responds to the reality of the people’s world – not only to the aesthetic art market, fairs, business, etc.- Art can communicate many values.
V. S. Of course and this is very helpful.. In the catalogue you mention the economic crisis at the time of this biennale. You said: “In the last few years we are also facing heavy economic crises as well as identity crises all over the Mediterranean areas”...
A. F. Yes..
V. S.So what are your ambitions for it, do you see it as an exhibition that makes a statement about where we’re now? Do you see it as something that might change the direction or open people's eyes to a new way of seeing things, or simply remind them of something that's perhaps being missed in European contemporary culture?
A. F. In fact I work sixteen years for this organization called “ Art of the World”, which is a human rights organization that works with contemporary artists and through contemporary art reveals the positive and negative things happening to human values. Therefore in this context I really want the public who visit this biennale and come to contact with the artists’ world to develop a deeper awareness of the situation today; I wrote this text six months ago and today the situation is even worse – the economic crisis in Greece is even harder, the lack of freedom and the violence in Turkey and Syria, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean are worse. The Thessaloniki Biennale can speak openly about these things, first because it is in a European country with freedom of expression and because it is a country in crisis, but not alone in Europe. So the concept of the Mediterranean has enlarged now and has become more universal. Therefore people may understand that our aim is not to promote this or the other artists but to communicate messages.
V. S. And you also mention in the catalogue that “We all know that the Mediterranean Sea is much more than a geographical expression. Referring to the amalgams of peoples, cultures and mentalities, it is a door open between East and West; a meeting point of three continents, Africa, Asia, and Europe.” That’s right. But can biennials — whether they're held in Venice, Thessaloniki or Jakarta — shape a greater sense of understanding and connection among different cultures and make the difference?
A. F. Yes, they can, provided that communication is done properly; if communication is not confined in the art marker, in the world of three or four collectors, or three-four curators or art amateurs. Yes, if communication is open to a wider public, art can play a big role in informing people about what is going on, explain things in another way, because politicians cannot always say the things that artists can. Artists have a way of expressing themselves that can provide a broader focus. Look, it’s very bizarre, but in Turkey Tayip Erdogan is criticizing some artists all the time because these artists are really fighting for political freedom.
Big Biennials and Hollywood
V. S. Yes. And New York Times wrote about the present Venice Biennale that “Mr. Gioni is mixing high and low, with masters mingling with self-taught and outsider artists.” So we don’t have to see the same famous stars. What do you think about it? Do you think we’re at a moment of change away from that kind of star system?
A. F. Yes. You know, we should take as an example the cinema. There are two types of cinema. There is the commercial cinema and the independent filmmakers. So now, more and more in my opinion, big bienniales like Venice that are very similar to big art fairs like Basel, operate like Spielberg, you know.. Jeff Koons, or whatever. . Damien Hirst, Cattelan. They are in a category analogous to filmmakers like Spielberg: commercial, “Hollywood”. Then we have independent filmmakers who call cinema ERF (meaning Experimental Reflection); they also produce high quality work but they are not always in an A biennale like Venice. So the biennale of Thessaloniki can play a big role. Because the artists invited, the 52 artists of the main project are important, besides Marina Abramovic, who participates with a special work that I have chosen..
V. S. Which is different from her recent work..
A. F. Yes..This work I produced myself for the Human Rights 60th anniversary.. It is about children soldiers.
It is from the local that the global emerges
V. S. I want to ask you. . do you think it still makes sense to talk about national art today or not? Does it still make sense to talk about “being Greek or French” in a globalized world? Or, precisely because of globalization, should we be more local?
A. F. This is an interesting question because it is from the local that the global emerges. From the roots. So it is important to sustain, to support the artist in the beginning in his own country. But making him a national artist is a very big mistake, because this way the artist will “die” - because the language of art is universal; this is why he deserves to be supported in his own environment but since his language is universal it has to go everywhere. So the word national is completely obsolete and ridiculous.
V. S. And what’s the role of a Mediterranean artist in Europe today?
A. F. Speaking about a Mediterranean artist is again like speaking of a national artist. But we should be careful. The Mediterranean artists have many things to say because their roots are very rich.
V. S. And very deep also… in time..
A. F. Very strong, also their characters and their characteristics and their behaviour are very, very open so they can express things that maybe somebody from a northern country will have difficulty with. Therefore the Mediterranean artist has even more things to say to society today.
The Greek participation
V. S. O. K.. What about the Greek participation? You have included 16 artists..
A. F. Now they are not sixteen they are eleven.
V. S. Ah. . eleven…
A.F. The thing is that I chose among artists from the whole of Greece – some work together in groups of three or four- so as individuals they are more but as names they are eleven. I chose these artists free of constraints such as pressure from the artistic establishment in Greece. I didn’t choose stars or artists who are supported. But of the whole of fifty-two artist, the one fifth comes from Greece and the majority of those from Thessaloniki, which is unlike any previous biennale. I think it is important to have a strong presence of Thessaloniki and its creativity in this exhibition. You see?
V. S. Yes. .and how do you see the Greek art scene today?
A. F. How do I see the Greek art scene? Honestly I think that Greek artists, the Greek scene is very very, lets say, active. I think there are lot of activities in the Greek art scene – but I think they are somewhat divided between commercial and independent.
V. S. What about the lack of international reputation of Greek artists? And why do you think that might be?
A. F. That happens because the Greeks don’t know how to communicate effectively– they don’t consider promotion important. They have an old fashion way of communicating. The way of communication is still like in the eighties. I have to deal with this personally, myself now. . with the biennale, too. I mean the way the artists communicate has changed radically everywhere else in the world. But in Greece they still function in an old-fashion way, so these artists don’t appeal.
V. S. Could you also tell us about your curatorial selections of artists in general in this exhibition?
A. F. How I chose the artists?
V. S. Yes…
A. F. I chose the artists starting always from the subject and I chose some of them that I knew. I also receive many dossiers.. I chose artists committed to their work, to this idea of responding to and expressing the contemporary situation. Of course the quality of the work is the first thing I look for. But for me quality is not enough. There has to be something more, as well, which can be given to the people. So people who visit this biennale and who happen not to know very much about art will enjoy it because they will understand things. People who know about art will also enjoy it because they will locate 5 or 6 artists they know or will discover. So it is open to a very large public which is my way of working. I always work like that, on multiple levels.
The political issue
V. S. If we exclude the visual “entertainment” of the biennale I personally believe that it surely required the presence of political themes in this exhibition. Many of the artworks you selected for the biennale are socially inspired. Is this because artists today are more engaged f. e Husein Karabey and Gulsun Karamustafa (Turkey), Nigol Bezjian (Syria), Claire Fontaine (France), Gal Weinstein (Israel) e. t. c, or was it your decision to emphasize political art in a large sense of course?
A. F. Yes. .This is totally true but in a sense that I don’t think we should call it political art, we should call it contemporary art. . And we should call it independent art – art that wants to express things not just art that addresses itself to the rich collectors or funds. So this art makes you think, this art gives you information, this art makes you understand the context we live in. This doesn’t mean that I want to change the mind politically. How can you do a show in Greece today or anywhere in Europe and avoid the difficult issues and make cute art only for the elite? It’s impossible.. Art is for everybody, art is not for the few – It has nothing to do with the few – art is for few to buy but it is to be enjoyed by everybody.
V. S. Do you believe that art can inspire personal or social change?
A. F. That is something very difficult to say. Take the case, for example, of the Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who is also in my show, he is one of the most important film makers, we produced his film together; he was in jail when we produced it and he was condemned. This film was shown everywhere. But still this guy was condemned. This means that art can give inspiration, can make people think but I doubt whether it can really influence the politicians. Because artists are not politicians - therefore is important not to confuse the role of the artists. You understand what I mean..
What about the crisis?
V. S. Yes, of course I understand. . And how do you think the crisis is affecting artistic production?
A. F. A lot. Crisis is affecting, as you say, artistic production. Crisis does not obstruct art or creativity. Crisis disrupts the production of art because there is less and less money to produce art; there are fewer museums, galleries showing art, independent art –therefore the worlds of art is becoming very small. But actually there are so many artists, so many people who want to express themselves through art. Good or bad – I’m not talking about quality now. We are thinking of art as expression. And the crisis affects it a lot.
V. S. The art market is very strong today, and the world is full of art fairs and festivals. Do you believe that the Biennale of Thessaloniki could have some importance in this context?
A. F. I don’t think so, because the choice of the artists is not part of this context. Because we don’t have the superstars. But it is also not what I do…I mean, I choose artists working for human rights. So how could one imagine that I will do a biennale that will have all these fancy artists? The artists I chose are very good artists who have exhibited to Documenta, in galleries everywhere in the world. But they are committed to an ideal. And not to the market.
V. S. And money is always tight at any Biennale and now in the middle of such deep crisis was the budget enough to cover your expenses?
A. F. No, no we are in a very difficult situation, but everybody knows that. Our main problem is communication, because that t has to be done well. So I’m thankful to you that you are already doing something. Also the Organisation “Art of the World” is working very hard for me to help advance communication and everything.. Because I think this biennale of Thessaloniki could be extremely important because, in this context of today, first of all we have exhibitions all over the city and then we have these large spaces, the pavilions of 2.500 m3. A lot of things will be exhibited..
V. S. It’s a very large biennale that’s true..
A. F. Yeah, it’s a large biennale and the pieces that I have chosen are big pieces also, large pieces of every sort -- not monumental. . It’s not about monumentality, they are important pieces, let’s say. We have dispersed important pieces all over the city and then Thessaloniki is a very interesting city, it has all this culture, it’s a city full of History as well as a superposition of civilisations, cultures and people. And many of these people suffered in the past. . We also invited some Palestinian artists, and artists from Israel and from all over the world.. So I really hope that people will come and will spend time there and because it is a biennale that demands time and careful observation on the part of the audience, because there is a lot to observe and many things that need to be noticed. It is not to be passed by quickly.. You know..
V. S. Yes..
A. F. I mean “reading” every piece, thinking about it, enjoying being there and at the same time understanding that art can play a role in society.
V. S. I wonder. . Has the audience changed in contemporary art since you have been working in it? Is the Mediterranean audience different from the Northern European?
A. F. I think that the audience has changed dramatically the last 10-15 years because there are too many people interested in art now. In the past there were just a few people but they were sincerely involved with art. Today they are many many people in search of art but I don’t know if they are really interested in it or in its social (fashionable) context. In this biennale you can both enjoy what you see and provoked to think at the same time. And also the Greek artists that I have chosen are on the same wavelength as me. They are all artists who are concerned about social issues. Of course we will see if the end result is what I’m talking about but I hope it will work.
V. S. Well, good luck to your exhibition and thank you..
A. F. Thank you so much..
*Vassilika Sarilaki is an art critic and art historian.
Participating artists and filmmakers: Marina Abramovic, Ghada Amer, John Armleder, Maja Bajević, Bill Balaskas, Lenora de Barros, Beforelight, Jacques Berthet, Nigol Bezjian, Mohamed Bourouissa, Marie Bovo, David Casini, Sheba Chhachhi, Claire Fontaine, Jordi Colomer, Marta Dell’Angelo, Desertmed Collective, Haris Epaminonda, Inci Eviner, Ymane Fakhir, Parastou Forouhar, Apostolos Georgiou, Khaled Jarrar, Hüseyin Karabey, Gülsün Karamustafa, Iseult Labote, Ange Leccia, Los Carpinteros, DeAnna Maganias, Marcello Maloberti, Miltos Manetas, Mark Mangion, Liliana Moro, Adrian Paci, Rosana Palazyan, Jafar Panahi, Maria Papadimitriou, Dan & Lia Perjovschi, Paris Petridis, Ivan Petrović, Khalil Rabah, Philip Rantzer, Zineb Sedira, Veronica Smirnoff, Priscilla Tea, Panos Tsagaris, Maria Tsagkari, Gal Weinstein, Peter Wüthrich, Raed Yassin, Yiorgis Yerolymbos, Vasilis Zografos.
Countries: Albania, Algeria, Bosnia, Brazil, Cuba, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Iran, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, Palestine, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Syria, Switzerland, Turkey, USA. Central Exhibition venues: Alatza Imaret, Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, Museum of Byzantine Culture, Geni Tzami, Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, Pavillion 6 (Thessaloniki International Trade Fair area), State Museum of Contemporary Art (Moni Lazariston)
Αdelina von Fürstenberg / Biography
Adelina Cüberyan von Fürstenberg is a Swiss citizen, from Armenian origin, born in Istanbul. She is an international and renowned curator and one of the field’s pioneers in broadening contemporary art. Von Fürstenberg took a more global and flexible approach to contemporary art exhibitions, in bringing art in spaces such as monasteries, medersas, public buildings, squares, islands, parks, etc. Her objective is to give a larger context for visual art in making it a more vigorous part of our lives, in creating a vivid dialogue for it with other arts, and relating it to worldwide issues.
During her studies of Political Sciences at the University of Geneva she founded the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, working with prominent artists, such as Sol LeWitt, Daniel Buren, General Idea, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol, Lawrence Weiner. In the same period she organized performances with John Cage, Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Joan Jonas, Robert Wilson. Few years later until 1994, she directed Le Magasin, Centre d’Art Contemporain of Grenoble, France, where she curated large solo exhibitions of major artists, such as Vito Acconci, Alighiero Boetti, Gino De Dominicis, Ilya Kabakov, as well as symposia and lectures on architecture, science and philosophy. Furthermore, for five years she directed the Ecole du Magasin (School of Curators). In 1993 the International Jury of the 45th Venice Biennale awarded her a prize for her direction of Le Magasin and its School of Curators.
In 1995, on the occasion of the United Nations 50th Anniversary, she was invited to curate the exhibition Dialogues of Peace, an international exhibition presented at the UN Headquarters, in Geneva. In 1996 she founded Art for The World, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) for the diffusion of the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights through contemporary art and cinema. Adelina von Fürstenberg collaborates on yearly bases with the Regional Direction of SESC Sao Paulo, Brazil, In curating shows such as Balcan Erotic Epics by Marina Abramovic (2006), Voom Portraits by Robert Wilson (2008), Urban Manners (2010) on Indian contemporary art for the first time in South America, and more recently The Mediterranean Approach (2012), an itinerant exhibition presented previously at Palazzo Zenobio in Venice (2011) and in Marseille at the mac – Museum of Contemporary Art. Her most recent project isFOOD, a large show with 31 artists exploring the fascinating question of food, simultaneously dealing with survival, health, economy and culture.
Parallel to the art shows, Adelina von Fürstenberg is also a Film Producer and between 2008 and 2011, she conceived and produced for the European Commission, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Council of Europe, 29 short fiction movies with well known independent filmmakers form all over the world, on the Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.