The International Conference: Biennials of Contemporary Art – Experiences And Opportunities


The International Conference: Biennials of Contemporary Art – Experiences And Opportunities

09.12.2020 - 10.12.2020 / MSU Facebook stranica - Online streaming

The Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb (MSU) is to present the international conference Biennials of Contemporary Art – Experiences And Opportunities.

The speakers are distinguished professionals experienced with the funding of many biennials and participated in the successful organization of other major international cultural manifestations.


The conference will take place on 9 and 10 December 2020, 6 pm CET.

It is to be streamed online, at the Museum's Facebook page:

Croatian artist Igor Grubić will present the performance Untitled (an artist, a curator, a museum) during the event. This act is dedicated to the late Croatian artist Mladen Stilinović and will be streamed online as well. 


The programme:

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

18.00 – 18.10 Snježana Pintarić Introduction note

18.10 – 18.20 Igor Grubić: Untitled (an artist, a curator, a museum), video performance

18.20 – 18.45 Hanru Hou: What “Else” Can Biennials Do?

18.45 – 19.00 Beral Madra: Visual Arts and Biennale in Post-Truth Age

19.00 – 19.15 Nevenka Šivavec: Shifts in the Biennial of Graphic Arts

19.15 – 19.30 Zorana Đaković Minniti: The October Salon concerning the Biennial Format

19.30 – 19.45 Thierry Raspail: The Lyon Biennial

19.45 – 20.00 Syrago Tsiara: Stasis to the World. The 7th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art.

Moderator: Snježana Pintarić


Thursday, 10 December 2020

18.00 – 18.15 Katerina Gregos Why, How and for Whom to Biennial? (Using the example of the Riga biennial)

18.15 – 18.30 Rainald Schumacher: First Art Encounters in Timișoara – Which Questions Should be Asked in Order to Find the Right Solutions?

18.30 – 18.45 Hajnalka Somogyi: OFF-Biennale Budapest

18.45 – 19.00 Margarita Dorovska: A Not So Serious Biennial. The Subversive Power of Humour

19.00 – 19.15 Evelyne Jouanno: The Emergency Biennial - Life and Death of an Utopian Project

19.15 – 19.45 Discussion

Moderator: Radmila Iva Janković

Program coordinator: Radmila Iva Janković, senior curator

The conference will be held in English.

The conference is supported by the City of Zagreb, Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Croatia and Zagreb Tourist Board.



Wednesday,  December 9th 2020

18.00 – 18.10
Snježana Pintarić: Introduction note

18.10 – 18.20
Igor Grubić: Untitled (an artist, a curator, a museum), video performance

Igor Grubic has been active as an multimedia artist in Zagreb since the early 1990’s, making photography, video, and site-specific actions. His interventions into public space, along with video works explore past and present political situations while cutting through the fabric of reality. Grubić has participated in numerous major international exhibitions and he represented Croatia at the 58th Venice Biennale.
E.g.: Tirana Biennial 2 (2003); Manifesta 4 (Frankfurt, 2002); Manifesta 9 (Genk, 2012); 50. October Salon (Belgrade, 2009); Gender Check, MuMOK (Vienna, 2009); 11. Istanbul Biennial (2009); 4. Fotofestival Mannheim Ludwigshafen, Heidelberg (2011); East Side Stories, Palais de Tokyo (Paris, 2012); Gwangju Biennale (2014); Zero Tolerance, MOMA PS1 (New York 2014); Degrees of Freedom, MAMbo (Bologna, 2015); 5th Thessaloniki Biennial (2015); Cut / Rez, MSU (Zagreb, 2018); Heavenly creatures, MG+MSUM (Ljubljana, 2018); The Value of Freedom, Belvedere 21 (Vienna, 2018); 58 Venice Biennale (2019).

18.20  – 18.45
Hanru Hou: What “Else” Can Biennials Do?
Biennials are production machines of ideas, projects and genuine encounters with reality… They are even more necessary in this era of neo-liberal globalization as a model of seeking and developing “alter-globalization”, beyond the reach of the domination of the market forces,  continuously  defending and expanding the public sphere in social change.
Biennials  are opportunities for carrying out major projects, with thematic discussions and representations in order to deal with contemporary cultural, social, political and even economic challenges. Often, the effective strategy is to develop site-specific projects, to emphasize direct and “physical” engagements with the locality and the inhabitants – to provoke debates about what locality means in the era of globalization, and hence create new localities – or, “glocalities”…
This implies that biennials are not merely art festivals, but a particular way of social mobilization through creative actions in order to generate energies, ideas and practices of community-making, institution-building and even urban transformation. This means that biennials always have “something else” to do in addition to spectacular exhibitions. In other words, biennials can provide longer term “alternatives” to the mainstream model of art production and representation increasingly dominated by the market force. This domination is not only economic and political but also artistic, aesthetic, psychological. It has major impacts on the definition of contemporary creation.
What should the action plans be, then, in order to achieve this “something else”, namely “alternative production”? This is not just about presenting “new talents”, but also about providing visions and actions – strategies for new cultural and social projects through various experiments. Once again, biennials are the best “laboratories” or platforms for experiments. And in our age of digitalization, it’s also important to emphasize the necessity of occupying online space and what is known as the “virtual” world …
In my talk, I shall introduce some of my experiences in efforts of this kind – building laboratories of alternatives – over the last two decades, from the 1997 Johannesburg Biennale to the 2017 Shenzhen  Biennale  of Architecture/Urbanism (UABB), via Shanghai (2000), Gwangju (2002), Venice (2003), Nuit Blanche, Paris (2004), Guangzhou (2005), Istanbul (2007), Trans (cient) City, Luxembourg (2007), Lyon (2009), Auckland (2013)…Eventually, this kind of experiences have deeply influenced how I tried to envision and realise larger institutional building projects, always searching for inventive but relevant new conditions and models of institution making, from the Rockbund Museum, Shanghai, Times Museum, Guangzhou/Berlin to MAXXI, Rome.

Hou Hanru is a prolific writer and curator based in Rome, Paris and San Francisco. Since 2013 he has been the Artistic Director of MAXXI (National Museum for 21st Century Art and National Museum of Architecture), Rome, Italy.
Hou Hanru has curated and co-curated around 100 exhibitions for last two decades across the world including: “Cities On The Move" (1997–2000), The 2nd Johannesburg Biennial (Hong Kong, etc.) (1997), Shanghai Biennale (2000), Gwangju Biennale (2002), Venice Biennale (French Pavilion, 1999, Z.O.U. -- Zone Of Urgency, 2003, Chinese Pavilion, 2007), the 2nd Guangzhou Triennial (2005), The 10th Istanbul Biennial (2007), "Trans(cient)City" (Luxembourg 2007), "The 10th Biennale de Lyon" (2009), “The 5th Auckland Triennial”, Auckland, New Zealand, (2013).“Growing in Difference, the 7th Shenzhen Hong Kong Bi-City Biennial of Architecture and Urbanism” (2017)”.
He is also a consulting curator of Chinese art for the Guggenheim Museum, New York. He frequently contributes to various journals on contemporary art and culture and lectures and teaches in numerous international institutions. His books include Hou Hanru, Paradigm Shifts, On the Mid-Ground, etc.  

18.45 – 19.00
Beral Madra: Visual Arts and Biennale in Post-Truth Age
Living in the East Mediterranean and the Middle-East, the most intricate historical region of the world, currently equals to living on the edge of perpetual crisis which was, mystifyingly, predicted when humanity entered into the age of globalisation.  This is also the age of visual language, culture and information. With its creative, independent, free character the most effective tool of communication, collaboration and participation is provided by contemporary art works and contemporary art making, which is at the same time a major component of global culture industry and neo-capitalism. The relational aesthetics of this production empowers the theoretical and practical communication and collaboration between all sciences, humanities and academic divisions as well as between all the realities of human life in this planet.
The effective reading of art works, which includes making predictions based on prior knowledge, checking our understanding and asking questions is, first of all, an essential parameter for  intellectual achievement. But also offers us the ability to overcome the confusions created by politically and economically manipulated information, visual pollution and an excess of tragedy, which is called post-truth.
Art-making, artwork and constructed images with socio-political content and intention have this particular character and form of counter-criticism. They reflect an ambiguous whole of opposite/offensive and complementary/substitutive positions. They are contrary and offensive, yet also complementary and substitutive for  representation and metaphors of real life, for realities and global events. History and art history is abundant in “critical images” that have created political, social and cultural revolution.
The biennial, generated for the society of spectacle and the culture industry, provides a system for the dissemination of global art production,  a facility for a large audience to evaluate art works. Through the relational aesthetics and critical content of the artwork, people are invited to follow important concepts, ideas, statements, and interpret and get involved in debates about contemporary art subjects.

Beral Madra is a critic and curator, founder and director of Gallery BM and BM Contemporary Art Centre and the Archive (since 1980); she lives and works in Istanbul.
She coordinated the 1st (1987) and the 2nd (1989) Istanbul Biennale, curated the Pavilion of Turkey at the 43rd, 45th, 49th, 50th and 51st Venice Biennale, co-curated the exhibition Modernities and Memories - Recent Works from the Islamic World  at the 47th Venice Biennale. She curated the Central Asia Pavilion in 53rd (2009) and the Pavilion of Azerbaijan at the 54th (2011) Venice Biennale. She curated the Alanica, South Ossetia (2013), 3rd and 4th Çanakkale Biennale (2012-2014), and co-curated the 8th Bucharest Biennale (2018).
Since 1984, she has organized more than 250 local and international artists in her art centres and in other official art spaces in Turkey. She has curated and co-curated over 50 international group shows.

19.00 – 19.15
Nevenka Šivavec: Shifts in the Biennial of Graphic Arts
The Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts, with its symbolic capital as one of Slovenia’s oldest and most unique international events, with a global reputation, used to be a virtually untouchable mythic fortress, although in the 1980s and 1990s it had been losing its distinctive identity and edge. But inthe year 2000, the Biennial began making radical changes to its basic concept; today, it is hard to imagine just how difficult and ideologically sensitive such a transformation truly was. And ever since, one might say that the Graphic Arts Biennial has tried to balance its responsibility to tradition with the demands of the “post-media” condition, the curatorial turn, and, more recently, the post-curatorial turn in contemporary art. The first decade of the revised Biennial was based on a reaffirmation of the key theses of Walter Benjamin with regard to the fundamental ways in which technological reproduction has irreversibly changed cultural production. Then, in 2011, the 29th edition of the Biennial made a radical break with the graphic medium, and instead highlighted the genre of the art event as the ultimate artistic medium of the contemporary age; later, however, the event restored its ties to the heritage of the Biennial, at least in principle if not necessarily through the print medium as such. Currently, the Biennial is leaning towards a kind of lateral thinking that blurs the lines between the curatorial and artistic processes

Nevenka Šivavec is a curator, editor, and, since 2011, the director of the International Centre of Graphic Arts (MGLC) in Ljubljana, where she has overseen the last four editions of the Biennial of Graphic Arts. Prior to working at MGLC, she was for many years a curator at the Centre of Contemporary Arts in Celje, Slovenia. Her exhibitions focused particularly on researching and presenting neglected and marginalized art practices from local environments by juxtaposing established artists with self-taught and outsider artists. She has been a mentor for curatorial practice at the World of Art School for Critics and Curators of Contemporary Art, at SCCA Ljubljana, and was for a number of years a co-editor of the art journal Likovne besede (Artwords), published in Ljubljana. In 2018, she completed the International Leadership Programme in Visual Arts Management at the Deusto Business School in Bilbao. 

19.15 – 19.30
Zorana Đaković Minniti: The October Salon concerning the Biennial Format
The October Salon was opened on October 20, 1960, on the fifteenth anniversary of the liberation of Belgrade, the date marked in socialist Yugoslavia as the day when its capital was liberated from the fascist occupation. The October Salon of Fine and Applied Arts of Serbia was founded by the People’s Committee of the City of Belgrade as a review of significant works by artists of the Socialist Republic of Serbia, although in the late fifties it was considered to be “the broadest review of Yugoslav painting” (Politika 18.12.1959. M. Protić).
Once a socialist-bureaucratic cultural event with civil and modernist tendencies, the October Salon has now become – primarily under the influence of changes in narrative in the global world, and less as a result of a re-examination and problematization of the micro policies of the local art world – an international, thematic, curated exhibition that is held biennially; a Biennial, without officially being so, and, as such, it contributes to the overall image of normality, which is not really a mirror of the “true state of affairs” in the art scene.

Zorana Đaković Minniti (Belgrade, 1976.) has been working in the field of culture and art since the late 1990s. She is employed at the Cultural Centre of Belgrade as Associate Director of Programmes. At the same institution, in the past ten years, she has worked on the establishment and coordination of international collaboration and on the Podroom Gallery programmes, which focus on moving images and multimedia installations. Since 2004, when the October Salon became an international event, she has worked closely with the curators of the Salon and the artists participating in these exhibitions. She is a member of the international associations of curators Curators’ Network and IKT. Since 2018, she has been working on a curatorial and artistic research project on the October Salon Collection, together with artist Siniša Ilić.

19.30 – 19.45
Thierry Raspail: The Lyon Biennial
I created the Lyon Biennial (France) in 1991, which was then taking over from the Biennale de Paris (1959-85). It was in a Paris-centric France, where most of the territory was a desert when it came to infrastructure dedicated to contemporary art, that the Biennale de Paris appeared in 1959 with the mission to balance New York’s influence, hoping to regain leadership over the United States. Unable, however, to grasp the developments of the 80s, it closed permanently in 1985. It is in this context that the Lyon Biennial was created, during a French decade that saw unprecedented, nationwide decentralization initiatives: art centres were created, regional funds set up, and museums restructured or founded. It was in this French context that we conceived the Lyon Biennial, a project initiated by the City, co-funded with the state. Joining forces with a contemporary art museum created in 1984, whose artistic director also was the Biennial’s, it launched in 1991 at the height of European postmodernism, while a global art scene was starting to materialize with the appearance of biennials in Asia and the Middle-East. Europe and the United States, until then exclusively standing on their western-centric positions, were now forced to open up to artistic scenes they had largely ignored. In France, globalization was frightening, since the country considers itself the custodian of a certain “universal culture”. Now equipped with artistic infrastructures and a French scene that was starting to export itself, in a market that was routine and self-sufficient but stable, France lent no particular legitimacy to the development of biennials, which the country observed with condescension. The use of the “spectacular”, being part of the cities’ branding, and collusions with private money were the main criticisms made to biennials at the time. In this context, between local and global, the Lyon Biennial was developing the idea of cycles, in the form of three successive editions devoted to the same theme, for instance history, globality, or transmission.

Founder and director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (Mac) and of the Lyon Biennial, Thierry Raspail is now an independent curator. Initially a curator at the Musée de Grenoble, he designed the museography at the Musée National du Mali in Bamako. At the creation of the Mac in 1984, he started defining an artistic policy then unheard of in France, based on the creation of a collection of exhibitions with monumental works designed by the artists on location, produced for and acquired by the Museum. The collection is thus inaugurated with the works of M. Abramovic and Ulay, R. Morris, D. Flavin, I. Kabakov, L. Weiner, S. Lewitt, J. Turrel, Cai Guo Qiang, etc.
In addition to this, he curated or co-curated momentous retrospective exhibitions, including: Louise Bourgeois (the first retrospective in France devoted to the artist), A. Warhol, K. Haring, Ben Vautier, Bernar Venet, Yoko Ono, etc. In 1991, Thierry Raspail created the Lyon Biennial. He introduced a thematic principle of trilogies and, after having curated the first 3 editions, consistently invited curators such as H. Szeemann, V. Noorthoorn, E. Lavigne, R. Rugoff, etc.

19.45 – 20.00
Syrago Tsiara: Stasis to the World. The 7th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art
Would it be possible for a biennial to become both a point of stasis, and the starting point for reflection on the crucial issues that contemporary societies are facing in the current conditions of acceleration and increasing inequality? To examine, from a critical distance, people’s standpoint towards the world and the planet? To bridge the gap between the viewer and contemporary art, and to overcome curatorial and institutional complacency in order to get to the core of politics and daily life, also by reconsidering artistic practice as a condition of labour both within and outside institutions and norms? Arguably these questions are too many, but none of them is superfluous.
More than a prominent cultural event that aims to connect local with international artistic scene, every biennial constitutes an attitude towards the issues that concern the world.  The Thessaloniki Biennale started in 2007 – organized by the State Museum of Contemporary Art – under the title “Heterotopias”. The word was borrowed from Michel Foucault’s lecture on real spaces –  islands where man follows a certain set of rules which distract him from his daily functions. Maria Tsantsanoglou, Catherine David, Jan-Erik Lundström were the curators. The 2nd Thessaloniki Biennale “PRAXIS: Art in Times of Uncertainty” in 2009 was curated by Gabriela Salgado, Bisi Silva and Syrago Tsiara.
In the meantime, different organizational schemes and curatorial practices have been applied. The 7th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art, based on a collective curatorial scheme, aspires to act as a field for the redefinition of values and priorities, a process which is more likely to happen when things are seen from a critical distance. This detachment aims to shape our positions, stimulate our vision and make us act. The vehicle in this effort is history. The concept of the contemporary in art – which is largely defined by the biennials – is often correlated to that of urgency. But if this sense of urgency could be perceived as a driving force, history could identify the paths that bypass dead ends.

Syrago Tsiara  (born 1968)  is the founder of  Thessaloniki Biennale and MOMus-Museum of Contemporary Art Director. She lives and works in Thessaloniki, Greece. She studied History and Archaeology at the School of Philosophy, Aristotelion University of Thessaloniki and did her M.A. course in Social History of Art at the University of Leeds, England. She completed her PhD Dissertation in 2000 at the Aristotelion University of Thessaloniki focusing on public sculpture and the formation of national memory in Northern Greece. Since 2000, she has been working as a curator at the State Museum of Contemporary Art – Costakis Collection in Thessaloniki and since 2007 she has been the director of the Contemporary Art Center of Thessaloniki. She is currently in charge of the Thessaloniki Biennale and the MOMus-Museum of Contemporary Art. She curated – among other exhibitions – the 2nd Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art, Praxis. Art in Times of Uncertainty and the Greek Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale.
She taught Art Theory of the 20th century, European avant-gardes, Modernism and Public Art at the University of Thessaly, Department of History – Archaeology and Social Anthropology from 2004 until 2007. Her research, writing and lectures focus mainly on memory and gender issues in contemporary art, art in public space and curatorial practice.



Thursday, December 10th  2020

18.00 – 18.15
Katerina Gregos: Why, How and for Whom to Biennial? (case study: Riga biennial)
Since the 1990s biennials have been linked to the proliferation of globalized cultural consumption and production, city tourism and marketing aspirations. During this time, every self-respecting city has felt the necessity to inaugurate a biennial. Often, however, fledgling biennials start out with lofty ambitions, only to face too many problems and challenges they are unable to deal with, resulting in disappointment and frustrated expectations for many people involved. Some critics have therefore even called for an end to biennials.
Do biennials still make sense? And if so, why? Do all cities need a biennial? To begin with, there has to be a clear reason why biennials happen and a concrete idea of whom they try to serve; and then there are the issues of of how a biennial is actually made in terms of time, human resources, financing, mediation and the methodologies of staging an exhibition and public programme. How does one take into consideration the multiple factors, questions and sometimes conflicting interests that the organization of a biennial poses? What are the most important questions to consider when putting together a biennial? More importantly, what about the artists in them - and the presentation of their creative practices? What are the responsibilities and obligations that have to be addressed? Based on the most recent biennial that Gregos has curated, the 1st Riga Biennial (2018), she will outline what she believes constitutes a best practices model, and what pitfalls to avoid.

Katerina Gregos is a curator, writer and lecturer based in Brussels since 2006. She has curated numerous large-scale exhibitions and biennials. Most recently she was chief curator of the 1st Riga Biennial (2018), in which she was also responsible for setting up, together with the founders. Other biennials include, among others, the 5th Thessaloniki Biennial, Greece (2015); the Göteborg Biennial, Sweden (2013); Manifesta 9(2012); the 4. Fotofestival Mannheim, Ludwigshafen, Heidelberg, Germany (2011); Contour, the 4th Biennial of Moving Image, Mechelen, Belgium (2009); and EVA International, Ireland's Biennial of Contemporary Art, Limerick (2006). Gregos has also curated three national pavilions at the Venice Biennial: Denmark (2011); Belgium (2015) and Croatia (2019) – all of which challenged the notion of what constitutes a national representation.  She is currently curator of the visual arts programme of the non-profit Schwarz Foundation (Munich | Athens).

18.15 – 18.30
Rainald Schumacher: First Art EncountersinTimișoara – WhichQuestionsShouldbeAskedinOrderto FindtheRightSolutions?
The first Art Encounters in 2015 in Timișoara, Romania, started in the autumn of 2014 from the idea of a modest exhibition project. A small encounter forartists, curators, gallerists, collectorsfrom Romania and abroad with the intention to put a spotlight on the artistic scene of the region and to initiate an internal and growing international discourse.This supposedly small challenge has developed into fundamental considerations.
How can contemporary art find its place in a community that it had hardly noticed before, that is not deeply informed about the latest artistic discourse and has not seen a lotof works and exhibitions? Who are the partners and long-term supporters for such an exhibition plan, which already has not-so-secret ambitions to develop into a ‘biennial’? Theobsession for something ‘biennial’-was clarified by finding out thatonlycontinuity can make the change.
Thelight exercise of a ‘doing’ a small exhibition developed into a long-term plan, a strategy to create a place for international contemporary art in the cultural life of the city and the region. Curatorial work with the pieces of art turned into a workwiththepublic for creating theaudience.
Thatalsomeantdealingextensivelywiththe structures of the city, the institutions, foreign cultural institutes, schools, universities, artist groups and artists' unions. It meantunderstandingwhat is the“point zero”, on which the encounters have to be based upon.

Rainald Schumacher is independent curator and  director of Office for Art, Berlin.
He was studio manager for Gerhard Richter and worked in galleries such as Barbara Gladstone in New York and Esther Schipper in Berlin. As chief curator for the private Goetz Collection in Munich, he was responsible for the international programme, the publications, and the management.At Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn he realized exhibitions with Liam Gillick and Thomas Schütte. From 2013 to 2017 he was artistic director of the City Gallery in Kyiv. In 2010 he initiated the corporate Art Collection Telekom focused on Eastern Europe.
In 2015 he curated the first Art Encounters in Timișoara. The large project was spreading out over two cities and 18 exhibition venues, including an artist-in-residence program, an accompanying program with talks and lectures as well as an educational program for children and adults.

18.30 – 18.45
Hajnalka Somogyi: OFF-Biennale Budapest
OFF-Biennale Budapest is the largest independent contemporary art event in Hungary. It started in 2014 as a grassroots initiative, a "garage" biennial set up by a small group of art professionals in order to create a platform for exchange between art practitioners and other members of society, to strengthen the local independent art scene. OFF aims to participate in public discourse on pressing issues and to enhance the culture of democracy.
OFF-Biennale boycotts the Hungarian public art infrastructure: it does not apply for state-managed funding and steers clear from state-run art institutions.
OFF has been a continuous experiment to perform and prefigure a sustainable and democratic institution in the civil realm. For OFF, the biennial format is not an end in itself: it allows the core team to concentrate resources and attention every other year while each time new strategies are built up to realize its programs. As a consequence, OFF has become more concise and more proactive throughout its previous two editions, and shifted increasingly towards commissioning and producing projects from only presenting them. The third iteration, presented between April 24 and May 31, 2020, focuses on 12 complex projects that OFF-Biennale co-produces and co-organizes.

Hajnalka Somogyi is a curator based in Budapest. Since 2014, she has worked as leader and co-curator of OFF-Biennale Budapest, the largest state-free international art project in Hungary, which she initiated. In 2013-2014, she was editor of Between 2009 and 2012 she was curator at Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest, and between 2001 and 2006 at Trafo House of Contemporary Arts, Budapest. She co-founded the independent art initiatives Dinamo and Impex, both in Budapest. She holds a diploma in Art History from ELTE Budapest, and a Master’s degree from the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, NY.

18.45 – 19.00
Margarita Dorovska: A Not So Serious Biennial. The Subversive Power of Humour
The Gabrovo Biennial of Humour and Satire in Art started in 1973. At that time Bulgaria was part of the Communist Block, cut off from the global art scene and with socialist realism being the norm in art. Yet, focusing on cartoons and art, featuring humour on one hand and being located а good three-hour drive from the capital, the Biennial’s international ambition first went below the the government’s radar, and later on was recognized as a good propaganda opportunity to present to the world a communism with a human face – a laughing face, at that. Subverting the established cultural protocol, the Biennial became a meeting point for artists from the East and the West. It provided space for critique, mostly for the artists from the Soviet Block who had a limited opportunity to keep their critical muscle in tone.  With its 1989 edition, welcoming more than 80 guests from abroad, a figure unprecedented for an event in the visual arts in the country, it turned out a unique chance for artists to have a sneak peek into contemporary visual culture from all over the world.
Today, when international exchanges are no longer conditioned by political boundaries, but rather by artistic merit and economic potential, humour comes in handy once again. In the overcrowded global biennial scene, the Gabrovo Biennial, with its unique focus on humour and its strong international network developed over half a century, offers a platform that singles it out and attracts the interest of artists and art professionals. And it also brings into the museum audiences far broader than the usual number of contemporary art gallery-goers.

Margarita Dorovska is a contemporary art curator; since 2016 she has been director of the Museum of Humour and Satire in Gabrovo, Bulgaria. The Museum organizes the Gabrovo Biennial, dedicated to cartoons and humour and satire in contemporary art. Launched in 1973, today the Biennial is the most significant international forum for contemporary art in Bulgaria. Its last edition was dedicated to the theme of Publicness, and its forthcoming one will explore critical questions related to ecology.

19.00 – 19.15
Evelyne Jouanno: The Emergency Biennial - Life and Death of an Utopian Project

The Emergency Biennial (active 2005-2009) was created in order to engage with urgent issues of today’s world. Responding to the human and social emergency in Chechnya, which was facing  general destruction during the violent oppression of its claim for independence, and as an echo to Moscow's entry into the growing network of international biennials, the Emergency Biennial was also designed to highlight the urgent necessity for a re-examination of the critical commitment of art and exhibition in the context of globalization.
The project mobilized over 150 artists around the world - established and emerging - to contribute, creating with their works a nomadic platform to alert the public opinion on the urgent issue. Travelling simultaneously in the war context of Chechnya and in various parts of the world in the form of suitcase exhibitions, the biennale project also consisted of workshops and panel discussions with experts, instigating a discursive space for exchange and further mobilization, both local and transnational, but always related to sustainable human connectivity.
As a non-budget project, the Emergency Biennial operated in collaboration with international communities of artists (including Francis Alÿs, Dennis Adams, Alfredo Jaar, Jimmie Durham, and Rirkrit Tiravanija), cultural institutions (Palais de Tokyo, Paris; EURAC and Museui, Bolzano; Isola Art Center, Milan; Riga City Hall Exhibitions Center, Riga; Centre A, Vancouver; the 10th Istanbul Biennial; California College of the Arts / World Social Forum, San Francisco; and Tbilisi History Museum, Tbilisi), and human rights NGOs (including FIDH, Amnesty International, and Médecins sans Frontières).

Evelyne Jouanno is a curator. In 2005 she founded the Emergency Biennial, a travelling art and social project in collaboration with international communities of artists, cultural institutions and human rights NGOs,  launched both in the war context of Chechnya and at Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and then across the world. She is also the founding director of Ars Citizen in San Francisco (2016), a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the production of contemporary art and ideas in the Silicon Valley. First projects are Sophie Calle | Missing, 2017, and Ryoji Ikeda | Premiere in San Francisco, 2018. Recent highlights include Le vent se lève, exhibition of the residents of Villa Medici, the French Academy in Rome, 2019, and, as a new Senior Research Fellow and Advisorat Center for Arts, Design and Social Research, Boston, the curating of De Rerum Naturain Spoleto, July 2019, a workshop with philosophers Bernard Stiegler and Yuk Huy. Jouanno academic positions include lectureships at the University Paris VIII, UC Berkeley, California College of the Arts and the San Francisco Arts Institute. She has earned a Master degree in Art History from the University Paris-Sorbonne.

19.15 – 19.45