I was invited to participate in the final day of Imagined Biennales which was produced by the Winchester School of Art at Tate Exchange on 13th May 2018. I wrote SPEAR THISTLE a non-manifesto for an Anti-Biennial. This is the transcript of my piece which I performed as a prose poem at the event.
Do not court the artworld. Do not allow the artworld to court you. Despise it instead.
NEVER use the word Biennial or Triennial or other artworld nonsense. Do not speak their language.
The artworld is a walled garden – formal and all about cross-breeding. We are, to them, as weeds.
Refute regularity and predictability. Do not host every two years. Self-organise when you’ve self-organised. Not as a career-move but because you can.
Be like a Spear Thistle – germinate in the first year, flower, scatter seeds the second then die.
New shoots will sprout sometime, somewhere else. The weeds will continue to attack the artworld and its corrupt neoliberal institutions.
Vulgar, common, invasive, we flourish in uncultivated and cultivated places – in wastelands and gardens. Spear Thistle resists management. Spear Thistle is vigorous – everywhere.
Make the everyday like a Feast of Fools. An upside-down world. Disobedient. Carnivalesque.
Make it political. Make it ethical.
Make a deadline. Make a point.
The everyday does not exist in arts institutions. It is prohibited there.
The everyday exists on the streets.
Take back the streets and public spaces. Make a point of hosting at least some part of it in a pseudo-public space.
Use it to occupy public spaces.
Do not curate it. Let it organise itself.
Film any attempts to oppose or inhibit the interventions. Post them on social media. Add them to the festival.
Do not seek funding from anyone who may place any demands upon you or ask you to follow their agendas in any way.
Do not complete any reports or evaluate anything. No Art By Numbers!
Do not ask permission.
Make sure the only economic benefits it creates are for those taking part and for those who are persecuted by capitalism.
Do not allow it to be recuperated.
Ask participants to make things up as they go along. Give it a life of its own.
Encourage people to cooperate and devise interventions collectively.
Do not use volunteers but act voluntarily.
Make money if you can. Keep what you feel is fair recompense for your efforts then give the rest to those who need it more than you.
Embrace communities ignored, exploited and demeaned by the artworld.
Exploit the media. Play the game. Be the game.
Say NO to the artworld!
Kill biennials before they kill us all!
So what is SPEAR THISTLE. It's a non-manifesto dressed up as an anti-manual. It is a reaction to the homogenous capitalist entity which proliferated and became a neoliberal vehicle – an artworld spectacle of spectacles for art dealers and artworld globe trotters. Biennials, Triennials, Quadrennials merge with art fairs and nation states to produce the falsity of a “glocal” artworld.
Since 1895, Biennials have been the shop front, the cocktail bar, the Masonic hall of the elitists. Places of consumerism and the reification of high art and culture. They are a Western concept. Their global expansion mimics and reproduces neo-colonialism; reinforcing Western domination and oppression.
Biennials are exclusive and depoliticising. They exist to sell art to those who can afford it – be they buyers or spectators. They facilitate the corporate takeover of arts and culture. Biennials today are one of the shiny baubles on the Creative Cities Christmas trees popping up in virtually every city and town all over our planet.
The short-lived gifts are for the establishment, for the elites and their shallow Creative Class automatons. They offer little to most people on our planet, other than exploitation, dispossession and displacement. Or perhaps, like the forthcoming 6th Athens Bienniale, an “absurd personification” and “a purgatory without a purge”.
I illustrate my case with a few examples...
Documenta 2017 – Athens. Criticised as representing “The botox of capitalism”. The Learning from Athens was that Documenta was accused of “crisis tourism” – a poverty “safari” and a “humanitarian tourism crusade”. It artwashed social and political crises in the name of cultural and economic capital.
Whitney Biennial 2017. White artist accused of creating a “Black Death Spectacle”.
Documenta 13 and the Berlin Biennale 2012. “Protest” camps appropriated by the artworld signifying the end of the Occupy Movement.
Venice Architecture Biennale 2018. V&A will sail a segment of London ex-council housing estate Robin Hood Gardens on a barge to the city then reconstruct it so privileged visitors can gawp in awe whilst walking in a piece of “design salvage” – or the once homes for working-class people.
The very first Biennale was conceived of as a market place for modern art. The 1968 sales ban is nothing but a sham. The concept of Biennials sits all to comfortably within today’s neoliberal hegemony. It is adored and exported by a colonialist artworld.
There is no option. The Biennial, like the artworld, is rotten to the core. Always has been. Always will.
We must take back art and culture.
We must decolonise our arts and culture.
We must liberate ourselves.
One step is the Anti-Biennial.
Be Anti-Biennial NOW, before it’s too late, before they kill us all!