Over the last two years, a relentless series of challenging events have tested us individually and collectively. The Covid-19 pandemic (accompanied by increasing environmental emergencies, social conflict and open war in several countries) unexpectedly confronted us with a new sense of urgency, foregrounding new and existing socio-political and economic issues that we now must address. The current crisis in Ukraine only augmented a sense of emergency that we are beginning to understand as a permanent state of exception. We are indeed an endangered species and, tragically, our own worst enemy.
The arts, and culture at large, have been severely impacted by the pandemic. Many international exhibitions (such as biennials and periodical museum surveys) were halted or radically transformed to meet new legal public health requirements, demanding from practitioners and institutions to experiment with different engagement strategies and forms of communication. Crucially, we have adapted to living and operating in social isolation. Only a click away from anything we needed, we have nevertheless missed tactility, human interaction and bodily exchanges. War and social upheaval have, on the other hand, recentred our experience in the physical realm, pushing us back to the domain of physical vulnerability, ethical embodiment and body politics.
As someone who had the almost impossible task of curating a biennial at the apex of the Covid-19 pandemic and operating during a regional war that went largely ignored by the international media, I am acutely aware of the implications of making and presenting art in these difficult times. I would therefore like to invite colleagues and allies to share their recent experiences and see if there is something that we can collectively learn from this most dramatic period.
The current scenario only reinforced my conviction that although war is universally deprecated, it is still a defining feature of humanity. It is also clear to me that not all wars have the same relevance to the eyes of the international community and have a comparable impact on the global media. Ideas such as solidarity, intellectual allegiance, institutional support, cultural diplomacy, etc. seem to apply only to certain conflicts and situations. Others go on largely unacknowledged, perpetuating systems of exclusion and political invisibility. The present situation confirms that the art system is only capable of conditional empathy and hospitality: it ostensibly privileges only uncontentious narratives.
This symposium is an invitation to reflect jointly on a urgent questions associated with our profession. At times of crisis, what is our role as artists, curators, cultural mobilisers, intellectuals? And what is the role of the cultural institutions we represent and embody?
As Antonio Gramsci (among others) showed us, these are not easy questions to answer. It is however of the greatest importance to pose them at this historic juncture. Thank you for participating in this fundamental discussion.
2022 CEI Venice Forum for Contemporary Art Curators