DISCUSSION | Biennials: The Commons

Posted on 16/06/2011


[Recovery & Regeneration]
[From Emergency to Emergence]
[The Commons]

Taking cues from the examples and critics cited here, the idea of the commons has emerged as a networked space of creative and generative possibility and risk. To recover is to reclaim. In shaping the commons, Jay Walljasper states that we “recognise some forms of wealth belong to all of us, and that these community resources must be actively protected and managed for the good of all. The commons are the things that we inherit and create jointly, and that will (hopefully) last for generations to come. The commons consists of gifts of nature such as air, oceans and wildlife as well as shared social creations such as libraries, public spaces, scientific research and creative works.” However, there’s never just one commons – the commons itself is multiple and complex, in process and becoming. Artists actively keep the commons alive in the face of all kinds of opposition, censorship and antagonism.

So what kind of art and art event is integral to this becoming or emergence? Several essays in Empires, Ruins + Networks: The Transcultural Agenda in Art, edited by Scott McQuire and Nikos Papastergiadis, also explore the possibility of a new network of global cultural dialogue and the construction of a global common. What I see happening in post-disaster work of the three examples cited earlier is a sense of the ‘becoming commons’ emerging from ruins and loss in a situation of what Ross Gibson might describe as ‘changefulness’. It’s what I am inclined to think of as practice based, as ‘changescaping’ (work in progress at https://placing.wordpress.com/changescaping).

How do we reconcile the sometimes exclusive and exclusionary cultural practices with this call for ‘the commons’ and emergence? Whose responsibility is it to do the bridging (politics, art or, as Papastergiadis proposes, the “politics of art”), generating those relationships or draw those connections? What should we risk? The very idea – the possibility, the assumption – of the Biennial itself. Ultimately, there’s a question of governance and stewardship. As Brenson says, “we have to talk about art in ways in which everyone has something to lose”. If critical art, as McQuire and Papastergiadis write, “increasingly take an active role in constituting new social relationships” – or as Richard Rorty proposes, “speaks differently” – curators have a pivotal role to play in cultivation and caring (curare), politics and poetics. We all have a role to play in the poiesis of the commons.

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