The Biennial of Cuenca, Ecuador, continues its consolidation process as a forum open to all expressions of contemporary visual arts with no reservations regarding format or medium. Under this premise the Biennial is taking solid steps toward a renewed cultural policy committed to principles of artistic integration that do not limit themselves to holding imposing exhibitions every two years, but that arrange continuous programs of dissemination of an educational and theoretical nature to sponsor an effective introduction to contemporary artistic manifestations for all segments of the community.
From this perspective, the Biennial has created the Office of Artistic Management within its internal structure, which will be in charge of articulating all levels in the development of the X Edition, in aspects such as curatorship, museography, theory, education and communication, all with the same conceptual and operational objective
It is important to point out that in order to contribute to the educational work of the Cuenca Biennial and sponsor a full and motivated participation by the citizenry around the X Edition, relevant cultural institutions of Cuenca (the Municipality, House of Culture and Central Bank) have jointly structured a City Agenda, clearly defined around the historic nucleus of local artistic activity. This Agenda will take place in the exhibition spaces of he participating institutions, so that citizens are able to appreciate a systematic panorama of pictorial manifestations and creations of Cuenca during the 20th century, as well as contemporary artistic expressions, all with the help of related educational material.
Also new is the inclusion in the competition of works from geographical areas outside the American continent. Until the ninth edition the Cuenca Biennial had limited the field of countries to the western hemisphere, whose practices and artistic production constituted the exclusive object of study of the event. In the tenth edition, Europe, Africa and Asia will be present for the first time in the exposition.
The work of the X Biennial is under way for the competition exhibition to be held from October 22 to December 4 of 2009. It revolves around the basic theoretical pillars that govern this new edition: Institutional Policy, General Postulates, Curatorial Principles and the Conceptual Basis. They are components with links among themselves, since the conceptual proposal – Intersections: Memory, Reality and New Eras – is in agreement with the premises, that “the Biennial should be sensitive to the current era of visual art and cultural in general, maintaining a wide vision in which criteria of quality predominate in the selection of the artists’ proposals,” with “well defined spaces” that endeavor to attain “an essential principle for a good museography… in both conventional and unconventional places.”
- This Biennial is characterized as providing a creative solution to the challenges of cultural administration in a country such as Ecuador, now on the path to a new political, social, institutional and private moment, which can definitively change the maps which have been recognizable until now. It is a different panorama, in which culture will be substantially redefined, demanding of us more and better adaptive and creative abilities.
- The X Biennial is undergoing a transformation to a solid cultural and academic institution with permanent programs in the fields of investigation, documentation, diffusion and education.
Our mandate is to organize an international exposition every two years that brings together the latest manifestations of the contemporary visual arts, of artists that live in Ecuador or in the countries of the American continent, the Caribbean and other geographical areas, whose works have been selected through the curatorial mechanisms established by the Biennial.
The Biennial will also be able to organize parallel expositions – both individual and collective – outside the competition, with the participation of invited artists, without regard to place of residence or nationality.
The Biennial, Cuenca and the contexts
The special physiognomy of the Biennial of Cuenca – identified with a heritage city of human proportions, with an andean city in which one still perceives the coexistence of popular cultures, of the rural world and of contemporary urban cultures; identified with a multicultural country; with the pri- vilege of forums of dialog among artists, varieties of publics, specialists, administrators, with the same organizational and economic proportionality, but efficient in its dimension (far removed from the multi-million dollar mega events of international artistic spectacles) – this represents one of the main strengths of our artistic space and cultural administration, aspects in which we insist for the purpose of differentiating it, and as a consequence, of better highlighting it in the evermore diverse, complex and competitive circuits of international art exhibition forums in which new biennials, triennials, shows, fairs, etc., are created and rapidly proliferate, in which the processes of globalization hoist the flag of cultural homogeneity. At the same time, the Cuenca Biennial constitutes a powerful base from which to fine-tune association with other cultural scenarios.
In this new cultural context that Cuenca is living through, after being declared a World Cultural Heritage (December 1, 1999), and after celebrating in 2007 the 450th anniversary of its founding, we favor a Biennial that establishes itself as a catalyzing space of thoughts and proposals, that outlines points of contact between the heritages of memory, the designs of reality, and the new eras that are ours to live, a Biennial that explores Cuenca’s relation to questions of topographic, natural, urban and existential character, that inquires into the fullest range of experiences and visual processes. Without a doubt, articulating this interest will be quite a challenge for artists and curators. But these are the risks that are worthwhile assuming. The curator proposes a thesis that, while beginning from this singularity, at the same time has a universal ingredient. What is simple would be to continue insisting upon just those themes imported from circuits that differ from our own cultural constructions.
The equality of the prizes
Reviewing the history of the Biennial and its prizes, until the sixth edition three economic prizes were awarded, subordinated to painting as the sole purpose of the invitation to the Biennial. If granting awards to just a few works in a group of large size – at times surpassing six hundred – was already a difficult task for the jurors, its subjectivism was accentuated even more by additionally establishing categories for first, second and third prize. During the seventh Biennial it was decided to improve the system, and the decision was made to present three prizes, but of the same hierarchy and, consequently, of the same amount. The ninth Biennial decided to maintain this typology in the awards, but with a difference: two prizes were designated for painting and one for new artistic practices. On this occasion, and according to experiences derived from the preceding event, the tenth Biennial will award three prizes of $20,000 each, in equal conditions, for all of the works in competition, thus eliminating differentiations and borders difficult to justify for an event of this nature. We consider this to be a much more just criterion for the awards, especially in relation to a renewed Biennial that gives wide coverage to all of the visual expressions of what is contemporary.
The principal setting for ecuadorian art
A fundamental principal will be the construction of the physiognomy of a Biennial that establishes the promotion of the contemporary art of the country as a priority, and especially what can be generated from the aesthetic imageries of the competition’s host city, Cuenca. From this perspective we strengthen the tendency assumed years ago, to show the avant garde artistic production of the country and; therefore, construct a better international projection of Ecuadorian art, endeavoring to inquire into the accumula- tion of suggestions that the city of Cuenca inspires in the contemporary creation of the country, and why not the wide impact it has on society and the community as well.
The Biennial and social maps
A constant concern of the Biennial has been the establishment of a systematic relationship with different publics of Cuenca and Ecuador that leads to an enrichment of cultural sensitivity on the part of the citizenry, that generates a greater conscience of what contemporary culture is, with a critical perception, not only in the aesthetic plane, but the importance of daily events in and of themselves and their multiple forms of interpretation. It is toward that objective that we direct our efforts, to lay the foundation of a systematic program of education that is developed over almost the entire year prior to the Biennial, through the City Agenda, which provides the diverse publics a basic instrument to understand the proposals they will encounter in the international event through better preparation and greater aesthetic receptivity.
An observatory for the study of the new aesthetics
It becomes necessary to rethink the original role for which the Biennial was created and to look for new horizons in which the incentive for new visual practices and an approximation to diverse publics must be emphasized, while being careful to promote contemporary cultural activities, the debates in which critical- constructive thought is confronted, the analysis of the role of museums and collectors of contemporary art and, especially, creation of representative forums for the active participation of artists in workshops, artist-in-residence programs, commissions of urban art works, activities in universities, etc. In other words, we must identify the Cuenca Biennial as one of the major observatories for the study of the new visual aesthetics that are being shaped and that will make up the profiles of current art in Ecuador, a country that must generate answers in contemporary art forums in spite of its profound political and social fragmentations.
In a world evermore contaminated, bewildered, and bloated by consumerism and avarice, a biennial must strengthen aesthetic dissention, the sense of difference. We hope the X Biennial makes us think and fills our lives with something worth contemplating.
In addition to being an important aesthetic symbol, the Biennial will be a vehicle to encourage the construction of a renewed concept of belonging that takes the form of a cultural legacy, which not only collects the residual presences of the past, but must overcome fixed hegemonic valuation, at times shaped by an officialistic history, promoting emerging cultural proposals, as well, and becoming a real laboratory for creation.
The Curatorial Principles of the X Edition
- To firmly establish its own model of a biennial, one that emerges from the dynamics of the host context and contains an articulating point of departure based on the life of Cuenca.
- The periodicity (biennial), more that a simple occurrence of an exposition, must be understood as a continuous process of investigation and constant updating of the conditions of contemporary artistic activity detected in the Americas, and especially in Ecuador and Cuenca; production / circulation-consumption / communication.
- The entire curatorial process will be a systematic exercise oriented by the General Curator of the Biennial and the Artistic Coordinator.
- The Biennial must have a plural focus that definitively overcomes this kind of dichotomy or stigmatization that disparages the conventional medium of painting or the new technologies and artistic practice of our contemporary world.
- A principle of including artistic proposals based on the quality or contemporary vitality of the images and their processes, overcoming selection/awards criteria that exclude, more oriented by personal taste toward fashions, certain concepts, mediums or tools.
- A careful selection process, that not only looks at a fragment of the production, but analyzes the creative process of the artist, his career, preparation or occupation, the degree to which the work belongs to the conceptual / aesthetic line practiced by the artist, proximity to the conceptual basis of the Biennial, etc. A curatorial guidance that accompanies the artists in their process of creating the project or work will be very welcome, more than or rather than a superficial look at finished products that could be adapted to the competition.
- The shortage of conventional museographic spaces in the city of Cuenca must motivate the curators and artists to present proposals for specific sites. In this sense it will be important to enrich the documentation of the spaces to be used by the Biennial, including detailed virtual information about them.
- The Artistic Management must maintain the educational function as a transverse axis, specifying with sufficient lead time of the opening of the exhibitions the concepts employed in its structuring, the creative contexts in which the selected artists develop, the technical scope of the works, the aesthetic resources used, and the meanings that they harbor. The language for this communication must be easy to understand for different publics. The educational activities will be channeled through publications that circulate widely (a range of publications already exists in the Biennial), by lecture cycles, programs at educational establishments, didactic museographic expositions, training for monitors and guides, and field work together with artists. A true curatorial activity must pay attention to the capacity for communication of the exhibitions, directed toward diverse publics.
- The Biennial should not be seen as an end in itself. The Biennial must detect existing problems in diverse processes of current art and become an important institution for undertaking these investigations, searching – together with other institutions – for solutions to the deficiencies in cultural policy, infrastructure, art production problems, markets and documentation.
- In addition to capably carrying out the selection of artists and works, the aim is to obtain from the national curatorial authorities, aggregate value resulting from inter- institutional agreements that facilitate internships or artist in residence programs, lecture cycles, technical consultancy, the structuring of academic programs, the exchange of exhibitions and other possible future initiatives.
Rene Cardoso Segarra
President of the X Biennial