Monday, 8 December 2008

Robert Storr & David A. Bailey in conversation - The webcast

Tate Online Events

Date: 21 May 2008
Venue: Tate Britain

In this first London event of the International Curators Forum, an institution which aims to animate and develop the international curatorial community, curator and artist Robert Storr and curator David A Bailey discuss the Venice Biennale. Storr reflects on his role as Commissioner in 2007 and both contemplate the Biennale’s legacy and future.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Axel Lapp interviews Christian Boros - Art Review

Art Review Issue 28 December 2008

Axel Lapp Projects
Invalidenstraße 161 (Remise)
D-10115 Berlin

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

The Brighton Photo Biennial Conference

Date: Saturday 15th November
MEMORY OF FIRE: the War of Images and Images of War

Programmed by Julian Stallabrass, Brighton Photo Biennial 2008 Guest Curator, organised by Brighton Photo Biennial and supported by the University of Brighton, this important event brings together internationally renowned photographers, media theorists and art historians to discuss the production, exhibition and distribution of images of war, referencing historical and contemporary photography.

This is a serious opportunity to explore BPB 2008 through a range of related disciplines and with a focus on photojournalism and contemporary photographic practice.

The conference, Memory of Fire: the War of Images and Images of War, like the Biennial sets out to examine the vast changes that have taken place in the making and use of images of conflict since the last great 'media war', in Vietnam.

Conference Themes and Key Questions/Issues
Among the major themes are:
• What changes are brought about in the use and memory of images by their new ease of making and circulation?
• How do these images change when seen in so many rapidly changing and antithetical contexts?
• Does the plethora of conflict images in the new media realm work against the emergence of highly memorable key images that seem to summarise an event (as famously pictures by Nick Ut, Eddie Adams and Philip Jones Griffiths did for Vietnam)?
• How have artists responded to the changed media landscape, particularly in placing large-format images of conflict on museum walls?

Saturday 15th November

9.30am - Convene

9.45am - Welcome address – Helen Cadwallader, BPB Executive Director

9.50am - Julian Stallabrass (Courtauld Institute of Art and BPB 2008 Guest Curator) introduces the themes of BPB 2008 Memory of Fire: the War of Images and Images of War and the conference.

10.00am - Paper presentations: Hilary Roberts (Head of Collections Management, Imperial War Museum, London) and Eyal Weizman (architect, writer and curator)

11.15am - Break

11.45 - Artist Presentations: Simon Norfolk (artist, BPB 2008 exhibiting at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea), Broomberg and Chanarin (artists, BPB 2008 exhibiting at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea) and Harriet Logan (artist, BPB 2008 exhibiting at the Independent Photographers Gallery, Battle) present and discuss their work.

1.15pm - Lunch

2.45pm - Paper presentations: Iain Boal (Historian of technics and the commons and a member of the Retort Collective) and Stefaan Decostere (multi-media and online producer CARGO, curator and artist)

4.15pm - Break

4.45pm - In Conversation: Tom Hickey (Course Leader for the Cultural and Critical Theory MA at University of Brighton) and Julian Stallabrass explore themes of the Biennial.

Conference Chair: Mark Waugh, Executive Director The A Foundation and Co-Founder International Curators Forum.

Conference Venue:
Sallis Benney Theatre
University of Brighton
Grand Parade

Thursday, 13 November 2008

The Dilemma Of Collecting Live Art In Times Of Dematerialisation

A discussion that raised many questions about collecting and it's influences on the position and intentions of the artist.

2nd November 2008
Goethe Institute
Neue Schönhauser Str. 20
10178 Berlin

Organised by The DNA Gallery and Valerie Schwarz.

Speakers: David Elliot, artistic director of the Sydney Biennial 2010, Jan Hoet, director of MARTa Herford museum in Herford, Fumio Nanjo, director of Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, Berta Sichel director of audiovisuals at Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sophia in Madrid, Mark Waugh exective director of the A Foundation in London and Liverpool. The panel was chaired by Mark Gisbourne, who is based in Berlin and is part of the editorial board at ART.ES.

DNA Gallery
Auguststraße 20
10117 Berlin
Tel. + 49 (0)30 28 59 96 52

photos © Julia Waugh.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The British Art Show 7 & The New Art Exchange

The British Art Show & The New Art Exchange

31st October 2008

...The ICF has been invited to curate a discussion on the issues underpinning the evolution of The British Art Show. Like Documenta this will evolve over a 5 year period, allowing new configurations and diverse approaches to the challenge of presenting a national survey.
What is strategically significant is that the exhibition tours to partner cities that raise the resources to host the exhibition.

For BAS7 one of the host cities is Plymouth, which has not previously benefitted from an exhibition of this scale, raising the question of how infrastructural challenges impact on curatorial choices. These and an array of questions will aim to navigate a path through issues that have, perhaps, been left unanswered since the last

Speakers include: David A. Bailey, Andrea Schlieker, Jason Bowman, Claire Doherty, Alex Farquarson, Hew Locke, Sandy Nairne, Mark Nash, Roger Malbert.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Jason Evans & The ICF - A Salon - The Brighton Photo Biennial

4th Oct 2008


Jason Evans

The Permanent Gallery

20 Bedford Place

In this new show created specifically for Permanent Gallery, Jason Evans debuts his ongoing Reconciliation project. In this series of outputs he revisits his own diverse back-catalogue and the recurring themes of his practice.

For the Brighton Photo Fringe exhibit, the theme of Street Photography is his focus, and he presents new selections from 4 quite different bodies of work from the last 8 years in order to facilitate speculation about the nature of the discipline.

Where is 'the street'? Where is chance in the 21st Century? Is 'the street' a state of mind ? Have we come to the end of the road?

Also on display are objects collected on location whilst these works were made, as is an especially commissioned limited edition Reconciliation Scarf, made with long-time collaborator Alex Rich. The Gallery has also been re-decorated to bring its location into the equation and interrupt the institution of 'the white cube'.

A small publication designed by Alex Rich and Jason Evans accompanies the show.

The 4 bodies of street-work are :

The New Scent 2000-05

Black and White analogue photographs made with misleading visual imperative in mind.

The Daily Nice 2004-ongoing

Colour digital captures from the web-based project where a positive agenda is brought to 'the everyday'.

NewYorkLondonParisTokyo 2005-07
Black and White, analogue, multiple-exposure photographs, which relocate the decisive moment onto the film plane, inviting chance to combine scenes influenced by the visual precedents of these 4 major sites of street photographic history.

The End of the World is Fine 2000-ongoing

Black and White and Colour still lives and documentary style pictures. Scenes of personal wonder recorded for posterity with considerable pathos, juxtaposed with studies of pieces of things that used to be something else.


Bighton Photo Biennial is the UK’s leading festival of photography offering an ambitious celebration of international photographic practice.

The Biennial is committed to stimulating debate on photography in all its forms: new and historic, digital and analogue, still and moving. The Biennial presents the work of international artists, from a range of cultural backgrounds, commissioning new work, premiering recent work and exhibiting historical work in new contexts.

The Biennial includes exhibitions, participatory programmes, publications, conferences, talks, portfolio reviews and outdoor events. An extensive education programme develops local audiences through which the Biennial aims to reach the widest possible audiences and creates exciting opportunities for participation and engagement.

Entitled Memory of Fire: the War of Images and Images of War, Brighton Photo Biennial 2008 will explore photographic images of war, their making, use and circulation, and their currency in contemporary society.

The provocative writer and critic Julian Stallabrass will curate ten exhibitions presenting photography, film and online material produced and circulated in time of war, and analyse how images have been shaped by the changing social and political conditions from the Vietnam era to the present. The exhibitions will include images produced by photojournalists, artists and non-professionals.


Julian Stallabrass on Brighton Photo Biennial 2008

The title is borrowed from Eduardo Galeano’s extraordinary book, Memory of Fire, an epic literary account of 500 years of Latin American resistance to imperialism. The book consists of numerous self-contained episodes which can be read in isolation but also combine with their neighbours to produce a larger picture of the book’s subject. Similarly, BPB 2008, which covers a long stretch of the South East England coastline, comprises many exhibitions and events, each of which stands alone, but which may be enriched when other elements are seen.

Memory of Fire: The War of Images and Images of War
takes on various issues as its main themes: first, it examines the production and dissemination of images in time of war, especially the changing conditions from the Vietnam era to the present. Images made by photojournalists, both as prints and as published in magazines and newspapers, are shown alongside presentations of online image displays, either on screen or made into wall-bound objects.

Memory of Fire will also illumine through an examination of the media the conditions of conflict, imperialism and expropriation, historically and into the present. By taking in views of the different sides of the various conflicts, radically different perspectives will emerge.

Memory of Fire seeks to frame and inform new imagery with old, and vice versa. In looking at historical imagery alongside the photography of current wars, the Biennial elicits intimations of the collective and individual memory of such images, their forgetting and revision, and their rebirth at times of crisis and war.

Finally, the Biennial looks at the place of the art world in the production of images of conflict, particularly the making of large-scale images of destruction on the scale of the history paintings of old (and like them sometimes commissioned by the state).

photos © Julia Waugh.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Manifesta7 - A navigation with Axel Lapp

19 July - 02 November 2008

Manifesta 7, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art will be hosted by the Trentino – South Tyrol Region from July 19 to November 2, 2008. For the first time it will take place in Italy and will stretch across an entire regional territory – one hundred and fifty kilometres of crossroads of different cultures and intersecting traditions, rich in historical monuments and in sites of industrial archeology. It involves four cities which together create a single connecting route along the Brenner axis between the north and south of Europe: Fortezza (Bressanone), ex-Alumix factory in Bolzano, the Palazzo delle Poste in Trento, Manifattura Tabacchi and ex-Peterlini factory in Rovereto.

"Manifesta is a pan-European nomadic platform for the contemporary visual arts that is run by the International Foundation Manifesta in Amsterdam. The first Manifesta was held in Rotterdam in 1996. Since then, this European Biennial of contemporary art moved to Luxembourg, Ljubljana, Frankfurt and San Sebastian. Manifesta 6 in Nicosia was cancelled, and Manifesta 7 is the first that is held across an entire region..."

Read the rest of the article...

Axel Lapp is a writer and curator based in Berlin.
Axis is an online resource for information about contemporary art.
The website features profiles of professional artists and curators, interviews, discussions, art news, debates and showcases the artists to watch.

Monday, 15 September 2008

The ICF & The European Biennial Network at the A Foundation - The Liverpool Biennial

The ICF & The European Biennial Network at the A Foundation.

The European Biennial Network has initiated, with the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union, the Biennial Exchange and Residency Programme: a two-year cycle of workshops, residency and traineeship programmes, research visits, and networking events. These activities are designed to reflect the diversity of different approaches to contemporary art, and to create opportunities for research, exchange of ideas, and creative partnerships.

The Liverpool Biennial is the UK's largest festival of contemporary visual art. Established in 1998, this year will see the fifth festival take place. Since its inception, this international exhibition has commissioned well over 100 new works, many for the streets and public spaces of Liverpool, by established contemporary artists from around the world.

European Biennial Network & The International Curators Forum.
Is it appropriate on the opening day of Liverpool Biennial to look at the long-term results of biennials? Or is the primary role of biennials to provide a short-term injection into the bloodstream of art and city.

Can they do both? Since the expansion and proliferation of biennials in the 1990s, can we now begin to detect accumulative benefits within their local arts ecologies? If so, why does criticism focus mainly upon the reception of authored curatorial strategies in an ever-expanding global art world?

This debate brings a number of European biennials together to focus the spotlight behind the scene and looks at different approaches of biennials to connect curatorial models with the cultural infrastructure in their cities. An expert panel of invited international curators, artists, commissioners and writers will represent those responsible for the organisation of the biennials.

Chaired by Paul O'Neill, Research Fellow Situations, University of the West of England; with Kerstin Bergendal, artist, and author of Kunstplan Trekoner; Paul Domela, Programme Director Liverpool Biennial; Annie Fletcher, curator van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven; Bige Orer, Director Istanbul Biennial; Renate Wagner, Berlin Biennale; Augustine Zenakos, founder and co-director Athens Biennial; and others and Jan Verwoert, contributing editor at Frieze.

We all experience artworks at different velocities and much has been said about the need for artworks to engage us in both the spectacular flash of first impact and the slow retinal aftershocks of perception.

This vertiginous moment is perhaps most precarious within the context of the international biennial when as the curtain rises the accumulation of ideas is exposed and the work becomes a spectacle in an international melee of artworks.

Hosted by David A. Bailey, Director of ICF and Senior Curator at Autograph, with contributions from Lina Dzuverovic, Curator of Nordic Biennial 2009, co-founder and Director of Electra; Cedar Lewisohn, Curator of Tate Modern Street Art and Tate Triennial, Axel Lapp, Contributing Editor Art Review, publisher and curator; Jiyoon Lee, Director of SUUM and Curator of Fantasy Studio Project; Ed Linse of Artists Anonymous, an art collective based in Berlin and writer and critic J.J. Charlesworth.

The Liverpool Biennial
20 September - 30 November 2008

photos © Julia Waugh.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Robert Storr & David A. Bailey in Conversation

Robert Storr & David A. Bailey in Conversation

Tate Britain

21st May 2008

"Before 2007, American art historian Robert Storr was primarily known for his longstanding curatorial role at MoMA's Department of Painting and Sculpture. As the first US Commissioner of the 52nd Venice Biennale last year, however, he received a barrage of criticism from the Italian and art press for, as the New York Times' Michael Kimmelman put it, his "subtle and sober" handling of the Arsenale show, the central international exhibition. Storr effectively "answered his critics" in an interview with The Art Newspaper back in January, in which he spoke candidly about his choices as helmsman of the world's most famous exhibition and the bureaucratic hoop-jumping that ensued.

In booking Storr for the International Curators Forum's first London event, Tate has certainly scored a coup. Ears will doubtless be pinned in anticipation of any art world gossip dropped during his conversation with David A Bailey, senior curator at Autograph. Essentially, though, this is an extraordinary chance to hear a first-hand account of the Biennale's recent past and consider the issues hanging over its future."

issue 240

Friday, 16 May 2008

Dak'Art Biennale : Dakar Senegal

Dal'Art Biennale
8th Biennale of Contempory Arts
9th May - 9th June 2008

Africa: Mirror?

Dak’Art Biennale has chosen for its 2008 edition the theme of Mirror in relation to Africa’s current presence in the world, i.e. the multifaceted realities and the crucial issues facing the continent and those living in it on the one hand, and its diaspora on the other hand.

The pregnancy and permanence of the image being consubstantial with the mirror phenomenon, i.e. what is reflected in the double sense of casting and urging to reflect, it is therefore receptacle and vector of images; it is ambivalent and has a double meaning, if one assumes that it can be true or distorting.

The 2008 edition of DAKAR Biennale for Art draws on the metaphor of the mirror to examine, question a destiny and try to outline through Art, a future, that of an Africa more current than ever, in an immediate conscience or in attempts to conceal the presence which raises many issues. This almost temporal issue puts into perspective a threefold questioning: that of attributed identity, attributed and accepted identity, and attributed and rejected identity.

While it is hardly possible for Africa to infer in the first perspective (assuming that the image attributed to it is often built from the outside, from presuppositions, preconceived notions and even pure imaginations), its responsibility is solely and exclusively engaged in the act of acceptance or conscious and elaborated modification of the attributed identity.

Africa and the various stages of its history have been presented and continue to be so in literary genres and forms, from the pre-colonial period to our era of globalization, through prisms which relate again back to the mirror of the past and current human being. What is reflected in this context draws excessively on imageries of Epinal, clichés which, ultimately, relate back to visions and symbols. Anthropologists, ethnographers, writers, and economists have used and have often exploited to excess such reflected products, because they are developed on purpose.

Thus the African Art has come, in a recapturing and reinterpretation process of its discourse, to ignore conventional images, because the artwork offers writing as a means of reflecting other images more valuable, as it corresponds to realities that devices cannot reduce to caricatures. The verb of Africans has gone back up to the genesis of these images and produces unreal counter-models.

In response to the escalation of caricature, Africans, researchers and artists, economists and journalists, all those who, in writing, participate in the demystification move, deconstruct discourses in an archaeology for which Art is, after all, a medium which Africa has recaptured.

The African Art fascinates, motivates, mobilizes and provides a corrective, valuable and rehabilitating prospect. They are demiurge, these masters of the true meaning, and they provide hope for Africa to be what it wants to be.

Thus, the meetings and exchanges of DAK’ART 2008 intend to be a true mirror which allows to show realities and to point to issues through phrases and words by and for a salutary catharsis.

Therefore, Dakar Biennale is at the heart of a multifaceted debate, a necessary and topical debate which calls for introspection, dialogue and solidarity. It will be about determining the responsibility of Africa engaged in a process the course of which it has to imperiously control.

Globalization, cultural diversity, freedom and democracy, economic growth, poverty, dignity, hope and expectation, are themes which deeply raise issues and show that there is no other option than the lucid and courageous taking of individual and collective responsibilities, firstly African, convergent, and respectful of the human being.

This prospect paves the way to recapture the initiative, calls to break with the trap of ethnological look and as Boubacar Boris Diop said, to look at "Africa beyond the mirror."


Dak'Art Calling - Reflections by David Drake.

As Senegal's first city, Dakar seems to embody the vitality, complexity and contradictions of Modern Africa. The city's parade of striking modernist architecture may be a legacy of the years of French occupation, but the pot-holed streets, ramshackle urban infrastructure and ubiquitous street hawkers are a reminder of the harsh realities of post-colonial existence.

The Mbalax played nightly in clubs such as Just 4 U and Thiossane is a cosmopolitan blend of Western and African melodies and beats tinged with more traditional flavours. The rhythm of the clubs by night is also the rhythm of the streets by day. In the heart of the city, people always seem to be on the move, whether on foot or by assorted forms of road transport. Some cling onto the blue and yellow painted car rapide minibuses, which are reproduced in miniature as toys in the workshops of the central market, souvenirs deftly fashioned out of recycled tin cans. A few miles off the coast lies the idyllic Ile de Gorée, a haven for the many tourists who travel there daily by ferry to escape the hustle and bustle of the mainland. But for over a century Gorée was the island where slaves were delivered and traded by their African and French captors.

Like so many places in modern Africa, Dakar carries itself with beauty, elegance and grace, but also with a certain restlessness and vulnerability, as if haunted by its past. Curator Simon Njami has commented:

"Contemporary Africa no longer refers to a physical or geographic reality. It does not refer to a valid cartography, because the ebb and flow movement are the two constituent elements of this new citizenship. This new citizenship, intangible and fluid, is naturally based on the ripples of history and on memory"

For Dak'Art 2008, the eighth instalment of the Dakar Biennale of Contemporary African Art, the chosen theme was 'Africa: Mirror'. The theme sought to reflect both Africa's presence in the world - the multifaceted realities and issues facing the continent's inhabitants and its diaspora - and also the position of contemporary art and artists in Africa and on the world stage.

Apart from participating artists, curators, organisers and local dignitaries, the majority of those on hand for the opening festivities were a ragbag of arts professionals with a pre-existent interest in African arts and culture. Conspicuous by their absence, the globetrotting elite of international curators and collectors obviously does not consider Dakar on a par with Venice, Miami, Munster and the other must-visit Biennales. The importance of the event to Africa itself, however, was demonstrated by the presence at the opening of Senegal's President, Abdoulaye Wade, and also by the plethora of critical essays by African intellectuals in the accompanying catalogue. In these essays, distinguished writers dissect the issues underlying the 'Africa: Mirror' theme, asserting the need for more contemporary art collectors on the continent and further opportunities to showcase African creativity at home and abroad.

For Dak'Art 2008 to seek to create just such a platform for African contemporary artists is a laudable ambition. It therefore seemed wholly appropriate to roll out the red carpet for a grand opening in the gardens of the National Museum d'Ifan in Place de Soweto. Wearing gold-braided cloche hats and red tunics with sabres tucked under their belts, the ornamental guard of honour stood solemnly to attention as long welcoming speeches were given and various awards were handed out to artists by ambassadors, sponsors and VIPs.

However, the pomp and prestige of the opening ceremony could not mask the sad reality that the Biennale itself lacks the organisational resources and high presentational standards one has come to expect from an international art event of this profile and standing. This inevitably hinders the curators' efforts to present the artists' work in the best possible light. These shortcomings were immediately apparent in the main Exposition Internationale in 'Le Village de la Biennale'. Video monitors faltered, technicians nervously scrambled up and down ladders and artist names were scribbled on sheets torn from exercise books that lay on the floor beside the artworks. This last touch might have been an ironic statement by the organisers on the global position of African contemporary art, but we later discovered that they simply forgot to commission someone to produce laminated display panels.

After mentally adjusting to the somewhat ragged display, it was possible to discern the curators' intention to highlight work that drew on traditional forms to make contemporary statements about African experience. Senegalese artist Ndary Lo's expansive collection of iron trees with outstretched begging hands at the end of their branches offered an earnest protest at the deforestation of the continent. Jems Robert Koko Bi from the Ivory Coast had created a sculptural ensemble Darfur composed of three large, charred wooden figures with expressions of suffering and anguish. Lucas Johannes Van de Schiff's contribution represented racial tensions in South Africa by a head-shaped suspended punch bag with a brown face on one side, white on the other. However well intentioned, works like these did come across as one-dimensional and somewhat hectoring in tone, largely due to the overly literal approach adopted by the artist.

Video and media-based work generally fared better. Senegalese artist Cissé Soly's Union Europeenne had animated stars dancing around the European Union flag to a computer generated riff on integration and exclusion. Achille Komguem Kamsu from Cameroon's engaging installation Precarié featured a video loop of a busy downtown crossroads scene where motorcycles, cars, handcarts and pedestrians converge in the middle of the road, narrowly avoiding collision and serious injury by swerving at the last minute around oncoming traffic. This meditation on the disorder and precariousness of daily life in Africa worked well, on both a visual and intellectual level. South African born British artist Grace Ndiritu's video installation combined performance with historical imagery, juxtaposing references to genocide with images of Egypt and Meso-American civilisation.

The Exposition Internationale is but the tip of the iceberg in terms of the amount of work on display at Dak'Art 2008. With 140 'off-site' exhibitions in Dakar and on Gorée it pays to allow several days to sample the fringe programme. Some sites are conveniently located downtown, others are harder to find with exhibitions in private homes, colleges, cultural institutions and various backstreet shops and businesses, including a hairdressing salon. Overall the off-site programme has the feel of a huge artist open studios event cum art trail. Sustained by meal breaks, during which we tasted delicious chicken and fish with onion and lemon sauce and the Senegalese national dish thiéboudienne, we travelled to various off-site locations in search of quality work. More often than not we were disappointed by what we found. Many of the exhibitions had a traditional, 'arty-crafty' feel with batik and glass painting much in evidence, along with wood carving and sculpture using recycled materials. It seemed as if many of the artists were caught in that awkward space between wanting to stay true to their roots and seeking more modern and stylish forms of expression.

There were some notable exceptions. Amsterdam-based photographer Judith Quax imaginatively sited her evocative image and text series Immigration Clandestine in the windows of a downtown Mercedes showroom. The work featured images of empty rooms where young Senegalese men had lived, before they risked their lives trying to reach the Canary Islands in small fishing boats. The texts were based on interviews with the family and friends of the men, explaining why they made this perilous trip and what happened to them. Some died, some reached Europe and for others there is still no news. Further along the shoreline at the Place du Souvenir, a limestone piazza built as a memorial to the 2000 people who died in the MS Joola ferry tragedy in 2002, there was a major retrospective of the work of Iba Ndiaye. Ndiaye is a distinguished Senegalese artist who achieved some notoriety in European art circles in the 70s and 80s. His paintings and drawings of jazz masters, including John Coltrane and Miles Davis, may take us back to the jazz cellars of Paris and an earlier chapter in modern art history, but they are the work of an artist with a strong and distinctive voice. We ran into the exhibition curator Florence Axis outside the gallery and expressed our appreciation of her efforts in bringing his work to wider public attention.

Back at the hotel, we spent an hour in conversation with the curators Simon Njami and Fernando Alvim. As well as hearing once again about the financial and other problems they experienced in curating the African Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2007, we learnt that Dak'Art 2008 had also been left seriously under-resourced when the President diverted state funds intended for the Biennale to a major sports and cultural event happening in 2009. Simon and Fernando also suggested that the lack of rigour in the selection of artists and staging of exhibitions was due in part to the appointment of a German Professor of History as the Artistic Director of the Biennale. Later that evening we met Gilles Hervio, Chief Ambassador of the delegation of the European Union, who confirmed that Dak'Art 2007 would have collapsed but for a last minute rescue package of European funding.

We were left in no doubt that better artistic leadership and sustained investment are needed if Dak'Art is to rise above its present hand to mouth existence. These issues are complex and problematic. Increasing state support and involvement whilst retaining artistic and intellectual independence in any situation is a difficult balance to strike. There are also dangers in looking outside Africa for artistic direction. For Dak'Art 2004 Canadian curator Sara Diamond was President of the International Selection Committee. Although she showed her customary sensitivity to the local political and cultural context, aesthetically and critically the work chosen seemed more suited to prevailing Western tastes and less representative of the spectrum of African contemporary art. This is merely an observation on rather than a criticism of the approach adopted in 2004. To truly flourish, Dak'Art needs the moral and practical support of the international art community, but not interference in it or, worst of all, a stance of critical disdain towards the event.

Our last afternoon was spent back at the Le Village de la Biennale. We attended the premiere of Manthia Diawara's documentary film Maison Tropicale which told the story of Jean Prouvé's modernist Tropical House, the prototypes of which were originally installed in Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo and Niamey in Niger, and were subsequently 'reclaimed' by the Western world. At one level, this is a parable about how modernism failed to adapt to the realities of the African continent. Once removed from Africa, the two prototype houses changed hands for millions of dollars on the international art market before being re-constructed in New York and Paris. The fate of the Tropical House was the subject of the artist Angela Ferreira's contribution to the Portugal pavilion at Venice 2007.

Diawara's film provoked lively audience discussion after the screening. The Tropical House is clearly an important cultural artefact and part of Africa's heritage. On the face of it, the prototypes should have remained in Africa rather than being re-sited in a new context. However, as Diawara's film points out, Africa has an underdeveloped museum infrastructure and a poor track record for conservation. The West, and most crucially Africa itself, mistrusts its ability to value and look after its cultural treasures.

This debate seemed to crystallise my thoughts around what I feel is Dak'Art's greatest challenge. With the right creative and organisational resources combined with renewed conviction and self-belief, Dak'Art can realise its ambition to become Africa's premier contemporary visual arts event. Without these elements in place, the biennale will continue to face an uncertain futur

David Drake attended the opening week of Dak'Art 2008 on an International Curators Forum Field Trip in May 2008

- © David Drake 2008

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

The ICF & Axel Lapp Projects - 5th Berlin Biennial

Axel Lapp Projects
4th April 2008

International Curators Forum launches its 2008 programme with an intimate afternoon salon at Axel Lapp Projects to mark a light performative parenthesis around the 5 Berlin Biennial, When things cast no shadow, curated by Adam Szymczyk and Elena Filipovic.

Using the freedom of speech in an uncontested space the ICF will explore the possibility of breaking with conventions, exploring the 24/7 economy as a temporal structure well suited to Berlin. The Curator and critic Axel Lapp will lead a conversation on these themes and discuss the rise of the independent gallery scene in Berlin and its resonances with the curatorial agendas of the Biennial.

The salon will also be an opportunity to see a selection from the current exhibition a season of films that feature work by Sonia Boyce & David Bickerstaff [UK], Nick Crowe & Ian Rawlinson [UK], Jeanne van Heeswijk & Marten Winters [NL], Mona Jas & Holger Friese [D], Sonia Khurana [IND], John Sealey [UK].

* * *

An Introduction to the ICF

In 2007 the newly formed International Curators Forum (ICF) staged two International Symposia and facilitated a group of over eighty arts professionals on a curatorial networking project. This experience has given us a unique insight into the needs of contemporary curators and in particular those from culturally diverse backgrounds. It ideally positions the organisation to consolidate its reputation and constitution as a leading provider of skills development and business opportunities for professional curators:

"An organisation which marks the changes, disruptions, and interventions that occur across major biennials over the next decade and documents these processes to allow future and emerging curators to discover, learn and develop their professional practice." David A Bailey July 2007

The next phase of the ICF will maintain the momentum and inspiration of the 2007 'Tactical Interventions' and create a portfolio of activity that consolidates key partnerships and explores a wider range of professional development opportunities for curators such as master classes, residencies, workshops and salons. For this programme we are looking to work with partners and funders both within and beyond England and the European Union. We are looking to use our base in England as a foundation upon which to grow our work internationally.

photos © Julia Waugh.