Let’s Change It All: Sydney Biennale’s parting with Transfield gives hope to Manifesta protests

Hubert Czerepok, Let’s Change It All, 2011 (video still), HD video documentation of performance, 120 mins. Courtesy the artist and ŻAK | BRANICKA Gallery, Berlin. Photograph: Robert Mleczko. Commissioned by the Polish National Centre for Culture, Warsaw

Hubert Czerepok, Let’s Change It All, 2011 (video still), HD video documentation of performance, 120 mins. Courtesy the artist and ŻAK | BRANICKA Gallery, Berlin. Photograph: Robert Mleczko. Commissioned by the Polish National Centre for Culture, Warsaw

Let’s Change It All: The Biennale and Transfield Part Ways

This Wednesday, four artists – Agnieszka Polska, Sara van der Heide, Nicoline van Harskamp and Nathan Gray  - joined their colleagues Libia CastroÓlafur ÓlafssonCharlie SofoGabrielle de Vietri and Ahmet Öğüt to announce their withdrawal from the Biennale. Today, in one of those rare turns, the artistic statement yielded immediate consequences. There wasn’t the announcement of a series of “conversations” about the situation, there wasn’t the resolution to “think critically about the future” of the biennale. The Biennale cut its ties with Transfield. What’s more, the chairman of both the Biennale and Transfield, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis – whose father Franco created both institutions – ended his 14 year streak at the helm with a letter of resignation.

What’s interesting in this is not just that the protest worked. It also brought to light a few particularly intriguing details withheld earlier, namely that Transfield Holdings – much  bigger than Transfield Services, the company it uses to manage its detention center – isn’t just a corporate sponsor; the Belgiorno-Nettis family founded the biennale. Transfield is one of the major sponsors of a number of art institutions, including the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, the Australian Chamber Orchestra,  Sculpture by the Sea and Accessible Arts, a program aimed at fostering creative expression within the  community of those with disabilities. The Transfield Foundation provides grants to “groundbreaking arts organizations,” with an explicit statement of support for the arts in all forms. That said, the billion dollar contract for detention centers built to enforce Australia’s laws were enough to give up a biennale over.

We’re still waiting to hear what’s next for the Sydney Biennale, which is due to open on March 21, when, amongst other activities, Hubert Czerepok is supposed to present a performance titled Let’s Change It All.

Image from the Change.Org Protest

Image from the Change.Org Protest

Et tu, Manifesta?

It didn’t take long for the same people posting news about Transfield to switch gears to Manifesta. As the drama over the Crimea continues to unfold (somehow only getting more complicated, not less…), so has the international art community’s resistance to Manifesta 10, which has already been the subject of many of protest due to St Petersburg’s laws against homosexual propaganda. Curator Kasper Koenig had seemed to weather the latter, dropping hints of a smart show that focused on body politics by narrowing in on the body, speaking politically through the most indirect means (and artists like Louise Bourgeois, Marlene Dumas and Vlad Mamyshev-Monroe). The biennale was due to announce a full artist roster later this month, but now it finds itself besieged by a new set of protests, resolving to boycott the event until Russia ends its illegal occupation of the Crimea.

You can find the Change.Org protest here.

Manifesta’s Victor Misiano appeared on Canal Dozhd to answer questions as to whether or not a letter like this could make a difference. He notes that the letter is not aimed at the Manifesta Foundation, but rather addressed to the curator and the participating artists, asking them to each make the decision for themselves whether they want to participate under the current political atmosphere.  As we have learned from the Sydney situation, this may be the most effective strategy. Whether it will work for this particular case – if one or two artists withdraw, Manifesta still has the entire Hermitage at its disposal – remains to be seen.

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4 Responses to Let’s Change It All: Sydney Biennale’s parting with Transfield gives hope to Manifesta protests

  1. If artists start to boycott Biennales (like Sydney Binennale ) connected to breaking human rights,
    soon it wont be any Biennales left !!!

    http://biennalist.blogspot.dk/2014/03/if-artists-start-to-boycott-biennales.html

    check also by Biennalist art format :
    THE NEXT DOCUMENTA SHOULD BE CURATED BY A TANK about documenta Kassel and proximity of weapon industry :

    http://www.emergencyrooms.org/documenta_kassel.html

    Author of the Month @ GAM @ ZKM Museum Karlsruhe

    http://www.globalartmuseum.de/site/guest_author/325

    Can an Art Show Like dOCUMENTA Be Dangerous ?

    Biennalist ( Istanbul / Venice // Manifesta / Sydney / Athens / Berlin )
    Artists questioning Biennales intentions including work on gentrification , colonialism , connection with weapon industry. alcohol education etc …

    http://www.emergencyrooms.org/biennalist.html

    SYDNEY BIENNALE “DO ARTISTS KNOW THE AIM OF THEIR SPONSORS ?”
    by Biennalist 2010( academy Emergency Art Sydney )

    http://biennalist.blogspot.dk/2014/02/sydney-biennale-do-artists-know-aim-of.html

    • We were just asking ourselves the same question this week, especially as lines to get into the Whitney stretched around the block. Not to condone Transfield’s activities, but I think it’s important to note that this is the family that founded the biennale out of commitment to the arts, NOT a sponsor stepping in to clean their hands of dirty deeds. What’s problematic then is that a sponsor with a commitment to the principles of freedom of expression, etc, would seek to expand its holdings in a way that seems to contradict it’s message. But throwing stones in these instances are dangerous. I think Valentin Diaconov (a Russian critic) had a good response to this. He posted a line on Facebook asking artists to consider boycotting not the biennales, but statements in support or collusion with the politics they do not support.

      Anyway, we appreciate the comment!

  2. Pingback: Curator Ekaterina Degot to Cologne’s Akademie der Kunste der Welt | Baibakov Art Projects

  3. Pingback: Principles’ Day Out: Manifesta’s Destiny, Posthumous Petition-signers and Boycotters branded as Hypocrites | Baibakov Art Projects

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