Youth as Fetish: Alexey Buldakov talks Art, Politics and the Berlin Biennale with Kathrin Becker

The latest issue of ArtChronika has just hit the stands, raising eyebrows (and LEGO heads) with the cover: YOUTH AS FETISH.

Just in time, as July 11 marks the opening of the III Moscow International Biennale for Young Art, whose main project boasts such “youngsters” as AIDS 3D, Edgardo Aragón, Jorinde Voight, Ryan McNamara and Marinella Senatore. For the issue, Baibakov Art Projects alum and art crush Alexey Buldakov makes a rather intriguing interview with Kathrin Becker, curator of the main project, which she has titled “Under A Tinsel Sun.” We quoted a bit of her explanation of this theme back in November, but just to catch up:

Under A Tinsel Sun assumes that, despite the cultural, economic and social differences that may exist between the participants from different countries, there is a common factor in the impossibility of locating oneself by belonging to certain peer groups (whether in the ideological or in the artistic sense). Cultural science often refers to this as an “almost desperate isolation” (Wolfgang Kaschuba), as the final state of a development in the field of art that had already begun in the mid-1970s, manifesting itself in the end of the historical avant-gardes and in their reassessment as part of a dominant canon. The collapse of ideologies at the end of the 1980s and the dawning of the post-ideological age both play a role within this mesh, as much as the end of the narrative of youth culture representing the universal culture of renewal, induced by the merciless commercial exploitation of the subcultures in the mid-1990s, which in turn coincides with the onset of commercial availability of the World Wide Web in 1994.

In the interview, Buldakov picks apart some of this narrative that Becker has spun, referring to Becker’s own past, part of which she spent in Perestroika Petersburg, when identity politics were at a fever pitch and the world was waiting with baited breath for its first glimpse behind the wall. Buldakov asks if maybe the situation was comparable today, when the Berlin Biennale occupies itself and glamour shots of Pussy Riot seem to plaster the internet. This leads to a discussion on the Berlin Biennale and the power of art to act politically, which we found pretty interesting, and so we have translated sections for the English-speaking audience. (Please note, this is just our rough translation and should not be taken for direct quotes, which can be found here, albeit in Russian.)

AB: One of the major questions these days is whether art can influence politics. You know about the Berlin Biennale, right?  About how when Artur Zmijewski came to Moscow last fall, he said he was more interested in “street fighters” than artists? I didn’t really understand who he meant by street fighters: the warlords of the Libyan opposition or anarchists from the Black Bloc…? But in either case, neither is too interested in art.

KB: So many artists position themselves like social workers, and their art then becomes this attempt to communicate with the public. I have spent a lot of time talking with Zmijewski. In his opinion, this kind of communication should lead to some kind of result, and not just serve as justification in the eyes of the art world elite. To differentiate the political activism from the art is very difficult, because these fundamental gestures are viewed exclusively within the context of the art system. When artists appropriate and disseminate actual political statements, these statements lose their substance, their effect and their connection with reality.

Unfortunately, political artists often act like vampires, sucking the life force out of whatever seems most relevant or pressing. I get why Zmijewski is sympathetic to “street fighters” and Voina. But I am more interested not in those artists who set goals to try to change something, but rather in the artists who bring knowledge to the people and who work to expand the boundaries of how we perceive reality. But for now, alas, contemporary art is fundamentally focused on public space within politics, and not knowledge production.

AB: Well it’s obvious right now that the biennale moment is in crisis. Maybe that’s why they brought on Zmijewski? As someone who might be able to change the situation? 

KB: I think it was just an experiment. I don’t know who it was who chose him as curator, there was probably some kind of committee. I am sure Artur understands that he cannot actually change anything. Not the situation in art, not the situation in politics. The function of this biennale was to create a new space for communication, not to change the political structure. And I should say, Artur did a brilliant job creating this new concept for communication.

I agree with the idea that biennales all over the world are in crisis. But at the same time, these biennales keep bringing in more and more viewers. People wait in line for two hours to get into the exhibitions at Documenta or the Venice Biennale. So, really, the crisis of these biennales may be more about the dearth of new ideas. The biennale movement will keep pushing on though, if only for the economic reasons.

We look forward to seeing how Becker herself handles this biennale crisis. To be continued, July 11…?

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7 Responses to Youth as Fetish: Alexey Buldakov talks Art, Politics and the Berlin Biennale with Kathrin Becker

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