Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Second End of the World Biennial

Taking place primarily in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, with satellite exhibitions in Rio and São Paulo, Brazil, along with SANAE IV, Antarctica, January - May, 2009, the 2nd Bienal del Fin del Mundo is curated by Alfons Hug.

Here's what Mr. Hug has to say about Antarctica and art:

In Antiquity, philosophers believed that for reasons of symmetry the southern hemisphere must contain a counterweight to the landmass of the northern hemisphere.  Medicator's 16th century maps also claim the presence of a "large southern continent" (Terra Australis Incognita), which was regarded as a tropical paradise.

The intensive search for the real Antarctica during the 19th century was guided by the conviction that contact with the end of the world would unearth new insights for the human spirit.  Not until 1820 did the Baltic German captain Fabian Bellinghausen (who was in Russian service) and the American seal hunter Nathaniel Palmer both finally discover the white continent at the same time.

Even so, highly respected contemporary personalities, including Edgar Allan Poe, still subscribed to the superstitious belief that there was an opening in the globe at the South Pole through which travelers could reach a civilized world, which they suspected within the Earth's crust.

Today, 4000 scientists committed to peaceful research from all over the world (1000 in the winter) work in 80 stations scattered all over Antarctica, which is about as big as Brazil and Europe together (almost 14 million square kilometers).  The sparse tourism is still ecologically defensible – so far. 

The Antarctic Treaty (1959), which was signed at the peak of the Cold War and froze all territorial demands until further notice, was an exemplary agreement which still maintains a key status in global environmental and peace policy today.

The Antarctic is therefore the only continent with no military weapons, no economic exploitation, and no land ownership; not even the plentiful mineral resources may be exploited:  Utopian conditions indeed.  While the rest of the world wears itself out in endless conflicts, a destructive exploitation of resources, and ownership claims of all kinds, the Antarctic, that classic no-man's-land, has a higher calling:  it belongs to no one and therefore everyone.

Its natural cycles are certainly very closely interwoven with our own, and its fragile ecosystem reacts sensitively even to disturbances caused in other areas of the world.  It functions as the Earth's "measuring instrument."

Although affected by the environmental sins committed by the rest of the world, the southern continent is largely still in a state of sublime innocence.  It is the land before the Fall, perhaps the final great promise to mankind since the Tropics lost some of their paradisal beauty.  The icy ground of this mythical region resembles an enormous archive in which the climatic history of the Earth is stored.  The Antarctic is frozen time.

This zero point of culture is well suited for intellectual artistic reflections of the world:  emptiness, silence and seclusion, but also purity, clarity, peace and spirituality are some of the existential categories that will be discussed in the transcendental Antarctic.  The artists begin where the scientists and their measurements cannot reach, thus allowing a new and fresh perspective on this neuralgic point of the Earth.

The artists will also have to come to terms with the color white, which was regarded by the impressionists as a non-color, yet in the eyes of Kandinsky was an "insurmountable, indestructible, almost infinite cold wall," a silence that can suddenly be understood.  "It is a void that is juvenile or, more precisely, a void that is before the beginning, before birth" (Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art).

And just as the "white cube" of the modern art galleries, in its complete neutrality, mercilessly reveals the weakness of a work of art, so the naked, white expanse of the Antarctic exposes the inadequacies of human activity.

Thanks to Erika Blumenfeld for this (and the pix by Ntsikelelo Ntshengila and Adam Hyde).  Erika has posted more information about the Bienal on her Polar Project expedition blog.

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