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New Left Review 57, May-June 2009


CHIN-TAO WU

BIENNIALS WITHOUT BORDERS?

My interest in the subject of biennials and their participants’ national affiliations dates back to the Taipei Biennial of 2004, the fourth such event in our city, and my reaction to a curatorial provocation there. I had been kept waiting for more than three hours for what turned out to be a crisp 30-minute interview with one of the two curators of the show, the Brussels-based Barbara Vanderlinden. I kicked off by asking her to explain the curatorial policy regarding the number—five—of native Taiwanese artists chosen to appear. To this she replied by curtly throwing a question of her own back at me: ‘Do you know how many Taiwanese artists were represented in the Shanghai Biennial?’ Meaning, of course, that five local representatives seemed to her quite adequate, thank you very much, and people would certainly be wrong to expect more. [1] Interview with Barbara Vanderlinden, co-curator of the 2004 Taipei Biennial, 26 October 2004, Taipei. It turned out that the number of Taiwanese artists at the 2004 Shanghai Biennial was four. I should like to acknowledge the kind help of Jui-Chung Allen Li (Institute of European and American Studies, Academia Sinica) on the statistical work for this paper. Her reply took my breath away. I had no come-back at the time—not only because I did not know the answer, but also because I felt I was speaking to a foreign expert who knew her own business better than I did. In those days I enjoyed neither the funds nor the working conditions to enable me to travel long distances to biennials, as global art-world insiders apparently can. More recently, however, I have been able to fly to biennials as remote as Havana and São Paulo, as well as to most of the Asian and European events, and I find that the question of artistic representation at such international gatherings is still, after all this time, haunting me.

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