Round and Round and Round We Go…

June 30, 2008 at 2:51 am (Uncategorized)

I don’t mean to keep harping about the 2008 Biennale of Sydney, but I can’t help but engage with this concept of ‘revolution’ in a little more detail, since it seems to be causing a great deal of consternation, not just among the press, but also among Artistic Director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s curatorial ‘comrades,’ whose essays/letters/thoughts are compiled in the Biennale’s ($62, mind you) catalogue.

‘Revolutions – forms that turn.’ Obviously the word ‘revolution’ has multiple meanings, and it evokes different responses from just about everyone who is attempting to grapple with what this Biennale means to do. I was interested by the opening line of Christov-Bakargiev’s own introduction to the concept because it seems clearly related to the revolution as uprising: “The impulse to revolt.” But the revolutions I’ve seen in my Biennale wanderings thus far seem to have much more to do with the ‘revolution’ of repetition and rotation, some of it physical, some of it historical, some of it spatial. I’m confused by her invocation of the notion of ‘revolt,’ then, because of its strong association with ‘rebellion,’ and I guess I haven’t seen the inferred radicalism, although it is interesting to wonder if radicalism is still a going concern in the world of 2008. I asked this same question of the written word a couple of weeks ago, and I think it’s also relevant to contemporary art: Is there even such a thing as true originality anymore? Is it possible to be the first artist to paint or record or design or sculpt or install anything at all these days? Isn’t everything doomed to derivation? Doomed sounds pejorative; not doomed, then, but perhaps defined by these derivative times? And so, by a curious inversion, isn’t originality the only genuine revolution left? And can it occur in actuality, or must we only talk about and conceive it at this kind of remove? Let’s face it. These concepts have been traded and defined and refined and critiqued and rejected time and time again throughout the ages – where is the revolution in these words today? It’s an empty war chest; all the munitions have been exploded long ago.

We are consigned to our moment in history, and whether we like it or not, the kind of revolution we’re experiencing in the twenty-first century is one of unending repetition. Oh look, here we are again. It’s groundhog day out there, in life, in art, in politics, in fashion, in economics. One of the ‘comradely’ addresses I read in the Biennale catalogue repeatedly quotes other ‘revolutionary’ sources from other times in history: is it just me who thinks this circular return to what has already been is a seemingly inescapable dilemma in contemporary discussions of art, philosophy and literature?

I guess I took it as a given, then, that this is the type of revolution Christov-Bakargiev’s Biennale was intending to engage. Turning, always turning, world without end. Is revolution temporally bound? Are we unable to participate in the revolutions of the past because we weren’t there, or can we now appreciate that in fact these are the only revolutions we are ever likely to see? I haven’t been at all bothered by the retrospective quality of the exhibition because I’ve so far assumed it was completely intentional. I thought it was part of the point (forms that turn, etc “Revolving, rotating, mirroring…”). But John McDonald’s weekend review of the Biennale in Spectrum (and I like his Visual Art section very much) seemed to be looking for the revolution elsewhere. No, he seemed to be after a very different type. The uprising type. That revolt, the ‘storming of the Winter Palace,’ as he himself says. I’m just not sure any of us is capable of that revolutionary moment in history anymore; I think perhaps we’ve already had them all. There will be more riots, there will be more movements, there will be more overthrows, there will be more wars and despots and oppressors, I’m just not sure there will be any more true firsts. And let’s not forget that revolts are always in response to something, so were they ever really firsts at all? Perhaps to some what I’m suggesting robs the word ‘revolution’ of its radical implications, but equally the circular movement of this second revolution is more interesting to me, because it has no beginning and no end, it is a perpetual whole, and remains far more complex in its way than an uprising that betrays itself in the very moment of exchange. What happens after the revolution? Well, only one type keeps on turning, and it was ever thus.


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