Antarctica is one of the coldest and most isolated places on the planet, but at the moment it’s also one of the hottest topics in the art world. Scheduled for March 2017, the 1st Antarctic Biennale hopes to challenge our notions of shared space by inviting artists to a geographical and cultural blank canvas.
The Italian city of Venice initiated the first biennale in 1895 as a bi-annual behemoth art show, where nations could gather in a public contest of egos. The biennale model continues today as a cosmopolitan, contemporary mega-exhibition (the bigger the better) with hot spots all over the world. You could spend your whole year jet-setting from one biennale to the next; from São Paulo to Shanghai.
The commissioner of this “topsy-turvy … head-over-heels” biennale is Russian-based artist-adventurer Alexander Ponomarev. Borrowing from Captain Nemo in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Ponomarev has set the tone with the motto ‘mobilis in mobile’, meaning ‘moving in motion’. It’ not only moved away from the colonial cloisters of 1895, the Antarctic Biennale has gone to the other extreme: above nations and between cultures.
As the only continent with no indigenous population, seven states hold territorial claim over pie-slices of Antarctica, which are shared by scientists in their pursuit of research. With this in mind, several art world commentators have described the location as both ‘pure’ and ‘utopian’. Contemporary art buzz-words also saturate the official website: supra-national, inter-disciplinary, ecologically compatible interventions. But how do these two worlds coalesce?
Can we develop Antarctica’s cultural potential while maintaining its icy resistance to ownership, conflict and canapés?
And although Ponomarev hopes to re-imagine the future of global community, the Antarctic biennale will hardly be a melting pot in terms of its audience. Only the art world super-community will be able to afford the ice-breaker and there is an artist age cap set at thirty-five. As a result, the director of the Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art, Defne Ayas, has already withdrawn from the frontier project.
So, is the Antarctic Biennale the art world’s trump card – where scientists, futurists, philosophers and artists will be able to thaw global fault lines in the ‘Antarctic Biennale Vision club’? We will have to wait and see. To paraphrase a saying from the polar circles: choose your artists carefully. You may have to eat them.