Stewart Smith, Robert Pietrusko, Bernd Lintermann »trans_actions: The Accelerated Art World 1989–2011«, 2011. Video: © ZKM
Throughout the world biennales have been literally mushrooming over the last two decades. Whereas, in the mid-1980s there were six Biennales of contemporary art, today over 150 of them form a densely-knit network spanning across the world, which constitutes what is influential, interesting and relevant in today’s art scenes. Hence, commissioned by the ZKM Institute for Visual Media, Stewart Smith, Robert Gerard Pietrusko and Bernd Lintermann have collected and evaluated data on the temporal and spatial development of the Biennale system before going on to visualize it in trans_actions: The Accelerated Art World 1989–2011 (2011) on an eight- meter wide, three-meter high panorama screen. With this, trans_actions makes it clear that what we today call the global art world is, in fact, a conglomeration of globally recruited artists, globally active curators, disparate art markets and a concurrently emerging biennale landscape.
Bombastic in size, frequently divided across several events locations in a city, locally tied though global in ambition, accompanied by symposia and publications and centered around a group exhibition presenting a panoramic view on a new artist generation: this is how the reader of Elena Filipovic and Marieke van Hal defines the typical biennale. Its characteristics provide a hint as to why, in reference to biennales, Thomas Fillitz makes reference to "Worldmaking". And the dynamic diagrams in trans_actions convey the impression that, in fact, what emerges is less places than transnational 'zones of contact' where artists and curators travel from all regions of the world to Moscow, Istanbul or Sydney. Today, almost half the biennales are realized in countries at great distance from the West, and non-western biennales, such as the ones in Sao Paolo, in Havana, but also the Johannesburg biennale, realized only twice, are concieved to be central initiators for a globalized art discourse. But trans_actions also throws up questions: is there really no longer any center in the decentralized world of the biennales? What of the well-known Venice biennale or the Documenta in Kassel – are they no longer spokesmen in art? And why is it that, until today, the Dak’Art Biennale is the only one of its kind on the African continent?