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Foreword
By Hans Ulrich Obrist

A twenty-first century biennale will utilize calculated uncertainty and conscious incompleteness to produce a catalyst for invigorating change whilst always producing the harvest of the quiet eye. —Cedric Price

The twenty-first century curator is a catalyst—a bridge between the local and the global. A bridge has two points, two ends. This is a metaphor for how one crosses the border of the self. One position, that of the original personality, will always be more stable, but the other, which is floating, is less stable; therefore the bridge can be dangerous. According to the artist Huan Yong Ping, this notion of danger is not necessarily negative but can be a creative force as it allows for the possibility of something else. And the possibility of enlightenment comes from embracing chance. Traditional Chinese philosophers never said I say but always said our ancestors said as a way of accessing reality. The curator should always be open to surprise so that the unexpected might happen. In a now legendary exchange, Sergei Diaghilev challenged Jean Cocteau to etonnez-moi ["astonish me,"] when he asked him to write Parade in 1917. As Hanson said in an interview with myself and Philippe Parreno, "We don't create these structures for formal reasons but to bring together the moral life with the physical life, since the second is obviously much longer than the first. Concrete, bricks, etc., remain, while functions evolve, the economy changes. For this reason, spaces must be capable of changing, of being continually recomposed."

The quest for a center of the art world dominated the twentieth century. The twenty-first century has opened to a polyphony of centers. Immanuel Wallerstein argues that as we travel from dreams that were betrayed to a world-system in structural crisis, which is unpredictable and uncertain, a new world-system will emerge that will inevitably go beyond the limits of the nineteenth century paradigm of liberal capitalism. The issue is not borders, but how to navigate the borderlines. Artists, curators and their exhibitions are nomadic, physically and mentally traveling across borders; by trespassing national borders, languages and cultures spill in all directions, expanding one's capacity for translation. To become a bridge or as Édouard Glissant says, "an archipelago." Biennales and other large scale exhibitions sometimes tend to be too much like continents, which are rock solid, and imposing, as opposed to the archipelago that is welcoming and sheltering. In Glissant's words, "The idea of a non-linear time implicit in this idea, or in this concept, the coexistence of several time zones would of course allow for a great variety of contact zones as well." The Biennale as a reciprocal contact zone can mediate between museum and city.

The twenty-first century curator is a catalyst—a bridge between the local and the global. A bridge has two points, two ends. This is a metaphor for how one crosses the border of the self. One position, that of the original personality, will always be more stable, but the other, which is floating, is less stable; therefore the bridge can be dangerous. According to the artist Huan Yong Ping, this notion of danger is not necessarily negative but can Twenty-first century curators use new spaces and new temporalities in order to achieve what Glissant calls mondialité: enhancing global dialogue. The practice of curating can learn from radical Polish urbanist and architect Oskar Hanson and his visionary concept for his Museum of Modern Art to question the often-unquestioned master plan. Curators invent new formats for exhibitions and architects must respond to them. As Hanson said in an interview with myself and Philippe Parreno, "We don't create these structures for formal reasons but to bring together the moral life with the physical life, since the second is obviously much longer than the first. Concrete, bricks, etc., remain, while functions evolve, the economy changes. For this reason, spaces must be capable of changing, of being continually recomposed."

This book is a wonderful example of curatorial polyphony in the early twenty-first century. Polyphony in music is the confluence of multiple voices, independent melodies woven into counterpoint. The curators in this book have internalized the urgency to generate a situation receptive to complex spaces combining the big and the small, the old and the new, acceleration and deceleration, noise and silence. To change what is expected...

—Hans Ulrich Obrist
Hydra, Greece
July 2009

© Copyright 2010. Carolee Thea.