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PRINT February 2000

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the London Biennale

WITH BIENNALES SPREADING EVERYWHERE, can the concept and practice of the biennial be revitalized? Can the aura that evidently still attaches to the term be “borrowed” for what is unashamedly an artist-initiated project? The London-based Filipino artist David Medalla certainly believes it can.

Medalla has launched, and is almost single-handedly putting together, the London Biennale 2000 (May 1–Aug. 31), a “participatory festival of the arts.” Inspired by the mushrooming of biennials in cities formerly marginalized in the international art world, but also highly critical of the exclusive, strictly limited nature of artists’ participation in most of these events, he wanted to initiate a show that would be open to any artist anywhere in the world.

Medalla sees this as a do-it-yourself biennial. There’s no building or office or bureaucracy. It’s up to artists to find a venue and funding for their shows: The venues can be anywhere, from someone’s front room to a gallery, from a cemetery to a boat on the Thames. The idea is for the artists—and the art-going public—to delve into London’s complex and heterogeneous fabric as much as possible. Artists and audience will have more intimate contact.

To register as a participant, an artist has simply to make or find an “arrow” and be photographed (with it) in front of the statue of winged Eros in Piccadilly Circus, the “hub of the universe” (or, if you live far away, have your image made by proxy); fabricate three postcards bearing that photo (don’t forget to include your name and address); then send it to “founder and president” Medalla at London Biennale 2000, 11 Naseby, Hanworth, Bracknell, Berkshire, RG12 7HD, England. During the four months of the biennale, Eros will remain its “information office.” On Monday evenings various artists will go there and distribute arrows announcing the place and time of their events. “It’s quite mysterious where you go and what you see,” Medalla enthuses.

Harald Szeemann, who invited Medalla to participate in his epochal shows of the ’60s, “Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form” and “White on White,” has been supportive. “It’s very poetical, the idea of your London Biennale,” he wrote in a letter. Medalla himself sees the biennale as an extension of the participatory ideas he has been pursuing for more than forty years. Works of his from the ’60s and ’70s, like A Stitch in Time, 1968, or Eskimo Carver, 1977, developed into enormous aggregates, made up of the creative contributions of hundreds of people. Aside from this, Medalla, in his endless perambulations, gathers up artists Pied Piper–style, young and old, known and unknown.

For his own contribution to the event he has a number of piquant schemes. One is for a puppet theater, in which he would restage, in a Punch and Judy version, the famous argument between Verlaine and Rimbaud (when Rimbaud slapped Verlaine with a wet fish), outside the house they occupied in Camden Town.

Though by definition open-ended and unpredictable, the London Biennale has already attracted a healthy measure of support. Among the more than fifty artists who have signed up to date, Medalla lists: Mona Hatoum (England), Adam Nankervis (Australia-Germany), Alison Jackson (England), Rose Finn-Kelcey (England), Jonty Semper (England), Manda Wai (China), Javier Tellez (Venezuela), Makoto Fukada (Japan), Pier Luigi Cazzavillan (Italy), Giovanni Morbin (Italy), William Xerra (Italy), Denis Castellas (France), Carlyle Reedy (England), Andy Stahl (England), Sharon Kivland (England), Jens Veneman (USA), Andreas Uhl (Germany), Giorgio Spiller (Italy), Maritxu Otondo (Chile), Denilson (Brazil), and Igor and Svetlana Kopystianski (Russia-USA-Germany).

Guy Brett is a London-based art critic.