Resistivity in Contemporary Art Biennials: A Synchronic Analysis

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Bruce, Amy Patricia




The dominant art historical narrative of contemporary art biennials starts with the Venice Biennale. Taking the Venice Biennale as the biennial template, form, and medium, for universalizing biennial history is clearly problematic, and the concept of "biennials of resistance," as proposed by curator Ranjit Hoskote, has become an important catalyst for writing non- and counter-Venetian histories of biennials. This history of counter-biennials situates "biennials of resistance" in a parallel, or a tangential anti-/postcolonial canon to the lineage established by the Venice Biennale. Hoskote's proposed counter narrative approach limits and ultimately maintains divisive Eurocentric biases. I argue for re-framing the geographic interpretation of global South to collapse and expand the "biennials of resistance" framework and problematize the anti-/postcolonial canon that constitutes it through, what I call, biennial resistivity. Biennial resistivity utilises the qualifiers of the "biennial of resistance" to become a conceptual rather than geographical framework. As this dissertation demonstrates, biennial resistivity amplifies the post/decolonial resistive potential of a biennial given its local specificities and complicates the global South dichotomy and static historical interpretations of the anti-/postcolonial biennial. Moreover, I propose to study biennial historiography not by focusing on the "waves" biennial historiography, and instead to utilize a synchronic analysis according to host years. Synchronic analysis mobilises the temporal biennial model (of every two years) using a horizontal, relational, and comparative approach to elucidate (art) historical, political, social, and cultural complexities that constitute biennials at across locales, while attending to their specific histories. The time frame between 2017-2018 situates my study, where I examine three different biennials as comparative case studies: #00Bienal de La Habana in Havana, Cuba; the 15th Istanbul Biennial in Istanbul, Turkey; and documenta 14, in Kassel, Germany. I argue each of these biennials are "biennials of resistance" by way of their resistivity. Moreover, I demonstrate a new conceptualization of "biennials of resistance" through a synchronic methodological paradigm to shift the study of biennials to move past entrenched Eurocentric historiographic epistemologies.


Art History




Carleton University

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Cultural Mediations

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Theses and Dissertations

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