Marlene Dumas

International Biennales

When Socrates made his plea against rhetoric and for dialogue, it seems at least some of the conditions then + there where a bit easier than here + now. For example, everyone at least used the same language codes (but then again – he did still end up having to drink poison…!).

Now, we need good translators to make us feel at home, not only in the places we pass through or exhibit, but also where we live. Yet for artists this should be exciting times. The artist was always supposed to be a bit of an alien, now almost everybody is. So we’re all in the same boat (or should I say port).

That is why I believe that international biennales are so important, when taking into account and working within these changes, it’s a challenge for everyone concerned and permit me to say this: as someone who has participated in quite a few (better and worse ones) in my day, that it is good for young artists. Not to make them famous, but to make them see and experience how artificial this ‘thing’ called culture is. One has to test ones theories through practice, and check every now and then if your ‘country’ still exists.

Failing alone is not the same as failing together. Or rather as Sartre said: ‘The hatred of others shows me my own objectivity.’ In private you feel as if you are the subject of everything. That’s why isolation and segregation (why not call it apartheid) is very bad for most artists. Among others you realise your objectivity. You realise your interrelatedness and/or dependence, whether you like it or not. You realise that culture is not just this sweet, warm, noble thing, but a constant on-going struggle between people. Never mind if you call them the same or the other.

International Biennales. Originally published in Manifesta (cat.), Foundation European Art Manifestation, Rotterdam, 1996, p.7-11; and included in Marlene Dumas, Sweet Nothings. Notes and Texts | Politics (of Art), first edition Galerie Paul Andriesse and De Balie Publishers Amsterdam, 1998; and second edition (revised and expanded) Koenig Books London, 2014.