NOTES ON THE FREE BIENNIAL
The Free Biennial began in late January with a call to artists offering a few simple parameters: the work should be nonmonetary, meaning that no money changes hands, (no admission is charged, nothing is bought or sold), the work should take place in public space (very widely defined as anyplace a stranger can enter and including the broadcast airwaves, telephone system, and the internet), and that it should be perceptible to someone in New York City during the month of April, 2002. Any artwork meeting these criteria would be part of the show.
In this way, the Free Biennial is nothing but an idea, a kind of social architecture. To hold the frame of the project Ive made this website which catalogs all of the work received in response to the call, a map/calendar to help people locate physical works in space and time, and a party to kick things off and allow those in New York to meet up. But essentially, the Free Biennial is simply a mental structure, an empty framework which gives artists and audiences a context in which to play.
As Ive been working on this project I have been meditating on the strange, almost magical qualities of these social architectures, of organization and organizations.
These entities are all around us, social objects which are made primarily by the consensus that they exist. Governments of course function in this way, and we live in a century when it has been proven that no small group of people can ever govern a large group without their consent, no matter how violent and repressive their methods of governing.
All social structures require our consent in order to operate. The IRS can intimidate individuals, but nothing could be done if a vast majority of people simply refused to pay. The fact that we dont refuse implies that over all, and in practice, an overwhelming majority of US citizens accept the basic workings of their government. But this isnt to deny that the government and the IRS have power, real power. That power is created, as if by magic, by our belief that it is so.
Or to put it differently, the power of the social structures around us is created by a gift, our gift of belief and participation. We give movie stars their fame and art stars theirs. We give critics their voice of authority. We give products their desirability. We give fashion its chic.
Social structures are therefore collective acts of creation. This is interestingly different, I think, from the idea of collaboration. Collaboration is an intentional attempt to work together, a struggle to turn differences into creativity. Social structures work instead by participation, and are most often created without conscious intent.
The power of institutions can seem immutable. And especially if those institutions are housed in massive buildings we can forget that their power is basically social, and that social power is something much more fluid and quick-moving. Gigantic structures like the Soviet Union can dissipate almost overnight. This was an amazing thing for people in our time to have witnessed: the consensual power that created this gigantic empire suddenly weakening. Or the end of apartheid.
I might argue that the idea of art as a luxury object is one such consensual social structure, and that we might bring into question whether or not this existing and powerful consensus is in our best interests as artists and as people who want to experience art.
New York, April 1, 2002
LINKS TO FREE CULTURE