Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Brecht & Biennales

"Aren't today's questions about the role of art in instigating social changes equally pressing as they were in the 1930s, when the Left confronted fascism and Stalinism? Or do we really consider them today to be solved within an all-encompassing system of cultural industry and its contemporary malformations, confined to art genres, predictable as cultural trends, and profitable for the purposes of marketing?"

"Brecht himself pointed out similarities between the time of early industrial capitalism when Gay's The Beggar's Opera was written, and his own time: 'We still have, however, the same sociological situation. Just like two hundred years ago we have a social order in which virtually all levels, albeit in a wide variety of ways, pay respect to moral principles not by leading a moral life but by living off morality.' The situation continues to this day, with the emphasis sliding periodically back and forth between religious morality and liberal democracy."

"Today, biennial exhibitions are elements of cultural tourism through which cities attempt to use their benign and internationally communicative regional specificities to position themselves on the map of the globalised world; they are manifestations tending to 'cultural shopping' in which art is often presented as cool, fun, entertaining... Brecht was certainly critical of what he called a 'culinary' treatment of art solely as a means of entertainment, but he did not shy away from the entertaining role of art. In the popular and mass culture, as Brecht warned us, the problem is not pleasure, but its function. The question is therefore how to 'set pleasure free,' how to regain revolutionary role of enjoyment in a society in which, as Zizek points out, demands of the Super-Ego to enjoy-and not repression of enjoyment-have become the main mechanism of social regulation and repression."

"Brecht invites us to rethink our position again and again, to see the world as amateur actors, without dulling our critical faculties or our potential for intervention and change by learning the rules all too well. As a writer and a director, Brecht continuously sought to slice open and display, then deconstruct and transform the theatre's 'production apparatus'-it is this approach that should lead us out of the current deadlock of 'contemporary art apparatus.' At this time, the question of 'usability' of Brecht means first and foremost a repeated need to observe the interaction of art and social relations."

Excerpts from the concept note of the 11th Istanbul Biennial.