The 12th Taipei Biennial Tackles the Big Questions: In Conversation with Co-curators Bruno Latour and Martin Guinard

Taipei Biennial 2020 co-curators, Martin Guinard (Left) and Bruno Latour (Right) . Image courtesy of Taipei Fine Arts Museum.
June Balthazard and Pierre Pauze, MASS, 2020 (Film still), video installation, mixed materials, variable size. Work commissioned by Hermès Horloger, Bienne, Switzerland, April 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.
Hicham Berrada, Présage, 2017, beaker, chemical substance, live camera and projection, 4 minutes 50 seconds. Installation view at Poétique des Sciences, Le Fresnoy, Studio national des arts contemporains, 2017. © ADAGP Hicham Berrada. Photography by Aurélie Brouet. Image courtesy of the artist and Kamel Mennour, Paris/London.
Aruwai Kaumakan, Moment in Blossom, 2018. Image courtesy of the artist.
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Bruno Latour and Martin Guinard, co-curators of the 12th Taipei Biennial unpack the many layers of their curatorial premise and share why we need a new framework for talking about the current ongoing geopolitical tensions and worsening ecological crisis.

TEXT: Denise Tsui
IMAGES: Courtesy of Taipei Fine Arts Museum

Taipei Biennial 2020 co-curators, Martin Guinard (Left) and Bruno Latour (Right) . Image courtesy of Taipei Fine Arts Museum.

 

“For me at least, [the curatorial theme] was more inspired by the question of modernization,” says Bruno Latour. “The modernization dream has sort of crashed with the ecological crisis. So, it’s not just about the ecological crisis. No modernization anymore has a common horizon for all the nation-states. So how do we explore alternatives? And that’s the idea.”

Speaking over Zoom two weeks ago with Latour and Martin Guinard, co-curators of the forthcoming 12th edition of the Taipei Biennial, I sought to unpack the curatorial premise behind “You and I Don’t Live on the Same Planet,” the title of this year’s biennial slated to take place from 21 November 2020 through 14 March 2021. Organized by Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM), it is one of few major art events still being realized this year; and it is dense with big words and even bigger ideas.

On the surface, “You and I Don’t Live on the Same Planet” draws attention to ecological crises plaguing the world over. Upon closer examination and deeper discussion with the curators, it is clear the biennale theme questions our current ongoing geopolitical tensions and worsening ecological crisis by examining our differences and influences on a planetary perspective. The Biennial will bring together 39 artists from 18 countries and territories—including eight Taiwanese artists, five of which are new commissions—under what the curators call a hypothetical planetarium.

 

June Balthazard and Pierre Pauze, MASS, 2020 (Film still), video installation, mixed materials, variable size. Work commissioned by Hermès Horloger, Bienne, Switzerland, April 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

Talking about different planets, Latour explains, “It gives a vocabulary to talk about politics in different ways. Because it’s not just the classical politics of interests and nation-states, it’s now—we claim—a politics of planets.” He adds, “So, the metaphor is that, if you begin to have one planet which has a very different view, it attracts all the others and it repels all the others. [As such], it’s a hypothetical or fictional planetarium and we invite people to situate themselves in this different set of planetary influences, so to speak.”

The core of the Biennial’s framework is the coming together of knowledge and discussions spanning across a field of studies encompassing humanities and history, geology, marine science, sociology and political science. Conversations of diplomacy, which Latour and Guinard argue is inevitably linked to science, are also at the heart of the Biennial. Latour explains, “By using all sorts of disciplines, it’s not just a question of science, it’s not just a question of art, it’s not a question of politics. And inside the sciences, we are interested in all sorts of different scientific disciplines having to do with the Earth, of course.”

 

Hicham Berrada, Présage, 2017, beaker, chemical substance, live camera and projection, 4 minutes 50 seconds. Installation view at Poétique des Sciences, Le Fresnoy, Studio national des arts contemporains, 2017. © ADAGP Hicham Berrada. Photography by Aurélie Brouet. Image courtesy of the artist and Kamel Mennour, Paris/London.
Aruwai Kaumakan, Moment in Blossom, 2018. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

He adds, “But the reason why we introduced diplomacy into it is because when this new geopolitical situation begins to be opened, when the extent of the divides are clear, we need, somehow, to make peace. Because we realize more and more that we are at war. That some nations invade other nations, classically.”

One of the key goals the co-curators hope to achieve is to activate the exhibition and transform it into a place of fieldwork where knowledge exchange and learning across these many fields are encouraged among the public. Here, Guinard credits Taiwanese independent curator Eva Lin who is the Biennial’s curator for public programming “as a very key person in this project for helping the program to grow within the show,” and “which really helps people to investigate and keep the questions alive.” A highlight of the public program includes Theater of Negotiations, a two-phase collaboration between TFAM and scholars from the Taiwan Science, Technology and Society Association and their students. Based on research studying some of the controversies faced by Taiwanese society through the eyes of varying roles of each stakeholder, Theatre of Negotiations will culminate in a re-enactment at TFAM where these roles will be endorsed and their divergent agendas negotiated.

Taiwan, to Latour and Guinard, stands out as a place to realize their curatorial hypothesis, because of the geopolitics on one hand, and on the other hand its geological existence as an island situated in a highly active zone making it susceptible to natural disasters. All of this, Latour says “makes Taiwan a sort of microcosm of the whole Earth question.” Returning to the question of modernization, which is both a trigger and a product of globalization, and a vital component to the conversation of the environment, Latour argues, “We might be less interested in the obsession for international now that globalization has taken a different turn. It is interesting to think about it and what was meant by ‘international’ was a sort of empty globalization.” But he emphasizes that the next step for modernization “will not be done without diplomacy.” To this, Guinard adds a most fitting sentiment, referencing Michael Jackson’s song We Are the World. “In a way, it could be the exact opposite strategy, which is to say no, we are not the world and therefore, how do we imagine a framework to think about it?”

 

 

Taipei Biennial 2020: You and I Don’t Live on the Same Planet
21 November 2020 – 14 March 2021
Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei

 

 
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