About Censorship

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Interview with Lorenzo Fusi, the international curator of the Liverpool Biennale

Venue: ground floor at Information Centre, 52 Renshaw Street, Liverpool,UK

Time: 3:30 pm 26th Oct 2010

Dan Wang: Information Centre was my first biennale venue where I visited this year. It was really impressive. Comparing to the Biennale in 2008, I remember there were a number of conventional institutions such as the Tate Liverpool, Bluecoat and Fact etc. But this time the Renshaw Street was chosen as one of the main places, I am curious of the process. How did it work? Which did it come across first, the venue or the names of the artists?

Lorenzo Fusi: It has been happening on the multi-level. Each one case was sort of individual circumstance. In some case, we have already had the idea of the space. But I won’t say the artists being chosen accordingly to the space. It was more like guiding through rather than dictating. The majority of the space became available until the last minute. As for this building, 52 the Renshaw Street, I had my eyes on it since I first arrived. After throughout time ( over two years ago), the place has been vacuum and deserted, and the enterprise here were moved somewhere. We were very keen on using the space.
But the negation was a bit difficult. For example, we did not sign the contract until three weeks before the opening. So I could not possibly design the exhibition around it. A great section was basically titled Re:thinking Trade. It happened throughout the ground floor and has direct relationship both vision and psychology with the street. It was pretty much influenced by the idea of having a space available. It was about the history of trading exchanging covers, and of course it was a compliment on this exhibition. So the idea started before, and the space came along afterwards. But some of ideas have become more powerful since the space was occupied.

D: I felt a lot of art works were embodied by the space and they were very site-specific. Did artists do the research of the space first before make the ideas? How was the process?

L: Now I was a bit resisted speaking about the word ‘site-specific’. Although the word was past notion throughout 80s and 90s, I don’t think it is so fundamentally important now. A lot of works have been done and said. I am also resisted works made lots of sense in one specific context were not translated sometimes if you did not replace them somewhere. Sometimes some works were suggested or dictated by actual environment. I mean like architecture, the site or circulation which you might take into consideration. That is I still consider as a bible form of site-specificity. To be site-specific in that meaning, it only has to make sense in the meaning to the specific site. But I do not think it is a good way to operate.
So as I said, the majority of sites have not been defined until later on. Of course, these artists have visited Liverpool and we gave them many possibilities. There were many options like many sites of showing the works and theories being occupied. But nothing was really confirmed. So at the beginning of the process was more about suggesting the title, the theme, the approach and sensitivity of the artists. Then the way materialized and taken the final form can be said ‘site-specific’. The way you have chosen, it really needs to be crystallized in order to make sense in a specific environment. So certain chooses in terms of solutions were suggested to the public spaces.

D: I still remembered the first day I arrived, Lewis Biggies( the director of Liverpool Biennale) gave me a brief introduction of the space. He told one of the curatorial approaches was to make ambiguity between art works and non-art objects. I found the space still kept the original inner facility such as old wall paper, soakers and lamps. Sometimes I was confused to recognize whether it was an art work without clear labels.

L: You might find in the public realm. I mean this place. It becomes evident which is entirely occupied by this exhibition. So you expect the majority of elements, features or objects would belong to the exhibition. But if you think about the commissioning art in the public realm, outside the wall, in the streets or squares whatever, the same rules and regulations applied make you think in reality and became visual excitement, which are much stronger than the art works.

D: So what is the relationship between the site and the art, particularly in this show?

L: I think it is very important in particular this building. To keep the memory of what the building has been. To keep spirit in psychological way. That is why many memories have been persisted. Then I thought it was beautiful than any art works being represented. It is a history and fascinating, and experience has been sentimentally set in this building. It will be a mistake to cancel everything inside.

D: So what is the role of art intervention in the space? Can art reactive this space?

L: I think the role of art in this specific building. It has been the key after the enterprise closed down. The building has been empty for over years. It is interesting enough that this building was considered as the most central part of the city. Now it became invisible to the sight of the people. What the Liverpool Biennale did through the exhibition was to make sure people would become aware again of the building at the present. It is also pointing the figure in terms of political decision. So it is a contradiction that so many new buildings are being developed around the town when persisted buildings under use will not be used at all. So whenever you occupy a public space, you basically highlight accessibility to make as much as possible. It is a fabric of the city.

In this respect, the Liverpool Biennale is very important. The enterprise was shot down one after the others. So the area became poorer and poorer in terms of human beings and activities were alienated. People who still have enterprise here are struggling because the Renshaw Street which once presented the highlight of Liverpool became ruining itself. People from the enterprise association are happy with what the Biennale did. The declining area has been activated and turned to be Biennale’s achievement.

D: What will this building happen after the biennale?

L: Well, unfortunately the decision will be managed by the state and returned to the company. The first side of the fact, it has been renewed interest in using the building from resellers. I assume one option in the future can be reoccupied by business. If it was my decision, it should be more like a city council. As a political decision, this building should be going through more consistent like quality house residencies or artists’ studios. It would become a cultural centre or presentational activities relating to contemporary culture because it is very central and close to the stations. It can be a multifunctional site. But the Biennale is marking a possible track which shows the possibility to do different things here.

D: The Biennale curatorial approach reminds me the show I curated in Shanghai Metro station in this summer. Please tell me your commend later. I tried summarizing the story: The exhibition Invisible City took place in a passage way of one Shanghai metro station and its aim was to explore the real shanghai in the period of the World Expo. The site was really changeling. On the one side, it opened to various groups of people, approximately 100,000 audiences passing through the place and majority were not specialized in art. One the other side, the site used to display advertisements was limited to the form of the works as a series of two-dimensional posters. At the end, I also put labels on these art works in order to give more information to the audiences. In some way, I tried to make clear border between art works and advertisements.

L: I think there are many different cases. In general, whenever you operate the public realm, you should be confident enough of consistency, do not feel urgent to put more labels. I think the art work should speak for itself. The art works which need too much explanation are not successful. So there will be other acceptance. I would say public art should not need labeling. There might be a platform where all information will be provided like website or leaflets. It will be other form to communicate or equal information. At the same time, it will be contradictory if you add too much educational approach in the public realm. If you want more communication, it should be in the gallery space. In the public realm, you have to face the fact that there are many conflicting messages around which will be delusive by something else.

D: In my case, there was no information on the website and passengers had no idea what was happening in this space. They knew something changed but they did not consider these posters as pieces of art works at the beginning.

L: Whenever you operate the content, you have to be aware at the beginning. What are you going to present at the early stage. From the curatorial view point, it is important to initiate the project, being aware of the situations and realize maximal information that you can provide. This information is going to be interrupted, not necessary as an art work. It is ordinary language and can communicate which are there. I think the consideration should take place before the project starts. Nowadays, there are many countries highly computerizing literature, which means incredibly simple way to provide more information like a website. Some people get more information from there. I do not think you can actually have both in the public realm. You can not have very guided and constructed way to provide information for your project. As for the aesthetics, the beauty and excitement in the public realm, there is a limit that you have to comprise the language you use.

D: In this circumstance, do you think is it necessary for the curator to navigate the audience?

L: I think it should be freedom in individual interpretation. Of course, you want to provide material of your thinking. That is your way to look at things. Artist should not have only one way to operate, even the curator should not be aware of only way to look at art. It should be diverse. Whenever you write an essay or a piece of paper, that is your own vision about it and you try to provide as much as inside that you have. But it is not necessary truth available about it. It is not only way to look at things. Actually I think the opposite way. It will be much more beautiful and more interesting to be open- minded art works. The interruption which you are not completely aware and never think about makes the art works richer and richer instead of becoming dryer and dryer because of the one way to read about it.
In my experience here, the art works I like best have been read or experienced in many different ways. Sometimes it is very construing way. I think it is more interesting rather than a single way.

D: Let us talk about censorship. Does censorship exist in public realm here? I also discussed with the artist Peter Mcdonald before, and he had a project of Art on the Underground. He told me that curator gave him really clear requirement of what can be shown or can not be at the early stage. As for my show in Shanghai metro station, the boundary of censorship was blurry. I was not sure whether the art works could be presented until the artists finished producing.

L: Censorship is fascinating and scaring issue at the same time. I have an experience of myself for other process. There is a pattern of form of the censorship, and at the same time you do experience indirect censorship which basically happens in registration. Although it is demarcated, good for community and starts at good promises, it is anyhow has an impact what can not be said, and ever better in the form what can not be said.

Give you an example; otherwise it will be a bit confusing. For instance, there is a series of animations by the artist Tala Madani in public area using BBC open air screen. You know BBC as a national broadcast company, has a straight regulation of which can be shown or not according to protection of children. The idea of this animation all I think is incredibly ironical and so playful. There are very strong massages, but they are not in particularly violent, comparing to our experience in regular cases. In a way, we expect most emancipated censorship. BBC did not want us to establish this work because their view point is not suitable for children. So what I mean, there are so many different valuation and sub-lines about censorship which do not necessarily mean you can not do. You have to invent ways which allows freedom for what you want to present.

D: If I go back to artistic practices, do you think the curator should consider the type of the audiences or the exception before making the show?

L: It is important to understand what audiences you are talking to. That is the key. At the same time, I do not think it should be absolute limitations. Otherwise you will deflect people and affect the possibilities. So it should not be only one principle to follow whenever you produce or commission art works. But at the same time, there are many different ways to exercise a form of censorship. At the majority of the limitations, we can easily pass if you follow the rules being structured. Sometimes institutions want to prohibit or inhibit the works because the context is not suitable for that certain circumstance. In this sense, curators should be aware of the situation and try avoiding useless conflicts or contracts or not necessarily stress.

Lorenzo Fusi, an International curator for the Liverpool Biennial 2010. Until April 2009 he was Curator of sms contemporanea in Siena (Italy) and until 2008 he was Chief Curator at the Palazzo delle Papesse.

Resource: http://www.acax.hu/index.

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