What it means to howl in Cuba

The formal mission of The Biennial Project is to “develop a body of work that will be displayed in as many biennial exhibits as possible (especially the really cool ones)”.

Our informal mission is to raise just as much hell as humanly possible.

Rarely have these two goals dovetailed as effortlessly as during our recent participation in the 00Bienal de La Habana. The 00Bienal de La Habana took place this May, and was organized by an ad hoc coalition of Cuban artists in response to the state-organized Habana Bienal being postponed from this year to 2019 in response to very difficult economic conditions on the island.

The organizing artists took great pains to make it clear that they were not anti anything. Rather they were in favor of the necessary role that art and artists must play, ever more so in challenging times.

The 00Biennial de La Habana received no institutional funding, relying instead on the organizing artists’ Herculean efforts in pulling off a multi-venue 10 day schedule of events that showcased the art of fascinating Cuban artists as well as that of many invited international artists (including us!). It tires us out just thinking about how much work this must have entailed.

One might think that the Cuban authorities would have been just proud as punch to have these fantastic young artists taking so much responsibility and putting such a positive face forward to the world.

Unfortunately that would be the case only in the Cuba we wish existed, not in the one these artists live and work in today.

So, to sum up, we risked investigation by the U.S. State Department to travel to another country to participate in an art event that was denounced and harassed by that country’s government. We guess artists are seen as a threat just about everywhere.

And what a great fucking trip it was! Incredible! How we got so lucky to be part of it we are still not sure. Our best guess is that somewhere in our youth or childhood, we must have done something good. In any event, it was amazing. No way can we do justice to it in one post (more to come – we promise!), but here follows the CliffsNotes version.

SO many artists put themselves out there to make this happen – with the two lead organizers being just goddamned paragons of artistic and human wonderfulness – (yes of course we did Artist Trading Cards on the participating artists – again, more on that later) - Yanelys and Luis – you are really tooooo extraordinary!



The exhibitions and presentations – in artists’ homes, studios, the beach – were electric and suffused with the heady energy of direct artist to artist exchange and support. Artists just doing it, instead of waiting for the powers that be to it for them. (Not a bad idea wherever you live, we thinks.) So much fun. So much food for thought. So many new connections with artists that we are thrilled to now know about and be able to follow. A thrilling model for what a biennial exhibit can look like.


And because it was us, hanging out in a gorgeous country with intrepid (and photogenic!) co-conspirators (including our new BFF Nonardo Perea – more on him later of course), there were a few pictures.






We promise to write more, but in the meantime here are some links to other articles about this remarkable event:

Hyperallergic - The Importance of Havana’s First Alternative Biennial for the Cuban Art Scene

Artforum - Cuba Detains Artists, Threatens Participants of First Alternative Havana Biennial

Artnet - Cuba Abruptly Turns Away Artists as ‘Dozens of Agents’ Prowl Havana’s Alternative Biennial




The Biennial Project

Boston Biennial 5 Accepted Video Work by Anna Salmeron

Bill Psarras, Messenger

'Messenger' constitutes a peripatetic poem, which combines site-specific elements of a walking performance for camera, the accompanying object of light bulb, personal poetry and soundscape. It explores the idea of returning to the intimate – in an imaginary and geographical matrix – as a solitary ambulatory process of transmitting the message with future potential.

China Blue Wong, Imagining Blue

“Imagining Blue” is an interactive brainwave sculpture that uses the participants’ minds to dynamically control the light, the motion and the sounds of the sculpture. This work gives the audience a previously unexplored view of the workings of their own minds. It enables users to observe their own current brain in action. The music is based on the sounds of neurons firing and breathing.

Francois-Xavier de Costerd, Maybe We'll Have Another Chance

As Trump explains how he does not believe in global warming and climate change, a simple green alpine valley turns into a theater for all threats to its pristine setting. A storm of digital flakes made of satellite views of Las Vegas, Boston, New York, London and Paris engulfs the valley. As the president declares that we should have kept the oil from Iraq, a satellite view of Baghdad hangs over the valley, quickly swallowed up by a view from Irving TX, home of the Exxon Corp. The abyss the world faces is reflected in the shell of our planet splintering into oblivion. The title double meaning echoes Trump’s wish to go back to Iraq and get the oil, but also our slim chance of fixing this crisis

Francois-Xavier de Costerd, The Death of Painting in the Age of Digital Over Production

This piece is an ode to painting inspired by Gerhard Richter's painting patterns. As a tongue in cheek Andy Warhol is interviewed by the BBC about his art practice, the production of his print screens, and how important it is to produce a lot of paintings, a digital maelstrom of paint colors ensues with infinite reproductions. Andy’s wish of painting like a machine is made real. The painting studio becomes the time studio, as Andy considers his age and mortality, his voice like a memory fading into a heavenly ether.

Kei Ito, Thirst

This work is based on the story my grandfather told me. If the death was the first thing the A-bomb gave to the people in Hiroshima, burnt flesh and unbearable thirst was the next. Many survivors jumped into a river to ease their deadly thirst though many of them were drown. By the next morning, the river was filled with bodies staring at the sky and the sun.

Tran Trong Vu, Correspondences of a solitary man

Installation of a text the artist has written for 21 days as a diary. Printed on A4 paper, and installed under fluorescent light.

Barbara Felix, Ribbon Dancer

A short experimental stop motion animation shot with green screen on a small green screen stage built for upcoming claymation animation work. I used transparent wide glittery ribbon that gave unanticipated but interesting results. It has original music created with Garage Band on my iPhone. It was edited with Adobe Photoshop, After Effects, Premier Pro and Audition.

Farzin Foroutan, Topography of soil emerge

To me, soil is the first abstraction of an archive; something more than what you walk and lie on. Soil is the memory of centuries; the archive of the memory of humankind; and when my body unites with it, I can experience those memories.

Farzin Foroutan, Anonymous Doors

Belonging to nowhere. Somewhere between the outside and inside.Among mute reality and blind imagination. Here could be an exact place not belonging to us but hence is closer than anywhere. Unknown and exotic places seem more familiar from faraway and between the doors.

Crystal Heiden, iceland on icleand

in this video I combine multiple fragments pulled from a single take while driving down a single road passing a single mountain to examine the landscape at all angles of that singular place

Dimitrije Martinovic, The Contorted Regard

At the heart of THE CONTORTED REGARD is the notion that the “rant” may be used as a method of explicating the prevalence of existential threats. Which is to say that the rant is in essence a form of purging of that, which is unwanted, that which we are haunted by - the rant is arrogance and mediocrity combined with pride, shame, and fear.

Elizabeth Michelman, CHANGE

A proselytizing church door beckons; a laundromat buzzes and thumps; snowbanks light up as cars blink past in the cacophony of an ordinary New England town on a winter’s night. Our pilgrim traverses the workaday world ---profane, tedious, grating, yet marked with moments of transcendence. Written language posted at the scene escorts us through and returns us to our own lives----changed?


artist as model riffing on 1. prehistory art when humans used their skin as canvas; 2. the work of Yves Klein, early pioneer of performance art 3. fingerprinting in the police station 4. sports fans painting their faces, etc, to show support of teams

Laura Torres, LOS HIJOS DE PAPÁ INOCENCIO (The Children of Papa Inocencio)

A family fights and schemes over who will be buried in a mausoleum built by their grandfather, after they discover that the mausoleum has historical significance.

a valentine for you….. by Anna Salmeron

The Biennial Project LOVES LOVES LOVES “living these lives in art” as our close friend Jerry Saltz calls it. No joke, seriously, he actually said that. To us. About us. His exact words were “I truly envy you all for these lives lived in art…” We know it sounds just like something that we would make up, but in this case we did not have to. Seriously.

Anyway, back to the lives lived in art thing. The current project of these lives lived in art is our fifth edition of the Boston Biennial. We are getting to experience and promote SO MUCH EXCELLENT ART! We are thrilled to be able to share it with you and everyone out there.

We had planned on closing for submissions on this Wednesday February 14th, but because our inboxes are full of requests for extensions (we get it, we can never finish stuff on time either – we think it’s an artist thing), we have decided to extend the deadline to March 1st. Consider it our valentine to everyone who has been thinking about entering but has yet to get to it. So keep those amazing entries coming, we can’t wait to see your work!


In the meantime, here are some very cool recent entries that strike us as in the spirit of St. Valentine’s Day.


Mend, by Coral Woodbury


Speak from the heart, by Jean-Francois Lanthier


Defende, by James Wodarek


No-77, by Thomas Roth


Helping Make America Great Again (PRO/CON STITUTION), by Walter Kopec


The Biennial Project

from the U.S. to Quebec to Greece to Korea to Australia…… by Anna Salmeron

More exceptional work

being submitted to the

Boston Biennial 5

Extraordinary art from

artists around the world:


          Coral Woodbury, Massachusetts


          Joan Ryan, Massachusetts


          Ruth Rosner, Massachusetts


          Crystal Heiden, Connecticut       

             WATCH VIDEO HERE


          Christine Comeau, Quebec, Canada


          Bill Psarras, Greece



          Myung Hwan LEE, South Korea


          Karen Burgess, Australia

Enter the Boston Biennial 5


from MA to NY to NE to CA to IRAN by Anna Salmeron

SO MUCH COOL WORK being submitted to the

Boston Biennial 5

Wonderful work from artists NEAR -



Chrysalis by Jeannie Motherwell, see more HERE


Honey Doo!  by Matthew McKee, see more HERE 


Neighborly Lifestyles of the Richer and Thinner [ENVY] by Walter Kopec, see more HERE




Evening Walk by Katharine Dufault, see more HERE



Intrigue by Michelle Woitzel, see more HERE



The Dark Side by Jesse Wiedel, see more HERE

and across the ocean FAR (IRAN)


I'm not here, Even not there by Farzin Foroutan, see more HERE



The Biennial Project Venice Biennale 2017 Artist Trading Cards by Anna Salmeron

For those days in Venice we walked down streets so beautiful as to defy description, enjoyed the unfathomable generosity of spirit of the Italians, drank from fountains of prosecco, shared the company of our dearest friends and co-conspirators, swam in an ocean of art, and most importantly lived as artists citizens of some parallel possible world where all countries hold sacred the role of art and artists in defining and maintaining our common humanity. We did (for once) not think about the terror of our current reality, but about the tremulous joy of being alive.

Yep, it was good. And as we now approach the closing of the 2017 Venice Biennale, we’d like to share a few of the artist profiles we did of participating 2017 VB artists. Enjoy them, and if you would like to have your own deck of over 50 artist profiles, let us know and we can send you one for cost plus shipping.

XXOO, The Biennial Project



















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Venice Biennial 2017 What We Saw, What We Liked in Summary

Breaking news – being an artist is hard.

We’re generally broke, and when we do come by a little money, we usually spend it on stuff to make more art, which perplexes the normal people around us.

And making art means being immersed in the reality of the human experience, which – spoiler alert – sort of sucks these days.

That’s why this particular group of artists gets together every two years to travel to an imaginary land – one in which all the nations of the earth meet in a place of hallucinatory beauty and grandeur to make and experience art, art, and more art.

We mean Venice of course. We went in May, and it was a salve for the soul, as usual. We couldn’t see everything that we wanted to see, as usual. We allowed ourselves to harbor a tiny dream of going back to see more in the fall after the crowds were gone, as usual. There is no way we are going to be able to make that plan work, as usual. [SOUND EFFECT: deep resigned sigh.]

So we’re going to have to make do with our memories. Here are some new WHAT WE LIKED posts, and links to some of the older ones.

Enjoy the read, keep working, and send us plans for art trips we can do together to warm our collective souls.


INTUITION at Palazzo Fortuny

by Coral Woodbury, for The Biennial Project


When you reach the end of what you should know, you will be at the beginning of what you should sense.” Kahlil Gibran


“When the body functions spontaneously, that is called instinct. When the soul functions spontaneously, that is called intuition.” Shree Rajneesh

Peter Greenaway's installation at Palazzo Fortuny during the 1993 Venice Biennale left such an impression on me that the one thing I knew heading to Venice was that I would return to the Palazzo. Even in Venice this is a unique space, embodying faded and decaying grandeur while preserving the home and collections of Mariano Fortuny, an early twentieth-century stage, fashion, and lighting designer. So the house is a stage set of sorts, and one an artist like Greenaway knew how to animate eerily.

As it turned out, I was in time for the sixth and last collaboration of Axel Vervoordt, Belgian antiquarian, art dealer, interior designer and curator, and Daniela Ferretti, Director of Palazzo Fortuny. Intuition was absolutely worth the 25 year wait. READ MORE


The Irish Pavilion

by Anne Murray, for The Biennial Project

“My broken bones shall be a weapon, chaos is the bread I eat!”


photo of Jesse Jones’ installation by Anne Murray

With an impressive sense of dignity, profound understanding of the human condition, and in full knowledge of the challenge that women face in a rapidly morphing set of boundaries created through elusive and divisive judiciary systems in Ireland and abroad, Jesse Jones has created a meta world which challenges the legal system, where what we think and see implores us to react and evolve or suffer the vile subsistence living that will ensue in the storm of chaos unleashed in the form of women forced to take justice into their own hands.

Tremble, Tremble, curated by Tessa Giblin, is more than a pavilion, it is a space between, a space possessed by magic and where fears take shape in an unearthly form, as a human buried under the bog, preserved in flesh, but morphed, shape shifted into something beyond comprehension.

Here, women have an enormous tempest of power controlled only by the force of the black hole of the body of Olwen Fouéré, as a photon encircling and drawn into it only when encountered by the the Higgs boson particle, a weight that gives our thoughts as light mass, and thus, slows us down; we are trapped in this hole with her, as if time would stop or else become eternal, both one in the same. READ MORE



The Mongolian Pavilion

by Victor Salvo for The Biennial Project


photo by Victor Salvo


Lost in Tngri

Fire. The Sun is Heaven sent. The Sunfire makes the pastures grow the pasture grass. The sun droughts up the land or runs away for too long. Cattle sheep ram lamb burn to black. Fire lovemaking sperm seek along the skulls.

Fire droughts up the land. Circling us. Cooking us. Sits down on a lone fire red fish still alive, Sun, still swimming above the scorched economic lines.

Fire. Fire your weapon straight and true. The scope tells you where to aim. Fire molds the bronze. Fire curves the barrel. Water remembers and walks the rifle after rifle, a flock of the ungainly.

Water flows in a ribbon, flows the trees, rivers come from Tngri, the gods, down from the sky, up to the sky.


photo by Paul K. Weiner




by Charlene Liska, originally published in the North End Waterfront

The Biennial Project at Spazio TanaIl Mondo Magico (photos courtesy The Biennial Project)

In this era of biennials, The Venice Biennale, the vast international art festival begun in 1895, is the grandmother of them all. While Venice is revered for it’s great Renaissance and earlier art, the Biennale has always managed to feature avant-garde and contemporary art, and somehow the contrast enlivens both worlds.

I attended the first week of the Venice Biennale with an East Boston-based arts organization, “The Biennial Project” which began about 10 years ago as a send-up of the many pretensions of the art world and has since grown into a world-wide network of people who care a lot about art and not at all about the pretensions. The BP stages its own counter-biennials, including one in Marfa, Texas and four Boston Biennials that have been held here locally, last in 2016. These people are the most serious fun around!

This year, in addition to attending the official Biennale, the Boston-based organization held its own parallel Venice event that featured several hundred artists from across the globe. Participating artists included German-born painter-sculptor Artemis Herber, Florida-based photographer Barbara Revelle, videographer Tom Corby from London, and Zsolt Asztalos, who represented Hungary in the official 2013 Biennale but who chose this year to appear in the Boston organization’s parallel event instead. Poetry, in English and Italian, was recited, locals and visitors confabbed, words and prosecco flowed liberally. One couldn’t really say it was a bit of Boston in Venice; it was more like a bit of the world, that had come together under prompting from Boston on a dark night in a Venice neighborhood to talk, and drink, and talk some more about art, because they admired the weird and interesting spirit of the Biennale and the art works that were on display.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: CLICK HERE to see the galleries of beautiful work exhibited in ArtVenice Biennial IV.]

And there were some stunning pieces in the Venice Biennale, not least, the small old wooden country house with holes in its roof that was imported in its entirety from the Republic of Georgia, down through which the artist, Chachkhiani, caused artificial rain to pour unceasingly, covering everything inside with dripping water; it captured everyone’s worst fear about waking up in the middle of the night to hear water dripping, and finding that somehow a hole has opened up in the roof — in this case many holes! — and the rain is starting to come in. And in the Italian pavilion, Il Mondo Magico, an exhibit which showed an assembly line in which simulated dried and mummified life-sized corpses of Christ were manufactured from plastic materials and then were heated in ovens and allowed to molder, and then, once finished, were broken into large pieces and displayed, in more or less random order, on a dark wall. It was about imitation versus reality, yes, and the almost unbelievable power of technology, but also about magic, and how and why people hope, and the power of belief. Of course, there were more conventional pieces too, in their hundreds; but this gives you an idea.

About timing, for anyone who might be thinking of attending — and it’s well worth going to see! — it makes a Venice trip even more dramatic than it would otherwise be. Either go early, as I did this year, in May, for the excitement of the crowds and the fun of getting there first, or otherwise consider waiting till late in the year — say, October month — which can be exquisite too, since the fact that there are no crowds then means you can actually see and enjoy and understand things in your own good time.

And full marks to “The Biennial Project”: they’re projecting Boston onto the global arts scene in a singular way, and they do it basically because, being artists themselves, they can’t help it. These people are living to make, and view, and talk about art. Interesting way to live.


The Taiwanese Pavilion

by Barbara Jo Revelle, for The Biennial Project


Ok, I’ll admit this up front. I’m wildly attracted to durational performance art. I do it myself sometimes. Not so long ago, as part of an art installation scrutinizing my father’s big game hunting practice, I walked continuously - eight hours a day, seven days a week, for two weeks - on a treadmill set up in a gallery. I stopped only to take pees. While I moved I edited 100+ hours of my father’s old hunting films and videos - mostly shots of him watching game from blinds, hanging cut up animal parts baits in trees, or posing with dead animals and the African natives who helped him track and kill them. This footage was projected onto the gallery walls in front of me as I walked and worked. READ MORE








The Biennial Project






Mongolian Thoughts on Chinese Economic and Environmental Policies

Mongolian Pavilion

at the 2017 Venice Biennale

by Victor Salvo for The Biennial Project


photo by Victor Salvo

Lost in Tngri

Fire. The Sun is Heaven sent. The Sunfire makes the pastures grow the pasture grass. The sun droughts up the land or runs away for too long. Cattle sheep ram lamb burn to black. Fire lovemaking sperm seek along the skulls.

Fire droughts up the land. Circling us. Cooking us. Sits down on a lone fire red fish still alive, Sun, still swimming above the scorched economic lines.

Fire. Fire your weapon straight and true. The scope tells you where to aim. Fire molds the bronze. Fire curves the barrel. Water remembers and walks the rifle after rifle, a flock of the ungainly.

Water flows in a ribbon, flows the trees, rivers come from Tngri, the gods, down from the sky, up to the sky.


photo by Paul K. Weiner


Exodus: A Mirror of Hope for the Future of Art Biennials - 4th Mediterranean Biennial of Contemporary Art of Oran, Algeria by Anne Murray

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The Biennial Project is immensely proud to be able to bring you this very thoughtful look into this biennial exhibit, written by our world-traveling correspondent Anne Murray.] 

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Photo credit Anne Murray, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Oran

4th Mediterranean Biennial of Contemporary Art of Oran, Algeria


Interview by artist and participant Anne Murray, http://www.annemurrayartist.com , MFA and Master of Science in Theory, History, and Criticism of Art and Architecture, Pratt Institute, with the curators and co-founders of the Mediterranean Biennial of Contemporary Art of Oran, Algeria, Sadek Rahim, http://cloudconversations.weebly.com/sadek-rahim.html and President of Civ-Oeil Gallery Tewfik Ali Chaouche, http://www.civoeil.com/

July 2nd-31st, 2017

At the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Oran (MAMO, Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain d'Oran )

With today’s mixture of classic and unconventional biennials, it is necessary to think again about the purpose and drive behind the biennial itself and to wonder where we are going globally in terms of art, its movements, and its connections to globalization.

This year’s Venice Biennale brought about many questions concerning the depth and political responsibilities of the biennial and its context.  Viva Arte Viva seemed a bit superficial in terms of themes, although, yes, we all hope for Art to keep living and to remain strong in terms of significance and output around the world. It played a safe role in terms of not making anyone get too fussy about political titles, while subterfuge allowed some of the individual pavilions to give out unique passports and visas such as the Tunisian Freesa and the NSK pavilion passport.  Although these ideas are not new, since it was Jorge and Lucy Orta who gave out Antarctica World Passports at the 9th Shanghai Biennale back in 2012, they are an indication that just beneath the surface or the superficial title, artists are still challenging the viewer and the world of politics.

Recently, such avant-garde approaches to the biennial format as the Museum of Non-Visible Art Biennial (MONA Biennial), the upcoming Wrong Biennial which combines digital pavilions with physical exhibitions around the world, and the Worldwide Apartment and Studio Biennial, have created a different context all together for the purpose and even, venue of a biennial in contemporary times.

The United States has seen a rise in interest in Islamic art with the displays at the Museum of Modern Art being changed over to represent Islamic art in the collection as a protest to travel bans, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/18/autossell/proposed-travel-ban-at-art-dubai-its-plainly-wrong.html, as well as the active collecting happening with the important Guggenheim UBS Map Global Art Initiative, https://www.guggenheim.org/map, which has expanded the collection to include more artists from South and Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa.

In Spain, the recent exhibit, Making Africa, showed at the CCCB, Center of Contemporary Art of Barcelona, http://www.cccb.org/es/exposiciones/ficha/making-africa/213052, and represented artists and designers from all over Africa, and was a more than subtle hint at the necessity of constructing a vision of Africa of the future through art. Still in Venice, we had a limited amount of representation from Africa and the diaspora with the Diaspora Pavilion, including some key emerging artists and mentor artists of influence from multiple diaspora, and the Nigerian (for the first time), Egyptian, and South African Pavilions.

So, what happens when someone decides to create a biennial that defies convention and is themed from the heart, refusing to indulge in the mass of political ambiguity and safe quadrants of benign titles and approaches, but instead, confronts directly the global issues of exodus? Well, the answer is, the Mediterranean Biennial of Contemporary Art of Oran, Algeria (Biennale Méditerranéenne d'art contemporain d'Oran), which is in its 4th edition this year.

Why is it important? How did it start? Well, considering that there has never been an Algerian Pavilion of Contemporary Art at the Venice Biennial, one realizes that its importance is tantamount in the contemporary art scene, in elevating and preparing the road to an Algerian Pavilion in Venice, in 2019 or 2021.

I asked the curators, Sadek Rahim and Tewfik Ali Chaouche, of the Mediterranean Biennial of Contemporary Art of Oran, Algeria, a few questions about its development, challenges, and the direction it is heading towards, in terms of creating a solid contemporary lift-off for Algerian artists and a pavilion in Venice for the future.

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Photo credit Anne Murray, Curators Sadek Rahim (on the left), Tewfik Ali Chaouche, and journalist Stéphanie Pioda

Murray: What did you expect from artists who submitted work for the theme of Exodus? 

Ali Chaouche: There were 37 Algerian artists and 20 foreign artists this year, hailing from England, Canada, Spain, France, Syria, Switzerland, Turkey, Tunisia, Palestine, the United States, Greece, Italy, and Thailand and the exhibition took place at the recently inaugurated, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Oran.  The participating artists who submitted their work for the theme of Exodus, were welcomed as a part of this project, because of their human and artistic engagement: as was stated in the open call for the theme, ‘Art is the mirror of society; it reflects one’s daily life- happiness and sadness.’ The works of these artists echo this reflection to the public, (of which, there were many visitors in the 4th Biennial)... for me, my objectives as a curator were to re-introduce contemporary art to the people of Oran who could not see and frequent exhibitions and visual art events for a long time except at the Civ-Oeil Gallery (www.civoeil.com), which shows contemporary art of Oran from time to time; there are no other visual art exhibition spaces in Oran and in the region for that matter.

Murray: Similarly to the early days of the Venice Biennale, I noticed that the biennial in Oran included a selection of invited artists, open call artists selected from around the world, and emerging Algerian artists, is this the way that the selection was made in the past or was it a new combination this year? Was there a particular reason why you made the grouping this way this time?

Ali Chaouche: Concerning the selection of artists, this year, we opted to have three invited artists  (our choice was to have three contemporary Algerian artists who have been recognized recently for their creative productions and their diverse exhibitions across Algeria and abroad).  The other artists who were chosen, represent all the different cities of Algeria, (the young creators), and some of the Mediterranean countries. We accepted some countries outside of the Mediterranean region, because of their relationship to the theme of Exodus. This year, since we had this particular theme of Exodus, our selections were made with this topic as a priority.

Murray: Sadek, what was your major role as a curator in this exhibition?  I understand that you worked with several of the young artists helping them to develop their ideas, what can you share with us about this experience? In the Diaspora Pavilion in Venice, they paired more established artists with emerging artists, to help build and support the younger artists and their careers. Do you think this combination will be a new trend in biennial exhibitions? How do you see what you did in relation to the pairing of artists in the Diaspora Pavilion? As an established artist yourself, were you acting as curator and mentor to these young artists?

Rahim: What David A. Bailey and Jessica Taylor have done, as curators of the Diaspora Pavilion in Venice, and which is very interesting, is to create a pavilion structured as a project. They had the great idea to put out an open call for emerging British artists of various backgrounds in 2016. These young artists had not only to work for projects for the biennial, but also a two-year agenda of mentoring and support by a group of established artists. What we wanted to do at the Mediterranean Biennial of Contemporary Art in Oran, was a bit the same, except with regard to Algeria, there is a sense of urgency, because we are significantly behind in this area.

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Photo credit Sadek Rahim, Camps, an installation by Djamel Benchenine

Rahim: The curatorial work with three young artists, which I had, was such a great experience for me as an artist and as a supporter of change in the cultural and academic programs of our country. These three young artists: Islem Haouti, Nora Zaïr, and Djamel Benchenine were such a good example of what we can do to help young artists to take a step forward. Djamel Benchenine had proposed at the end of my work with him, an installation 6/7 meters called ‘Camps’ a model of a Sahrawi refugee camp (Dakhla) in the city of Tindouf in Algeria. The artist made the tents of this camp out of wood, originally white, Djamel painted them in black, a color that reflects the tragedy of these peoples lives. In 2016, Djamel was invited as an artist to The International Film Festival of Western Sahara (Fisahara), which takes place at this camp among others and also, simultaneously, in Madrid, allowing for a greater number of personalities from the world of Spanish cinema, culture as well as Spanish citizens sympathizing with the Saharawi cause, and to the public in general, to attend and to inquire about the situation of the Saharawi refugees.

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Photo credit Nora Zaïr, a photograph called, Up, by Nora Zaïr

Rahim: Nora Zaïr, photographer, worked on Rumi poetry. Rumi was one of the first who elaborated the ‘Sufi turning’ or the dervish dance, the physical exertions of movement, specifically dancing and whirling, in order to reach a state assumed by outsiders to be one of ‘ecstatic trances’ a way to travel ‘above’ to be closer to heaven. Her installation, a photograph ‘big sticker’ is glued to one of the panels of the museum elevator. Nora photographed a kid next to graffiti on a wall, which said ‘’towards a reinvented world”.

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Photo credit Sadek Rahim, Freedom by Islem Haouti

Rahim: My work with photographer Islem Haouti was mostly about contemporary techniques and how to represent photography in a contemporary way. Islem chose to print a photograph called ‘freedom’ taken in the Western Sahara camps on a sticker and directly mounted it on one of the walls of the museum. The picture was taken when he worked with the Spanish human rights organization ARTifariti, inside a camp in the Western Sahara in 2016. And finally, yes, I think this combination should be a trend in the biennials, especially those of the Arab world and more precisely of the MENASA region (Middle East North Africa South Asia).

Murray: Who were the main jury members for the selection and what background do they have? Have they been involved with this biennial since the beginning?

Ali Chaouche: The principle members of the jury were : Sadek Rahim: artist (https://www.saatchiart.com/account/profile/90542)master’s laureate of the world-renowned, Central St. Martins University of the Arts in London, Co-curator and Co-Founder of the the Mediterranean Biennial of Contemporary Art of Oran, Hafid Boualem: Filmmaker and screenwriter (member of Civ-Oeil Gallery), Karim Benacef : Journalist (director of publication), Abdelhamid Aouragh : Photographer (journalist for Elkhabar ), Tewfik Ali Chaouche, President of the Jury: Artist (Co-Founder and President of the Mediterranean Biennial of Contemporary Art of Oran) During the 3rd and 4th Biennial, Tewfik Ali Chaouche was the curator representing Algeria in the Magmart International Videoart Festival. The members of the jury are all members of the Association of Visual Arts, Civ-Oeil and they have participated actively in the preparation of the 4th biennial. Of note,

I, myself, in the role of co-curator, consulted many professionals in the field of contemporary art, concerning the choices for the 4th biennial (outside of the jury itself) and with Sadek Rahim, we made a final selection taking into consideration the context of contemporary Algerian artists (integrating the works of some young emerging artists) who were included at the end with the selected artists.

Murray: What particularly surprised you about the submissions this year?

Ali Chaouche: This year, many artists surprised us with the context of their works :

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Photo credit Djamel Benchenine, Installation, Exodus Cigarette by Djamel Benchenine

BENCHENINE Djamel, with his installation, Exodus Cigarette: this recent graduate of the Fine Arts School of Oran, made a connection with the younger generation of artists searching for liberty and discovery, he started by making graffiti on the walls of Oran (he draws, paints, and writes poetry to express himself and communicate a message) …with this installation, he delivers to us a strong and expressive message of Exodus in relation to cigarettes (youth smoke Kif or hashish for their specific Exodus)…through these drawings on cigarette papers, he tells us of the daily life of all youth who are forgotten in the shadows of the exodus of the cigarette (he cites 3 stages of the trip for young people : 1st trip towards God (with the worst and the best… to meditate), 2nd is a trip across Europe (immigration or exile), 3rd a trip through the cigarette papers (his drawings on these little translucent papers, but it’s also a trip into recklessness from the effects of hashish used to forget all of life’s daily problems).

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Photo credit Tewfik Ali Chaouche, artist Reyna (Renée Rey) performing Les Naufragés at the Mediterranean Biennial of Contemporary Art of Oran

Renée Rey (Reyna): This French artist is personally engaged in the theme with her performance art connecting photo-video and installation with paintings of drowned people, she presents to us a different way of participating in a biennial of contemporary art, where her way of sharing with the public of Oran engages the audience, quickly. Her section at the exhibition was the most visited and achieved the greatest interest and curiosity from the public.

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Photo credit Sofiane Zouggar, Stories/Moving Objects by Sofiane Zouggar, www.sofianezouggar.com

Sofiane Zouggar : who made up part of the young contemporary Algerian artists, in this biennial, he presents his reflection in Exodus through a work entitled, Stories/Moving Objects, a beautiful story of a Syrian refugee from Aleppo, exiled to Algiers through the melodies of reed instruments that he makes and plays…this video shows us the drama of the Syrian Exodus from a different artistic angle with musical harmonies of the Ney (an oriental flute made of reeds)

Murray: Were there interpretations of the theme, Exodus, that were different than one would expect?

Ali Chaouche : Yes, there were some artists whose works interpreted the theme of Exodus in a very different way- that is what makes contemporary art so rich, the video art was more present in this biennial, which was a new thing for the MAMO

(Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Oran) which was, recently, inaugurated in March 2017 and did not always have the technical requirements for video projection.

One specific interpretation that caught our attention in terms of the technical and the artistic features, is without a doubt, your (Anne Murray) performance video, Exquisite Exodus. As an American artist, and global citizen, your work was quickly noticed for your beautiful performance video and photo installation highly enhanced by the technique and style of the interpretation of the theme of Exodus, which takes a dimension more psychological in the video accompanied by a narrative text … I see it as a professional work, which makes us proud to have you among the selected artists.   

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Photo credit Anne Murray

Exquisite Exodus by Anne Murray, watch the video here: http://www.annemurrayartist.com/exquisite-exodus.html (pictured above is fellow artist participant, Sihem Salhi, watching the video) www.annemurrayartist.com

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Photo Credit Anne Murray, video Exquisite Exodus by Anne Murray

Murray: What were the last three biennials like? What venues? How many artists? How were they selected?

Ali Chaouche: The three previous biennials were at the Oran Cathedral (Médiathèque). The 1st Biennial theme was, Contemporary Art in Every State, and it took place from November 27-29, 2010. There were thirty artists who participated hailing from four countries, with 120 works of plastic art and 30 videos. We had 1200 visitors, and it was curated by HACHEMI AMEUR, Director of the Fine Arts School of Mostaganem.  

The 2nd Biennial theme was, Young Contemporary Creation, and it was from March 29-31, 2012 with fifty artists, 15 were foreigners. We had 2 artists-in-residence: Samta Benyahia  and Flaye. There were 3000 visitors and I was the curator. (Tewfik ALI CHAOUCHE, artist/painter –Founder and President of Civ-Oeil)

The 3rd Biennial theme was, The Other, and it was from June 8-10, 2014, also with 50 artists including 15 foreigners and we also had the same 2 artists-in-residence: Samta Benyahia  and Flaye. We had less visitors that year because the timing was during the Baccalaureate exams, around 1500 visitors. We also has a an art intervention by the collective  BOX 24 (Algiers) and had a video projection, a selection fo the international festival, Five. The curator was Karim SERGOUA (artist –teacher at the Fine Arts School).

Murray: What do you plan for the upcoming biennial?

Ali Chaouche: Everything depends on finances: if our association sustained financial support from the ministry of culture for this event it would have been different: We would have an open call to find an event agency that could create the programming for this international event a year in advance. We would choose 3 independent professional curators, with each proposing a different theme: 1 curator for the Algerian diaspora abroad, 1 curator to choose the local artists, 1 curator to choose the foreign artists. The biennial would extend to other spaces around the city of Oran and we would create a catalogue before the opening of the exhibition and other brochures to share around the city and to attract tourism. There would also be guided visits for students and scholars with mediators of contemporary art

Murray: How much do you think the venue and the support of the organizations involved has affected the outcome of the biennials of the past and the current biennial?

Ali Chaouche: Without a doubt, the place of exhibition and the support of state institutions plays a crucial role in the continuation of this art event: previously we had no financial support from the Ministry of Culture, and yet, thanks to various sponsors and partners, we were able to mount this biennial anyway (in the basement of the Mediateque (former Cathedral of Oran, which is currently empty). Now with the new Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, the director is in favor of a partnership and so the financing for the next edition is open to possibilities and we have an optimistic vision for the future.

Murray: Tewfik, what do you as a curator and/or artist bring to the biennial that is unique?

Ali Chaouche: As the curator and artist founder of this biennial, I do everything I can with the organization, administration, and the making of the different exhibitions. There are multiple objectives for this biennial: to create a platform of contemporary art for exchange between artists of the Mediterranean region, also to create an Algerian art market in partnership with the international art market, to make the work of contemporary Algerian artists known internationally, to participate in the confrontation of some of the themes that unite us, and also to participate in the evolution of contemporary art in the Mediterranean region with conferences and round tables, as well as to create catalogues and brochures.

Murray: How do local artists feel about the Venice Biennial? Is it a goal to be represented there?

Ali Chaouche: The Venice Biennial remains the principal frame of reference for excellence for every artist in the Mediterranean region and, most certainly, for Algerian artists in their quest for international recognition, knowing full well that after having exposed their work in the ‘oldest biennial of the world’ its fame will move an artist further up the list of notoriety; some of the artists who have benefited from this recognition and opportunity are French-Algerians, who have had the opportunity to show in other national and curated pavilions, which are not labeled as Algerian, thanks to the help of their galleries, examples are Kader Atia and Adel Abdessemed.

Murray: Sadek, as an Algerian artist with growing distinction in the world, especially after your recent participation in Art Dubai, what are your thoughts and goals and are they related in any way to the Venice Biennial?

Rahim: Even though one’s chances are slim, with my gallery owner in Algiers, Amal Rougab, and the president of the Biennale of Oran, Tewfik Ali Chaouche, we are setting up a project and hoping that the Ministry of Culture will finally make a contribution to try to have a space in the next edition of the Venice Biennale.  We are very motivated since for a very long time artists of Algerian origin participated in the Venice Biennial under so many other flags other than the Algerian one:Kader Attia, Zineb Sedira, Samta Benyahia… in 2015 Massinissa Selmani presented with curator Okwui Onwezor the project 'All the world's future' which had a ‘Special Mention’ during the 56th Biennale Of Venice.

Murray: What are some of the similarities and connections between Venice and Oran historically and in contemporary times?

Ali Chaouche: Oran and Venice are both Mediterranean cities, which have experienced a rich history of cultural and artisanal exchange since the time of the Ottoman empire, when the governor of Oran, Mohamed Kebir, employed some Venetian artisans for the decoration of his palace and vice versa, some Andalusian artisans from Oran, passed their knowledge and skills to Venice. From previous Venice Biennials, one has seen some connections made to Algeria-  in the French pavilion, most notably with the architecture in the balconies of the architect Pouillon (from the period of colonization)…

Murray: What is it that attracts Algerian artists to the Venice Biennial, is there an interest in its connection to the art market?

Ali Chaouche: The Venice Biennial is the tipping point of contemporary art; it is of major importance in the world art market with its reputation and above all, it is the meeting place for art enthusiasts and collectors, from which stems, the interest of curators and Algerian gallerists to eventually have representation with an Algerian Pavilion in Venice.

Murray: How do you see the attraction of Algerians to the Venice Biennial and what are some of the issues related to the contemporary art scene in Algeria that you see manifesting themselves?

Rahim: Many artists leave Algeria because there is a great lack of galleries, museums, art fairs and above all the art market here is at its very infancy. Most of these artists leave the country for Europe or the USA, like Yazid Oulab, Massinissa Salmani or Adel Abdessemed. Artists who are still in the country bet on international events to show their work, to make a living and especially to prove to all the world that there is a consequent art production in the country. So, events such as the Venice Biennial are the ideal opportunity for Algerian artists to prove themselves and their very artistic existence.

Murray: The development of national pavilions has been a large part of the history of the Venice Biennial, how does that relate to Algeria historically and the desires of Algerian artists?

Rahim: In Algeria since its independence in 1962, protectionism, populism and above all nationalism are strict in the country; I wonder how the Algerian state resisted an opportunity like the Venice Biennial to show its power and greatness as is often done during military parades and other nationalist occasions.

Murray: What makes the biennial in Oran distinct from other biennials in the world?

Ali Chaouche: It’s the people and the city, who are open to Mediterranean cultures and to the world, the people are welcoming and curious about contemporary art. On the economic plane, Oran is the 2nd largest city in Algeria after the capital, with its oil port of Arzew and its industrial zone; it has been in a state of urban expansion since 2010 and there is an awareness of that it is still in an adolescent stage (Metro-with the formation of new networks of roads and urban spaces, etc.)… from this, the interest springs to create a new contemporary art space like the Museum of Modern and Conteporary Art of Oran, where the biennial is held this year, and for the work of the organizers of the creation of the network of art lovers and emerging collectors, businessmen like Mr. Dillali Merhi who owns a collection of Dinet, which he donated a part of to the Royal Hotel of Oran, an art space where many art enthusiasts who are investors in Oran in the domain of art and culture can meet up ; it is a city that flourishes day by day with its youth population very focused on new mediums of contemporary expression (photo, video, installation).

Murray: What makes this year’s biennial  in Oran important?

Ali Chaouche: In our eyes, the 4th edition of the biennial in Oran is important because it confirms how unique this union of contemporary art of the Mediterranean is, unique because it is created by an artistic and cultural association (Civ- Oeil glalery). For this reason, one can not simply compare it to other biennials that are run by state authorities and ministries (where politics lays a hand on art). Also, another imporant element of the 4th edition