October 6, 2015

Open Work: Umberto Eco and Göteborg International Biennial

Contemporary Art

Italians like to believe that there’s only one Biennial, the one taking place in Venice of course, yet that’s just not true. There’s another event focused on contemporary art, one of the most interesting on an European level, which has been growing remarkably over the last few years. We are indeed talking about Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art, in Sweden, on for two months until November 22, 2015. This edition’s theme is ‘A story within a story’ and we have to kind of thank Italy for that as it was inspired by Umberto Eco’s ‘Opera Aperta’ and its theorisation, a written piece first published in 1962 in the form of an essay, part of a book titled ‘Il ruolo del lettore’. What is it about? Let’s find out.

According to Eco, an ‘open work’ is a piece of literature that enables readers to draw their own conclusions, and Elvira Dyangani Ose, Göteborg International Biennial’s Curator, has decided to develop this year’s edition around this intriguing concept. The former Curator of International Art at the prestigious Tate Modern has in fact asked all participating artists to think of history as an open work of art, an endless network of correlations, whose uncertainty and unpredictability should be seen as something of value, with socially-engaged art project able to captivate people’s collective memory taking centre stage.

One of the most interesting features introduced this year is without a doubt the House of Words (HoW) a pop-up structure designed by Spanish architect Santiago Cirugeda together with Swedish artist Loulou Cherinet. Cirugeda has been trying for a while to find a new direction for architecture, a fresh path focused on functionality rather than aesthetic refinement, a concept recently defined as ‘guerrilla architecture’.

The Göteborg Biennial pavilion is extremely colourful, almost entirely made of recycled materials, and it’s the event’s pulsing core. The fun part has yet to come, though: the House of Words has already been an event within an even while it was being built as Cirugeda recruited the builders needed for its construction directly on site by word of mouth, with an open call stating: “We will drill, dig, hammer, saw and build while listening to music and meeting new people […] Not only will your ideas be an integral part of the building process, but your input will become an important part of the artwork itself. Each day you will be surrounded by excellent company, eat good food and, last not least, gain a fantastic sense of accomplishment and togetherness.” It sounds good, doesn’t it?

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