Comments on the ‘Summary of the Evaluation Report on the Venice Art Biennale 2013’
at 5:49pm on 21st November 2014
(中文版本請往下看 Please scroll down to read the Chinese version.)
The “Summary of the Evaluation Report on the Venice Art Biennale 2013” (thereafter Report) leaves the principles of collaboration between the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC) and M+ in Hong Kong’s participation in the Venice Biennale in 2013 unquestioned. By treating the partnership as inevitable, the Report becomes a tool for justifying its continuation in 2015. By giving up on thinking in terms of principles, the HKADC not only dismantles its own function in contributing to the art development of Hong Kong, it also reproduces the supremacy and authority of M+ with no regard of the contributions of many other art institutions and art practitioners in Hong Kong to the same goal. The encouragement of such an inequality is not conducive to the holistic development of art in Hong Kong.
A. Overall misguided thinking
1. Confusing aim of the Report
1.1 The public release of the Report coincided with the announcement of HKADC’s collaboration with M+ in the 56th Venice Biennale 2015. This shows that the report intends not to evaluate the past and deliberate on its implications on future models of Hong Kong’s participation in the Biennale with the art community and wider public, but rather, to justify and routinize the collaboration. This is particularly confusing given the many questions posed by the arts community in 2012 about the collaboration in 2013, and the fact that the collaboration stipulates that artists participating in the Biennale must be Hong Kong residents.
1.2 The report quotes critics as “pointing out the important effect of Hong Kong’s participation on the local development of contemporary art” (21a). Given that there could be many ways for Hong Kong to participate in the Biennale beyond the exhibition model, the report has yet to give solid evidence of why the model of HKADC/M+ is justified.
1.3 There is a tendency to emphasize the success of the 2013 edition at the expense of past editions (15a). This confuses the aim of the report – to evaluate Hong Kong’s participation in the Venice Biennale in 2013 in all aspects of the project. If an evaluation of the past editions is required, this should be done with rigor in different reports.
2. Muddled up logic in considering the schedule of exhibition production
The reiteration of the need of ample time for the preparation is contextualized as a justification of the collaboration with the M+ (16a to c). This contextualization is misguided because the need of ample time is a valid principle to be upheld regardless of who the collaborator and what framework of participation is chosen. It is not M+ that makes it possible for adequate time for preparation, but HKADC that should lay this down as a principle. The structural and institutional factors constituting the mis-management of time in previous editions has nothing to do with the principle of commissioning M+ as partner. To attribute to M+ as the reason that a desirable schedule could be devised is to confuse cause and effect.
3. Overall vagueness and one-sidedness
The report focuses only on the successful aspects of the 2013 edition. It does not evaluate where there is any room for improvement. It is very hard and unnecessary to argue that any project can be perfect. This raises questions on how topics are selected to be commented on in the Report.
B. Lack of commitment to making Hong Kong’s participation in the Venice Biennale public (ie. relevant to the public in its many levels in multiple ways)
1. Misguided intention
The timing of the report coincides with the announcement of HKADC’s commission of M+ as partner for the 2015 edition. (item A 1.1 above) This shows that ADC has no intention to listen to responses of the art community and the wider public on the report by releasing it early enough for such responses to take shape.
2. Limited understanding of the publicness of Hong Kong’s participation in the Venice Biennale
2.1 The report implicitly equates, hence confuses, publicness with populism by failing to address and explore the idea of the public and its importance in the work of developing the arts of Hong Kong internationally. The idea of the public is about how much decision-makers are aware of the source and legitimacy of their power, granted by the public to them to make decisions for the common good. The decisions made by professionals are made legitimate, noble and ethical, because there is public understanding and public commitment in what they do. To keep reiterating the professionals are making the right decisions without addressing queries from the public produces further separation between decision-makers and the art community and public, all of whom implicated in such decisions.
2.2 The idea of the public remains on the level of making public forums in places that are accessible to the public. This leaves out a major aspect of public as engagement and ownership, which requires processes of nurturing a common language, deliberating about principles, and developing a critical discourse that ensures thorough and true – not half-hearted and partial – self-evaluation.
C. Consolidation of M+’s supremacy
1. Justification rather than evaluation of the principles of collaborating with M+
1.1 Item 15f in the report says, “The Administration Office suggested that ADC could consider to continually collaborate with M+ or other organisations with similar experience or scale, and combining the manpower and financial resources of both parties in future Biennale participation.” This statement assumes out of context that future Biennale participation is a must, that there is only one model of participation as framed by the HKADC/M+ collaboration. The combination of manpower and resources in the assumed scale would be the criterion for choosing future collaborators. The statement is problematic because first, it ignores the importance of reviewing the principles and aims of Hong Kong’s participation in the Biennale in the context of other policies of exporting Hong Kong art and its imagination overseas; and second, it assumes that the collaboration with M+ and its equivalent is a necessary and sufficient condition for success, leaving out many other models that may be viable in the long run. Such a statement reproduces the supremacy of M+ as an institution, which is unnecessary.
1.2 The report repeatedly equates M+ with “professionalism” and “the international” (manifested in the networks of Lars Nittve). It produces the monopoly of M+ over the imagination of the ideas of professional and international practices. It produces M+ or its equivalent as sole arbitrator of Hong Kong art in the international art arena. This shows that HKADC is unaware of and does not care to recognize the existing art community and their work and their hierarchical thinking of artistic practices in Hong Kong. It again justifies rather than evaluates the collaboration with M+ in the overall policy of presenting art from Hong Kong in the international arena.
2. Curatorial freedom isn’t the good of one person, but the entire art community and society
The report quotes Lars Nittve (15e), right after mentioning the art community’s protest campaign in 2012 (15d), that curatorial freedom is important for him to realize the project. Curatorial freedom is important to any project and is a value that cannot be monopolized by any one person. It is also a value that cannot be upheld by one person or one institution alone. It is only when freedom is mutual that it could be upheld in its highest moral standard. It is only when such curatorial freedom is mandated by civil freedom equally enjoyed by everyone, that it carries ethical force, that it does not become a privilege justified by self-referential authority and enjoyed by a few. The mentioning of this important principle in such a manner and place in the Report shows the lack of understanding and will of the HKADC to make this a mandate not bound by the limited imagination of the supremacy of M+. To reiterate one idea from the art 2012 petition, freedom of curating and the professional development of art in Hong Kong should not become excuses for those in power to strengthen a detached and protectionist kind of elitism that is out-of-touch with the arts community and the public.
D. How HKADC positions itself
1. No self-evaluation
There is no evaluation on the part HKADC plays in the collaboration and its implications for the future, eg. How can the achievements in 2013 be carried forward? What are some internal structural plans? What are the project management experiences this time? What database on the logistics of exhibition production in Venice has been created? What are the plans for these to be shared with the art community and the public?
2. No evaluation of the content of the idea of ‘continuity’
2.1 Without articulating clearly what it is that needs continuing or needs renewing, to speak about continuity as a reason for collaborating with M+ is misleading.
2.2 Any continuity of valuable ideas or work cannot be ensured by one institution or one person only; all these have to be instituted within the HKADC. There is no evaluation on the lack of or the need for mechanisms within HKADC to ensure ‘continuity’ and its being a long-term goal, if it has to be at all.
3. Failing the arts community
HKADC should be a bridge between the arts community in Hong Kong and various international projects. In this report, HKADC has instead become a proactive agent that further separates the arts community from itself and such institutions as M+.
4. Full of power; short of imagination
4.1 There is limited imagination on the HKADC’s part of how the venue in Venice could be regarded and deployed. Instead of routinizing it as an exhibition space, it could be opened up for series of symposium that critically discuss and contextualize art from Hong Kong during the Biennale (see for instance the work of the Biennale Foundation of Bergen in Norway: http://www.biennialfoundation.org/biennials/bergen-assembly- norway/), opened up for artists’ residencies, or left partially empty for non-participation or interventionist projects. There are many more models that could frame Hong Kong’s participation in the Biennale that are aligned with the same goal of engaging Hong Kong art with the international community. The report shows HKADC’s lack of imagination and flexibility on the one hand, required of any good art administrator, and on the other hand, the power to gear policies towards directions it justifies for itself.
4.2 There is no long-term goal and a time-line with a broader critical, cultural, and artistic context in mind.
The Report does not show any commitment to truth and truth-seeking. If such public institutions of art as HKADC fail to do so, how could it claim it works for the arts, for artists are those beings who spend all their lives striving to be honest with themselves, seeking the truth?
First published in Chinese in Arts Promotion News Network, July 2014, and in Delta Zhi Hong Kong, August 2014.
回應香港藝術發展局《威尼斯視藝雙年展2013 檢討報告撮要》及6月26日宣佈與M+博物館合作參與2015 年威尼斯視藝雙年展
「威尼斯視藝雙年展2013 檢討報告撮要」未有就香港藝術發展局與M+博物館(M+)合作參與2013 年威尼斯視藝雙年展這前設作檢討。報告預設這合作的必然性, 令報告成為把2015年的合作合理化的工具。藝術發展局放棄從原則的層次作檢討和思考, 相等於廢除自身作為貢獻香港藝術發展的職份與任命, 也同時把M+在建制上的優越位置系統化, 進一步強化藝術建制的層級系統, 漠視香港藝術社群對同一個目標的貢獻。這種鼓勵不平等對待藝術工作者和機構的做法, 無助香港藝術長遠發展。
整體而言, 報告顯示幾個思維混亂的問題。第一, 藝術發展局發佈檢討報告撮要又同時宣佈與M+於2015年再度合作, 這顯示報告無意檢討過去, 亦無意先就2013年的合作與業界和公眾資詢及交代, 這做法尤其令人費解是因為2012年, 業界曾經多方面質疑藝術發展局與M+合作的原則和理據, 而藝術發展局與M+又訂明參展雙年展的藝術家必須是香港居民，即參展雙年展為共同共享的議題。另外, 報告引述「3 位藝評員」說, 「肯定藝術發展局與M+聯合參與威尼斯雙年展，認為參展對香港當代藝術的發展有重要影響。」這點不但內容不詳, 亦把參與威尼斯雙年展和怎樣參與的模式兩個不同層次的問題混為一談。第三, 報告整體上以過去參展團隊的不善來褒獎2013年的榮耀, 這不但沒有必要, 也混淆了此報告以2013年參展作為檢討的對像。同時,報告把過去籌備時間不足的問題, 以上屆M+籌備工夫的妥善混為一談, 不單只未有面對過去的行政失誤, 更以此又作為跟M+合作的原因。總括而言, 報告側重2013年的成功, 以種種充滿前設的理由把2013年和2015年的合作模式合理化, 這是不必要的.
報告對公共面向的理解流於在公共地方進行活動，不理解也不願理解公共作為概念和目標的真正意義。要建立及肯定公共面向, 必須包含檢視參展是否能共同尋找共通、多元、有批判性、並立志尋真的語境, 也要能陳述公共怎樣成為日後的藝術生態。報告就這些方面並未有嚴肅對待。
報告把M+等同「專業」和「國際」, 助長M+壟斷我們對兩個意念的想像，無助香港藝術的國際發展。報告又同時前設藝術發展局與M+合作是唯一參與雙年展的模式, 把這合作說成為參展成功的必要與充份條件, 不但邏輯有誤, 也跟2012 年說合作是一次「實驗」不符。報告更指: 「辦事處建議未來可考慮繼續與 M+或其他具相關經驗或規模的機構合作參展，結合雙方的人力及財政資源。」(15 f) 。 這要求是沒有理據的, 把M+說成是高不可攀的合作伙伴, 也是沒有必要的。
報告的15e項, 引述Lars Nittve說策展自由的重要性。策展自由於任何一個項目都重要, 應為整體社會、業界 、與藝術發展局共同捍衛, 並不是任何一個人、單一機構可以自我陳述的。此報告對這議題的處理, 顯示藝術發展局不清楚M＋應處的位置，也不理解自身要從甚麼層次為這價值工作。業界在2012年公開發表的文件𥚃廛定，「策展自由」不可以凌駕於公眾所享有的公民自由這基本原則。
報告沒有藝術發展局的自我檢討, 包括怎樣承擔香港藝術家將來參與國際展覽應有的準備，藝術發展局自身對所謂延續性有甚麼理解、計劃、願景、和承擔 等等。藝術發展局理應是業界的潤滑劑, 現今卻成為分隔開業界和政策制定者和機關的推動者。手執大權的藝術發展局, 未有任何對香港如何參與威尼斯雙年展的模式的討論和想像, 例如不以展覽形式, 以討論會 (例如: http://www.biennialfoundation.org/biennials/bergen-assembly-norway/)、藝術家駐場計劃等等各種不同形式參與, 甚至退出一屆, 都可以是在國際場所展示香港藝術的方法。藝術發展局沒有想像力和彈性, 只選安全的政策, 實在不符合今天當代藝術發展和面向的需要。
未見藝術發展局對求真的承擔, 這跟藝術家每每為忠於自己,尋真求真的精神違背。香港藝術發展局說是為香港藝術發展做事, 如果不明白這點, 不說真話, 又怎配得上跟大家一起共事? 我們實在要有更高尚的道德追求。