Vol 1 No 1 (2020)
Why Venice?

Event Structures and Biennial Culture: Oreste at the Biennale

Caroline A. Jones



− Abstract

Over the century from 1895 to 1999, we can measure the impact of biennials on themselves, and on the emergence of increasingly social forms of contemporary art.  I argue that in their inheritance from world’s (and national) fairs, biennials were engines for the transfer of fairs’ “festal apparatus” to the centre of contemporary art itself. In particular, I will review the historical case of the collaborative group Oreste in the 1999 Venice Biennale, in which “relational art” (introduced in 1993 by one of the “Aperto” curators, Nicolas Bourriaud) was further tested in the biennial context. Marking the shift from boat transport, xerox machines, and snail mail to novel infrastructures called email, listservs, and the “World Wide Web,” the Oreste collective created a transnational network bringing over 100 artists to Venice, and connecting virtually with more than 500 artists world-wide. This little-known group had no stylistic coherence or “ism” to proclaim; instead, they had a loose aesthetic agenda celebrating events, networks, and increasingly social forms of art, often staged in “Spazio Oreste.” This they claimed from the edge of the Central pavilion where the traditional nationalist building had been punctured in 1952 for a terrace garden designed by Carlo Scarpa, symbolically marking the rehabilitation of edifice and event after the years of fascism.  We can understand something crucial about twenty-first century biennial culture, by examining how local artists created a global network to localize an “artway of thinking” at the millennial turn.

− Keywords
Oreste, Authorship, Contemporary Art, Relational Aesthetics, Collective