The art biennale has had a relatively long and charged history, with the Venice Biennale being the longest established in 1895. More recently, particularly since the 1990s, biennales have become one of the most celebrated and pervasive exhibition formats for contemporary art, especially in the Asian region. Many of the region’s cities, including Bacolod and the Visayas region in the Philippines (with the artist-run- and-organised VIVA Excon), Shanghai, Taipei, Gwangju, Kobe, Kochi, Yogyakarta and Jakarta, all now stage biennales. Although a relative latecomer, the Singapore Biennale is itself in its tenth year.

Just like how the Singapore Biennale 2016 began with the question – from where we are, how do we see the world? – the Singapore Biennale 2016 Symposium takes a critical look at the role, relevance and potentialities of the biennale as concept and format, particularly for and from the context of Singapore, in relation to Southeast Asia and Asia.

Through presentations and conversations from a diverse range of stakeholders including biennale directors, curators, artists and scholars, this Symposium aims to uncover, analyse and question core issues relating to the making, scope, role and experience of biennales, with special focus on the region’s expositions.

Ultimately, this Symposium aims to provide a dynamic space for interested and invested parties from different backgrounds and fields of expertise to actively share, explore and discuss the diverse meanings, modalities and values of the biennale concept, and to contemplate the increasingly complex challenges that the biennale will continue to face in the coming years.

Key issues, themes and questions include:

  • Roles and significance of biennales: what is their purpose, and what and who are they for? What are the historical precedents, models, structures and formats of biennales, especially in Southeast Asia and Asia? What is the role of the biennale, beyond the initial spectacle of the event? How can art events and exhibitions like biennales influence cultural and city/national development, and give rise to more diverse, reflective and vibrant societies?
  • Biennale audiences and publics: who are they, and what are they looking for? What are audiences’ expectations of biennales? How do we chart and evaluate audience development, and their engagement with and appreciation of art presented in the context of biennales?
  • Contesting the biennale format: what are alternative organisational structures, models and formats? Who should and/or could fund biennales? What are some types of practices that resist presentation at biennales?
  • Future of the Biennale: are biennales still relevant, in the context of an increasingly global and complex world? What are the changing expectations of biennales?
  • The Singapore Biennale: what are some of the particularities and specificities of the Singapore Biennale, in relation to its social, political and cultural climates, and in comparison, to biennales staged in other cities?

This Symposium is convened by Dr Hoe Su Fern, Assistant Professor of Arts and Culture Management from the Singapore Management University School of Social Sciences, in partnership with Singapore Art Museum.

Download the Singapore Biennale Symposium Programme