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Art & Social Space
Context Sensitivity: The 2006 Liverpool Biennial... Part 2
by Donna Conwell

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Teresa Margolles

Jun Yang

Amalia Pica

Tsui Kuang-Yu

Marrio Navarro

Given that curatorial practice is not just about mediating and translating meaning but in actively producing it, we can argue that overall International 06 articulates and (re)produces a rather traditional conception of site both in terms of the pseudo-anthropological approach of many of the commissioned works, as well as by locating art objects/artifacts in the public realm. If curating is a propositional discourse, then shouldní­t it seek to present new perspectives, rather than confront us with timeworn patterns and entrenched meanings? The reverse colonialism that Gerardo Mosquera instigated, while producing some interesting art works did not really challenge our concept of site/public space in a very significant way. The status quo remains the same. This seems to point to the fact that context-specificity is not inevitably more radical than studio-based practices, rather its potential radicalism depends largely on how artists and curators interrogate the conceptual underpinnings of terms like site, place, public and context, and what strategies and tactics they employ to destabilize our pre-conceived ideas and experiences as spectators/participants.

If the rhetoric of place has become the rallying cry for curators of a burgeoning number of large-scale international arts exhibitions and biennials, then now more than ever we need to explore potential models of effective contextual engagement. What notions of site do certain artistic strategies convey? How can we re-imagine the format of the biennial/large scale international exhibition in such a way as to better convey and communicate the experience and process of producing context-specific work? And perhaps most importantly, rather than being coerced to passively consume art objects and representations of the city, how do we involve the spectators of place-specific exhibitions in the active co-construction of context as an ongoing and evolving process? As David Harvey has argued, "The right to the city (...) far more than a right of access to what already exists (...) is a right to change it."(15)

-Donna Conwell
Curator currently based in London. She served as co-curator for Interventions, inSite_05 and as assistant editor of the publication [Situational] Public documenting the Interventions and Scenarios components of inSite_05.


(1) Claire Doherty, "Curating Wrong Places or Where Have all the Penguins Gone?", forthcoming in Paul Oí­Neill (ed.) Curating X 24, Amsterdam: De Appel, 4. See
(2) Bruce W. Ferguson, Reesa Greenberg and Sandy Nairne, "Mapping International Exhibitions," Art and Design, No. 52, 1997, 30
(3) David Harvey, "The Right to the City," International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Vol. 27, No. 4, 2003, 939
(4) Paul Oí­Neill, "An Observerí­s Response: The Wrong Place: Rethinking Context in Contemporary Art," published by Situations at the University of the West of England, Bristol, 2005 following the conference The Wrong Place: Rethinking Context in Contemporary Art on 3/4/5 February 2005, 2, See
(5) Claire Doherty, Ibid, 2. Doherty traces how "place" has come to have such prominence in curatorial initiatives as a result of the convergence of three commissioning models:
a. The scattered site international exhibition which preceded the swell of biennials (Sculpture Projects in Mçnster and the public art projects of Mary Jane Jacob in Charleston, Chicago and Atlanta)
b. The research-based project program (Art Angel, Locus+, etc)
c. The residency model with its emphasis on engagement, process and encounter
(6) Paul Oí­Neill, Ibid, 3 (Italics mine)
(7) The term ‘context sensitive" is used in the 2006 Liverpool Biennial website and catalogue. See
(8) Liverpool Biennial website. See
(9)Liverpool Biennial website. See (Italics mine)
(10) Gerardo Mosquera, "Some Problems in Transcultural Curating," Jean Fisher (ed.) Global Visions: Towards a New Internationalism in the Visual Arts, London: Kala Press in association with the Institute of International Visual Arts, 1994, 105
(11) Miwon Kwon, "One Place After Another: Notes on Site Specificity," October, No. 80, Spring 1997, 85
(12) Claire Doherty, Location, Location, Art Monthly, Nov 2004, 3. See
(13) Irit Rogoff in "In Conversation: Catherine David and Irit Rogoff," Claire Doherty (ed.) From Studio to Situation, Black Dog Publishing, 86-87
(14) Osvaldo Sánchezí­s Bypass, curatorial statement for inSite_05, 2-3. See
(15) David Harvey, Ibid

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