In preparation for the Sharjah Biennial 2009, the organizers had launched the Sharjah Biennial Productions Programme at the beginning of 2008, calling artists and "non-artists" to submit applications for the production of new artworks. When we talked to the Sharjah Biennial's artistic director Jack Persekian during the ArtDubai in March this year, he explained to us: "The intention is to explore the relationship between the artists and the Biennial in the production aspect of the work, in the manifestation of an idea into an art piece, into a presentation. From past experience, from past Biennials - and you were there - the most interesting contextualization of a work in the event itself was not how it articulated the theme, but how it engaged the local context, and how it articulated the presence of the Biennial in the city. That made us think that this needs to be investigated further." And he added, "I’m looking at it as something of an experiment where we will learn from everything, from its successes and its failures." But after three submission deadlines in March, June, and September 2008, so far, there still has been no revelation of results or of selected artists.
On 26 November 2008, the organizers sent out a press release, announcing the curatorial team for the 9th Sharjah Biennial in 2009 and some details: Isabel Carlos (from Portugal, who curated the Biennale of Sydney in 2004) will be the curator of the exhibition programme entitled Provisions For The Future. The performance and film programme Past Of The Coming Days will be curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh (director of the Young Arab Theatre Fund and initiator of the festival Meeting Points). The number of artists has been reduced to 50 "from around the world", to whom the entire city of Sharjah will be offered for context-specific work. Other Sharjah Biennial 2009 activities will take place in different venues, including the Sharjah Art Museum, the Heritage Area of Sharjah and the American University of Sharjah. The opening days of the 9th Sharjah Biennial will coincide with Art Dubai 2009 (18-21 March).
What role the results of the submission call of the Sharjah Biennial Productions Programme will play in the end in the Biennial's main exhibition is left fairly ambiguous. On the one hand, it is mentioned secondarily among the events and programmes "designed to support and nurture creativity for local and visiting participants", along with the March Meeting workshops and the Artist-in-Residence programme. But on the other hand, Hoor Al Qasimi, Director of the Sharjah Biennial is quoted as emphasizing that they have also decided "not to limit the selection process to a wish-list of participants, but have opted instead to consider work submitted by artists and non-artists alike who were brave enough to take up the challenge and respond to an open invitation to realize their ideas."
In the unavoidable competition among the hundreds of biennials worldwide, a clear and strong profile of a biennale event (a regional focus or an unexpected concept, for example) would be an advantage. The approach that the Sharjah Biennial Productions Programme seemed to promise, could still make the difference.
Pat Binder & Gerhard Haupt
Publishers of Universes in Universe - Worlds of Art and of Nafas Art Magazine. Based in Berlin, Germany.
Sharjah Biennial 9
19 March - 16 May 2009
HH Sheika Hoor al Qasimi
Tarek Abou El Fetouh