A biennale for contemporary art that doesn't take place with works that don't exist.

Theme 2020
The unbearable lightness of internet

September 1, 2020 to November 1, 2020

Biennale status

Preliminary nodes in the biennale network pr. May 2020

  • Black screen festival (US/CA)
  • El-Estudio negative space (ES)
  • Viral Claims exhibition (SL)
  • Interstellar Internet Forum (DE)
  • White Page Gallery Network (IT/...)

    Open call to be published soon.

    Project description

       "Dead letters! does it not sound like dead men? Conceive a man by nature
       and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness, can any business seem
       more fitted to heighten it than that of continually handling these dead
       letters, and assorting them for the flames? For by the cart-load they
       are annually burned. Sometimes from out the folded paper the pale clerk
       takes a ring—the finger it was meant for, perhaps, moulders in the
       grave; a bank-note sent in swiftest charity—he whom it would relieve,
       nor eats nor hungers any more; pardon for those who died despairing;
       hope for those who died unhoping; good tidings for those who died
       stifled by unrelieved calamities. On errands of life, these letters
       speed to death.
       Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!"
       -- Herman Melville, Bartleby, The Scrivener
       What is a mathematician? “A mathematician is a blind man
       in a dark room looking for a black cat which isn’t there”
       -- Charles Darwin
  is a biennial that doesn't take place and which disseminates works which don't exist. It is headquartered in the small village of Gol in Norway. It is a contemporary art biennial that themes virtuality, and is virtual itself. To pitch it further, the biennial has a motto that it both takes place and doesn't take place, and in all possible places simultaneously. The biennial is distributed and decentralized as collaborative nodes, and based on artist-driven DIY practices outside of institutions.

    The biennial will occur from November 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020. The theme of the 2020 biennial is "The unbearable lightness of internet". The website will be the information channel.

    These are the key points, what characterizes the biennial and separates it from other events.

    More info will come later with ways to participate and collaborate.

    Background is organised by Noemata. Noemata as a production site has a background from digital, web based art and has 25 years of experience working with virtual art. The last ten years we have increasingly organized exhibitions and festivals within a virtual-physical boundary space. At we want to browse at virtuality from a more general perspective of art, not only digital.

    The background of the biennial comes as a reaction to how the digital and online art today can be said to be a more integral part of contemporary art. Digital art has for decades sought alternative exhibition strategies in relation to its medium. From 1970 to In 1990, there was little interest in digital media. ironized over the situation around the year 2000. While other digital arts found their "natural" form of exhibition the web arts were tied to the web and monitor. A curator had to come up with forms of exhibition that didn't haven a clear solution. For example, Per Platous "Written in stone" (2003) was an inventive way that used art as fiction and fetish as strategy, ref

    An inspiration to in its time and sense was Net.ephemera (2002), curated by Mark Tribe, founder of Rhizome. The exhibition replaced the display of the work with the display of ephemera - notes, sketches, diagrams associated with the work. Tribe said: "We discussed the difficulties of exhibit online art in galleries and museums. It is meant to be experienced by one person in front of a monitor. And many web artists saw their practice as oppositional to institutions of the art world. Putting online art in the gallery involves a recontextualization that can radically change the experience and meaning of the work."

    The rapid spread and normalization of digital media over the past 15 years years have helped to blur the distinction between virtual and real. Simultaneously, artists stopped seeing the internet as a space for utopian projection and an escape from the art world and began to experience it as an extension of the world, with its own infrastructure, contradictions and the power-balance. The related terms 'post-digital' and 'post-internet' must be understood as the integration of online culture in general culture. This process does not necessarily evolve towards a materialization of the digital, but rather how the digital creates new forms of exhibition in physical space. For example, the BYOB concept (Bring your own beamer) where the works are projected on the walls using projectors at the point where technologies are becoming available for all. Another example is modified routers, setup of Wifi points anywhere, as in the concept of Offline Art, which enables screening on the audiences' smart devices without accessing internet. And furthermore one can argue that since most people today are connected to the internet continuous the only thing needed is an occasion, and not any special, alternative exhibition strategy.

    This doesn't mean that digital art is without problems. Still little appears as digital art in contemporary art, in practice it has an inadequate integration. It takes place in an art world that for a long time has discriminated against artistic use of digital media on an educational, exhibitional and discursive basis, and as of today despite an increasing awareness and use of networks and the digital is still not able to completely distribute the conceptual paradigms, the linguistic codes, and the technical knowledge needed to completely integrate them into their own idea of art.

    The first step towards overcoming the problem of digital art will be leaving the definitions that cause us to look at it as a category aside. The next step will be changes in the institutions and in the conceptions of art they reflect.

    This background has thus led to the idea of a biennial for contemporary art in general, without a digital or online prefix. We have, on the other hand, retained a focus on virtuality since it is a wider notion and something that concerns the entire contemporary culture. Virtuality concerns technology, science, philosophy, etc. and is a characteristic of the real, physical world which is hard to dispute.

    To put this at the forefront, should be an event that "takes place and does not take place, and in all possible places at the same time." The virtual is here understood as the possible and impossible, unrealized and unrealistic, in a potential superposition, and not precipitated and collapsed to a defined state. This is a physical interpretation of virtuality, how physicists understand the real world: the fixed objects dissolve in a virtual foam at the quantum level. At this level it can be said that events take place and don't take place, as the well-known and paradoxical example of Schrödinger's cat being both alive and dead until you check what's the case. Mathematically, the matter is straightforward, the world and its particles follow the wave function, a set of equations that describe it with exactitude. The philosophical problem is two-fold, what is the 'wave function', and what happens when it collapses into physical events. The wave-function is understood as 'virtual', as an immaterial potential to a physical reality. We can thus say, scientifically and not just artistically, that the reality we live in not only has a physical side but also a virtual one. Put another way, existence is just one side of reality. This is expressed in the statement that the biennial takes place and doesn't take place.

    Another aspect of virtuality and the quantum world is that the physicist must say that the particles are in all possible places at the same time. It's hard to comprehend but yet a fact so certain that we can build computers based on it. Virtuality does everything at once and just collapses to an existing and specific event, particle and object, as it becomes disturbed, measured or observed. Left to itself we can say virtuality is real but non-existent, and all sorts of places at the same time until it is disturbed or observed.

    The biennial uses and abuses these powerful metaphors to emphasize the virtuality of the world, and of the arts especially since they create their own worlds, in a sense, in a state undisturbed by the rest. More than other forms of work and functionings one can say that the arts have their natural abode in the virtual, and get their expression concretized only in interaction with a physical world.

    There are a couple of other aspects in understanding the biennial that can be referred to here in compressed form:

    - The Bartleby character in the short story by Melville. His consistent response "I would prefer not to", has partly to do with rebellion, frustration and resistance. Melville himself writes, "[the story is] about a writer who forsakes conventional modes because of an irresistible preoccupation with the most baffling philosophical questions." The story refers to free will and determinism: "that free will requires the will to be isolated from the moment of determination." Bartleby's passivity and isolation from the economic system makes him free. Here we can compare it with a virtual will isolated from a particular physical object. The figure has been viewed as a precursor to absurd literature, such as Kafkas "Hunger artist". The philosopher Žižek uses the figure regularly in the context of political resistance. In the biennial, the motto "I would prefer not to" is an urge to remain in the virtual and defend its rights, equally real, and even more real than the physical. Another motive here is Bartleby's work at the Dead Letter Office, letters that don't find a receiver, "by the cart-load they are [bi]-annualy burnt". In relation to this burning, which is the biennial, we associate the concept of "proof-of-burn". It's used in cryptography and bitcoin technology as a way to prove that work has been done, that what is now burned has a value.

    - Lightness. The theme of the first biennial is "The Unbearable lightness of internet". A curious fact is that the entire internet only weighs 50 grams viewed as moving electrons, as virtuality in a pure sense. The paraphrase is known from Kundera's novel and is about something which appears light but assumes an unbearable weight. It is tied to our free will and set against Nietzsche's eternal return of all things whereby everything gets heavier. Kundera writes, "The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar in heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then should we choose? Weight or lightness?" In Life is Another Place, he writes, "(Jaromil often had vicious dreams that he had to lift something terribly light, a teacup, a spoon, a feather and couldn't, that he was so much weaker than the object was lighter and that he 'sank under its lightness'; he experienced these kinds of dreams as a nightmare and he woke up sweating; we seem to have been dreaming of his light face, drawn with cobwebs, which he in vain tried to lift off and throw away.)" Another source here is Italo Calvino's essay "Lightness" in the book Six Memos, "To cut off Medusa's head without being turned to stone, Perseus supports himself on the very lightest of things, the winds and the clouds, and fixes his gaze upon what can be revealed only by indirect vision, an image caught in a mirror. ... Lucretius is the poet of physical concreteness, viewed in its permanent and immutable substance, but the first thing he tells us is that emptiness is just as concrete as solid bodies."

    Against this background, we will formalize the biennial. To give it the right context I believe it was necessary to be so verbose about it.

    The biennial is expressed as a pilot project with an experimental form. The driving force behind the effort is the experimental form, without knowing in detail how the biennial will be concretized, but rather wanting this questioning to be part of it, finding a form that allows the virtual in different ways to remain virtual while the form must have some kind of mediating aspect, both as a biennial and at the level of work. We imagine that it can be done in different ways.

    Digitality is just one of several forms of virtuality. What is meant by virtuality at all? The term has many meanings, in part contradictory (such as simulation), and appear in various contexts. In a dictionary we can read that synonyms are "potential, basic, implied, constructive, fundamental, practical, substantial, indirect, in conduct, pragmatic, essential, implicit," while antonyms are "stated, expressed, actual, categorical, authentic, direct, sensible, material, definite, real, developed, explicit ". We will use here the phrase in line with the philosophers Deleuze and Bergson, who refer to a quote by Proust, "real but not actual, ideal but not abstract". A dictionary definition by Peirce supports this understanding of the virtual as "as if" it really was, and in everyday use that something is "almost as" but not a fact. The virtual is seen as real and ideal, but not actual or abstract. In a similar way, that virtuality is "real but non-existent", with reference to how we understand the quantum world.

    The term virtuality is defined here as "something real but not actual or existing, something ideal but not abstract. "Ideal" could be a keyword to build on here, but with the danger that the notion of virtuality is interpreted as abstract concepts, and the biennial as a platform for conceptual art. No, we will hold on to the concept of virtuality and the definition above. 'Ideal' is rather understood closer to Plato's idea where the world is seen as derived from ideal forms, where the ideas are virtual and real. In Kant's teachings, ideas are forms of thought or reason, and not based on existence and empiricism. On the other hand, the terms simulacra and simulation, in Baudrillard's sense, is the opposite of this virtual and ideal, as they lack or only simulate a reality, as we can see it for example in AI data simulation, in media as representation and culture of fakes.

    So how do we see virtuality and dissemination in practice in the biennial? The concepts are not static, of course, and different interpretations must be accepted. Rather, if we can start from the assumption that the biennial doesn't take place it is easier to see that the biennial can contain and convey a larger and wider aspect of contemporary art than if it actually took place, because the works doesn't need to exist. Thus, artists are freer in the design and can seek out completely different approaches and ways of working with their art. The biennial can thus serve as a critical contribution to the art discourse - about what art is or should be.

    We believe this is a step that art should take, to put existence into parenthesis. The virtual is akin to art, and may be its closest ally. There is a parallel here to Husserl's methodical approach to knowledge, his epoch and 'phenomenological reduction', where statements about the existence of things are put in parentheses and only considered as pure consciousness content and as a starting point for a phenomenological "seeing into the essence". This essence is in other words something like virtuality, ideality and the 'idea', from antiquity (greek, form; to see). Thus we can say that the art process to some extent coincides with philosophy in ways of arrive at and expressing the essence of things.

    This line of thought is also close to us all in that our consciousness of death involuntarily puts "existence into parentheses". In that sense, we embody our own virtuality. In light of the incomprehensible views science presents for us in time and space, our sense of virtuality doesn't diminish. It is in the certainty of these facts that the biennial feels justified, despite the absurd formulation of not taking place and containing only non-existent works.

    The short phrasing above can act as the conditions for the biennial and the works it displays. It also makes the biennial simple to perceive, if not understand. The biennial can be interpreted in different directions, partly covering some aspect like: a "Salon des refusees"; as a Net.efemera (Mark Tribe, 2002); as Bartleby's (or Zizek's) "I would prefer not to"; as an expression of a contemporary "unbearable lightness"; or in the light of the sophist Gorgias' claims, "First, that nothing exists; second, that even though existence exists, it is incomprehensible for people; and thirdly, though existence is understandable, it cannot be communicated and communicated to one's neighbor".

    For the biennial, a small council is set up with the purpose of developing the concept further, design a call for Works and invite artists individually to participate.

    The biennial will receive virtual works, works that somehow don't exist. On the other hand, it must be possible to mediate the works for them to qualify, again "in one way or another". In addition, the council will invite artists and partners to act as virtual nodes in biennial. This means that they would represent the biennial and can organize own measures (event, exhibition) by following the concept of the biennale. The biennial is thus regarded as a distributed, decentralized network where each node is responsible for its functioning while everyone follows the same protocol. Despite the slightly tongue-in-cheek description here, the concept ends up as a simple call with an open interpretation both in structure and formulation.

    The curation process will better map the conditions for how the biennial handles the virtuality and aspect of dissemination of the submitted works. Both seem important. The phrase "in one way or another" contains uncertainty, experimentation, impetus and willingness to explore along these boundary lines. Basically, we have an inclusive curating practice in that we seek to include as many works as qualify. Depending on the amount and range of submitted work we can opt to make a selection for purposes of better dissemination. The curation is done by the council and the associated nodes themselves.

    The biennial lasts for two months, from November 1, 2020 and beyond. In that way it alternates with "The Wrong digital art biennale" which we look at as a reference point for a decentralized, DIY biennial ( As written above, there are many aspects of virtuality which aren't treated by digitality, and are close to the domain of art itself, and which art can benefit from treating.

    Since the biennial takes place and does not take place, and at all possible places at the same time, according to its virtual state, then it must be considered distributed and decentralized in an entangled way. As mentioned above, this is taken care of by the structure of the biennial as a network of nodes and works.

    The website will have all the information about the biennale, nodes, and works, and is the main entrance to the biennial. Btw, the .no domain attains a double meaning.

       "Only if poets and writers set themselves tasks that no one else dare
       imagine will literature continue to have a function.  Since science has
       begun to distrust general explanations that are not sectorial and
       specialized, the grand challenge for literature is to be capable of
       weaving together the various branches of knowledge, the various 'codes,'
       into a manifold and multifacted vision of the world."
       --Italo Calvino, Multiplicity, Six Memos

    Summary is a biennial that does not take place and which disseminates works which does not exist. It is headquartered in the village Gol in Norway. It is a contemporary art biennial that thematizes virtuality, and is virtual itself. To put it sharper, the biennial has the motto that it both takes place and doesn't take place, and in every possible way places at the same time. The biennial is distributed and decentralized as collaborative nodes, and based on an artist-driven DIY practice independent of institutions. The biennial will occur from November 1st 2020 through December 31, 2020. The theme of the 2020 Biennial is "The unbearable lightness of internet". The website will be the main entrance and channel of information.