Gothenburg Biennial 2013

7 September – 17 November, 2013. Gothenburg, Sweden

Author: Katerina Gregos – an independent curator and writer based in Brussels

PLAY! Recapturing the Radical Imagination

Throughout modern history artists have used the hidden workings and the agency of play to push boundaries and change norms, to render language delirious and experiment with form and to insert art into a variety of narratives, ranging from the personal and social to the critical and historical. But in our globalised world what seems to be at a constant risk of failing is the very human imagination. New ground for reclaiming the radical imagination needs to open up and alternative ways of thinking and living need to be created. Art remains one of the last frontiers where creative playfulness and activism, social experiment and philosophical deliberation can meet uninhibitedly and spark off such alternatives.

The Politics of Play

The poet Alan Gilbert recently stated that, “Politics without the imagination is bureaucracy”. Similarly one could say that, “Art without imagination risks becoming a banality”. More so when one thinks of a particular kind of so-called ‘politically engaged’ art, a fair part of which can be academic, dry, didactic and quite simply, uninspiring and dull. But what happens when art filters politics through leaps of the imagination, subversive humour, and playful, transformative strategies? Herbert Marcuse once formulated his view this way: ” Poetry, art, imagination, the creator spirit is life itself; the real revolutionary power to change the world (…)” while Cornelius Castoriadis stated that “The creative role of the radical imagination of subjects (…) is their contribution to their positing of forms-types/eide other than those that already exist and are in force for the society (…)”.

In art, as in life, the power of the radical imagination lies in the fact that, rather than accepting the world as it is, it imagines the world as it could be, and at the same time cracks cemented opinions and disrupts normative stereotypes. The exhibition “The Politics of Play” explores the relationship of art and politics by way of the radical imagination and the agency of play through the work of artists who transcend standardised representations and critiques of the political and harness fantasy, poetry, provocation, subversive humour, theatricality and disguise, to talk about current critical political issues, especially there where there is a crisis of the political imagination. How can the understanding of political issues be transformed by the artistic imagination? How can the dryness, sobriety, didacticism, and cynical realism of much of what is identified as ‘politically or socially engaged art’ be transcended through artistic filtering, interpretation, and visual transformation? How can something with a negative sub-text or connotation be transformed into something redemptive, exuberant, joyful, even utopian, and yet still remain critical? How can the concept of play change, re-shape and inform socially and politically engaged artistic practice? The exhibition showcases the work of artists who address all these issues and engage with the political and the social in ways that eschew banality, didacticism, political correctness, and the literalistic representation of reality and instead privilege creative invention, distinctive forms of visuality, and transformative leaps of the imagination.

Exhibition venue: Roda Sten Konsthall

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