Boycott the 19th Biennale of Sydney [#19bos]

[Update (February 19) : The boycott campaign now has a website and Facebook page.]

A few weeks ago Matt Kiem wrote ‘An art educator’s open letter to colleagues about detention profits and the Sydney Biennale’ (Crossborder Operational Matters, February 4, 2014). It outlines the case for artists and the public to boycott the event on the basis of its sponsorship by Transfield, an Australian-based corporation which profits from the asylum seeker industry.

The xborderoperationalmatters blog is an excellent resource for matters relating to the policing of Australian borders; RISE is a grassroots initiative “and the first refugee and asylum seeker welfare and advocacy organisation in Australia to be run by refugees, asylum seekers, and ex-detainees; as such, we view those who seek assistance from RISE as members and participants, not “clients”.”

Otherwise, #19BOS is a tumblr which compiles a contact list for artists appearing at the Biennale. In Sydney on Monday, February 17 at 6.30pm at Elwyn Lynn Conference Room, College of Fine Art, Oxford Street, there’ll be an “open discussion on how artists and activists can protest against Transfield’s sponsorship of the 2014 Sydney Biennale”.

The following video has been created in support of the boycott:

transfield and the sydney biennale from Beyond Borders on Vimeo.

The following articles discuss the boycott:

Sydney Biennale faces Transfield boycott threat, Ben Eltham, ArtsHub, February 7, 2014
The 19th Biennale of Sydney & their partner Transfield, Excerpt Magazine, February 7, 2014
Supporting the call to Boycott the 19th Biennale of Sydney (2014), Van Thanh Rudd, February 8, 2014
Why I Will Be Boycotting the 2014 Sydney Biennale- Protest Refugee Detention Centre Profiteering in Corporate Sponsorship, Ruth Skilbeck, February 8, 2014
Should artists boycott the Sydney Biennale over Transfield links?, Matt Kiem, The Conversation, February 12, 2014
Sydney Biennale and a question of corporate sponsorship, Antony Lowenstein, The Guardian, February 12, 2014
Beyond Borders Report – Why to boycott Transfield & the Biennale, beyond borders collective melbourne, February 13, 2014
Boycott The Sydney Biennale, Kevin Loo, literatico, February 14, 2014

Collated links for 19th Biennale of Sydney Boycott

See also : ‘The Work of Art and the Problem of Politics in Dada Berlin’, Brigid Doherty, October, No.105, Summer 2003.

After the Kapp Putsch of 1920 (an attempt by the radical right to violently overthrow the new Weimar Republic) clashes occurred between the army and workers in Dresden. A bullet went through the window of the Zwinger Gallery and damaged a Rubens painting. Incensed by the incident, Kokoschka – then art professor at the Dresden Academy – financed an appeal which appeared in local newspapers and as wallposters, urging the two sides to settle their scores well away from cultural treasures. Kokoschka’s elevation of art above political struggle outraged Grosz and Heartfield (political art activists) who replied with a furious polemic ‘Der Kunstlump’ (The Artist As Scab) ridiculing the idea that art could be considered more important than lives of workers. They welcomed the fact that bullets had penetrated galleries, palaces and a Rubens, rather than the homes of the poor.”

~ Photomontage: A Political Weapon, David Evans & Sylvia Gohl, Gordon Fraser, 1986

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2014 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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5 Responses to Boycott the 19th Biennale of Sydney [#19bos]

  1. @ndy says:

    Art event threatened by rights on asylum
    The Sunday Telegraph
    Elizabeth Fortescue
    February 16, 2014

    ANY artist selected to exhibit in Australia’s biggest international contemporary art event should be on top of the world.

    But artists in next month’s Biennale of Sydney are anxious and uncertain after a call to boycott the seven-venue event because one of its sponsors “profits from mandatory detention” of asylum seekers.

    The Biennale’s founding partner since 1973, Transfield, is contracted to provide “garrison support services” to the Abbott government’s asylum seeker detention centres on Nauru and Manus islands.

    Transfield also recently took over welfare services in the detention centres.

    Transfield executive Luca Belgiorno- Nettis is chairman of the Biennale. His brother Guido is chairman of trustees at the Art Gallery of NSW, which is a prime venue.

    Activist and University of Western Sydney academic Matt Kiem says the Biennale was funded through the “enforced misery of others” in an open letter that ignited a firestorm about the Biennale on social networks.

    The Biennale’s Facebook page attracted comments such as “you and the artists participating (in the Biennale) are profiting from human-rights violations and the incarceration of some of the world’s most vulnerable people”.

    A list of email and Twitter contacts for participating artists was published on Tumblr under the hashtag #19BOS.

    “The artists need to know what they are associated with and where the money is coming from,” the Tumblr post said. Sydney artist Deborah Kelly said her situation was impossible. While “horrified by the mandatory detention regime”, she could not withdraw her art work because she had spent a year on it and involved 80 people in its creation.

    Biennale curator Juliana Engberg said: “The call for a boycott is placing very great pressure on artists, and the Biennale is perhaps the wrong target if you want to change the policy.”

    She said her goal was to install the exhibition and provide a platform for discussion “rather than see a call to limit the artists’ participation”.

  2. Pingback: #19BOS Action: Biennale of Sydney and Transfield [5.30pm, Monday, February 24, Melbourne] | slackbastard

  3. Scott Redford says:

    Well Deborah show some guts honey. I have withdrawn my work from Australian art as protest about an art system we all know is corrupt. Juliana is one of the worst we all know what she is up to. How Engberg worked with Kaldor to take over the curatorship of the Australian Biennale representation. We all know contemporary art acts in the exact same manner as international Capital. Contemporary art passes itself off as somehow above the world but in fact the artists in it and the people who run [it] are worse than the Capitalists, at least the Capitalists are honest! Deborah it’s only art dear heart, I would say that the Vimeo vid on this page is a far far better work of art than any of the tired and safe cliches we pump out. And YOU know that.

  4. Philly Slim says:

    Scott Redford needs his own tv show. Much more entertaining than Andrew Frost …

    That said, I don’t see what the fuss is about. Bipartisan Govt policy (supported by both Labor and Libs), supported by a majority of Australians (although a minority in the arts community). If some artists are personally offended by Transfield then, as Scott Redford suggests, show some guts and boycott the thing.

    I’d be more interested in seeing a contemporary artist who supported the position of the Govt and made work accordingly. Now that would be much more dangerous than anything Richard Bell has done!

  5. @ndy says:

    @Philly Slim:

    Heh. I imagine Scott would be only too happy if someone were to invite him to host his own TV show …

    That said, I don’t think it’s too difficult to see what the fuss is about. Indeed, the fact that the policy of mandatory detention enjoys bipartisan support, or is given assent to by a majority of Australians polled on the matter, is partly what accounts for the focus upon other forms of critical engagement. Given the privatisation of the camps, this extends to corporate profiteers such as Transfield, Serco, G4S, The Salvation Army and so on.

    Secondly, the predicament faced by the 90+ artists participating in the Biennale in responding to the call for a boycott is less straightforward than the employment of the withdrawal method might suggest. That is, as Deborah Kelly notes, many if not all of these artists have already made very considerable investments in the Biennale, and the financial and artistic penalties attached to their withdrawal is also considerable. A hesitancy to do so is therefore understandable, and is likely only possible if it is done collectively, in solidarity with other artists, and with some degree of popular support.

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