Art as Politics: Vienna’s 12th ELIA Biennial Conference

This November, The Viennese ELIA Biennial Conference will celebrate its 12th installment and, as though a European arts biennial needed any more of a draw, Yoko Ono will be there to participate. Given this year’s new focus on the intersection of arts and politics, the presence of this legendary anti-war activist and artist is an intriguing, yet logical choice.

The biennial’s title — Art, Science and Society: Art Questions, Art Knows, Art Matters — emphasizes recent socio-political leaning. Its mantra reads like a United Nations potluck: “We meet, we share, we discuss, we celebrate, we establish new links, and sometimes we change our views.” But considering that ELIA — as in The European League of Institutes of the Arts — was always at least a fundamentally politically interested organization, the shift towards overt politicization of the arts hardly comes as a surprise. In 2000, ELIA released its manifesto, and it was colored with politically charged words stressing the changing, “globalized” world and the muddled plateau of cultural capital. The emphasis, ELIA insisted, needed to be placed on education, and the education they meant was not just of the fine arts kind. Woven into the ELIA manifesto was an insistance of the inextricability of art and politics. Art for peace, they said (I paraphrased).

While this fundamental understanding of the politics within art was a given with ELIA from the start, this year’s Biennial will explore this theme explicitly, a new approach within arts education conferences. There will be a resolution. It will consist of propositions, assertions and questions crafted to provoke insight into the public and political aspects of higher arts education. “The focus is on underlining the power of the arts and higher arts education for the whole of society beyond economic impact once culture and creativity is given a chance to develop freely with a high degree of autonomy. It also dares us to look at higher arts education from new angles to prepare our students for a different future.”

This inextricability — the politicazation of art, the artfulness of politics — perhaps seems obvious to some, but it is underexplored and underemphasized to the point of absurdity. One can only hope that Vienna’s Biennial sparks a debate powerful enough to proliferate.

ELIA Biennial Conference


Additional Information

>Vienna’s 12th ELIA Biennial Conference
Dates: November 8-10, 2012
Location: MuseumsQuartier Wien
Museumsplatz 1, 1070 Wien (click here for map)

To find out more about the conference, or to register for this year’s, visit the Biennial Conference webpage:

To read more of ELIA’s fascinating manifesto, visit their official manifesto webpage:


Blog entry by Evanna Folkenfolk in Berlin; Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012.

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