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Since the 1990s, art biennials have assumed a central place, alongside galleries and museums, in Europe's public infrastructure for visual arts. Biennials make strong claims regarding the radical potential of their artistic programmes. Their curators present them as cultural spaces within which the socio-political status quo can and should be challenged and disrupted. There is a dissonance between these claims and the other manifest functions of biennials: to produce new investment opportunities for art markets, and to support governmental strategies to boost tourism, regeneration, civic status and cultural participation. Torn between these roles, biennials struggle to deliver on their promises.This research aims to identify ways in which biennials might change in order to realise their radical potential. Focusing on the role of curators, it questions top-down, curator-centred approaches to the selection of artists and the wider generation of content.
I am a researcher and curator based in Hertfordshire. I began my career, in the mid-1990s, as a freelance photographer, specialising in music press and promotional work. In the late 1990s I moved into curation, focusing on contemporary photography and moving image. After six years as a curator at the National Media Museum, Bradford, in 2004 I became director of Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool. I led a new-build capital project, re-launching the gallery on the Liverpool Waterfront in 2011. Representing Open Eye Gallery (a core Liverpool Biennial venue) I was a member of the Biennial curatorial team from 2004 to 2012. I was director of the second edition of Liverpool's international photo-biennial, LOOK/13 (2013), curator of the Great Charter Festival (2015), a curatorial consultant for DACS (2015-16) and director of Deptford X, London's longest-running contemporary art festival (2015 to 2018).