June 4, 2015

Guest Writer Claudio Cravero, Venice Biennale 3: "Art is On-the-air"

This is the third contribution of Claudio Cravero in a series about the Venice Biennale. He started with the Icelandic Pavilion, then he tracked down the presence of the Middle East at the Biennale, and for this one Claudio spent time on the water together with the Safina Radio Project. It was not in a traditional gondola nor on a giant cruise ship, but... 

Monica Naruala and Anabelle de Gersigny, Safina Radio Project, St. Mark's Basin, Venezia

On the occasion of the three-day preview of the Biennale di Venezia (May 6-8) one had the opportunity to cut through the waterways of the lagoon on a temporary radio station. Restricted to a small numbers of passengers selected by a first-come first-serve basis, Safina Radio Project, a broadcasting station in disguise on a water-taxi, set out from the Arsenal Navy Officer’s Club.

Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta on board, Safina Radio Project

Commissioned by Alserkal Avenue (the Dubai’s art hub district) and curated by Anabelle de Gersigny (curator at Tashkeel, a non-profit space in Dubai), Safina Radio Project hosted a series of readings, lectures and conversations around the main issues of migration and utopia within the wide Middle Eastern and South Asian areas.
With the exception of the official launch in Venice, where Safina Radio Project physically took shape as a tiny ship (N.b. Safina in Arabic means “boat”), the radio is meant to be a floating online incubator that gathers different streams of content, from written interviews to audio conversation, and naturally sound playlists.

Raqs Media Collective on board, Safina Radio Project

Safina, however, is not the first example of an artistic radio project. The historical and well-known Clock Tower Radio was founded in 1972 by New York’s PS.1-MoMa and up till now it still gives us updates about art and exhibitions around the world. But what literally sounds innovative in Safina is the fact that by taking advantage of something that already exists (web-net and satellites), new artistic projects are created that avoid the sense of sight and may reach also unthinkable places where art is sometimes hard to find. Needless to say that Safina Radio was born like many other projects did -  out of need. It was the brainchild of Anabelle de Gersigny, who over the past few years used to commute from Abu Dhabi to Dubai and felt the necessity to listen to cultural programs while driving. Actually, a constructive criticism is particularly needed in the broader Gulf Region and in the Arabian Peninsula. The art debate is almost absent among local artists and professionals, and nary in the art magazines (Canvas and Harpers Bazaar Art, among others), which are in the end more descriptive than critical.

Safina Radio Project, Small Canal, Venezia

Navigating the quiet canals in Venice one had the chance to enjoy the Raqs Media Collective, a group founded in India by Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta. Unlike their provocative and high-sounding monuments within All The World’s Futures in the Giardini, the group’s conversation on the boat was poetically suave, and multiple voices softly punctuated the journey. While the artists were fully immersed in reciting their theatrical plot about the urgency of remembering against the current loss of collective memory, a second dialogue intertwined the first: a reflection on the concept of history by Ibn Khaldoun, the Muslim philosopher who in the 13th Century extended the mere notion of history, up to then solely considered as a time-sequence, to the human and social context in the Arab World.

Raqs Media Collective, "Coronation Park”, 2015,
nine fiberglass sculptures on bitumen coated wooden pedestal,
Giardini La Biennalle di Venezia

If in Venice Safina Radio got off the ground (or should we say “the waters”…), then now it is time to fly, expanding its waves, maybe experimenting new ways of curating, and rekindling that interaction that makes art a living matter.


Claudio Cravero


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