Preparations are underway for the first ever Antarctic Biennale to be held in 2016.

Initiated by curator Nadim Samman and Russian artist Alexander Ponomarev, the inaugural Antarctic Biennale 2016 will be the first major art event to be held on the remote, icy continent. 

The Arctic Poppy Orangery in Antarctica. Image from, courtesy Alexy Kozyr.

The Arctic Poppy Orangery in Antarctica. Image from © Alexy Kozyr.

The 1st Antarctic Biennale (2016)

A groundbreaking new biennale is scheduled to take place in Antarctica in 2016. According to the website of the Antarctic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture 2014 – which sets out the structure and philosophy of the 2016 biennale – the event will be held aboard international research vessels that will sail from Argentina to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and through the Drake passage towards Antarctica. Artnet News summarises:

At each of these landings, artists will make and display objects, installations, and performances that are portable, weather-withstanding, and cause no hazard to the environment. Activities are expected to last from 12–15 days and to accommodate 50–100 explorers, half of whom will be artists.

Such an idea of a floating/sailing biennale was conceived by curator Nadim Samman and Russian artist Alexander Ponomarev, the two sources of brainpower behind the first Antarctic Pavilion in Venice in 2014. Both composed poetic manifestos for the envisioned Antarctic Biennale; Samman in particular writes:

Antarctica – no ring for it on the Olympic flag and no pavilion in the Giardini. The only continent without a biennale. Has its art history been written? It is only a matter of time.

Nadim Samman is a curator, art historian and editor, known especially for his role as Curator at TBA21 in Vienna and for co-curating the Marrakech Biennale in 2012. Alexander Ponomarev (b. 1957, Moscow) is a well-known artist who has represented the Russian Federation at the 52nd Venice Biennale and is an Officier d’Arts et de Lettres (France) and a member of the Russian Academy of Arts.

Click here to watch Curator Nadim Samman in conversation with artist Alex Schweder

The Antarctic Pavilion at Venice 2014

If all this sounds too fantastical to be true, it is worth noting that the first phase of the initiative has already been held – in the form of the exhibition “Antarctopia” staged in the Antarctic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2014. Commissioned by Ponomarev and curated by Samman, the Pavilion declared Antarctica as not only a cultural space but a transnational creative platform harbouring artistic, scientific and architectural potentialities. Ponomarev was quoted as saying that:

The principles of cooperation and life in the Antarctica offer a unique precedent where people of different nationalities live and work together creatively. […] The pavilion accumulates and presents approaches, strategies and talents, declaring abilities for civilisation’s interaction with space and with each other.

Under the leadership of Ponomarev and Samman, a team of leading international architects and artists – including Zaha Hadid, Alexey Kozyr and Hugh Broughton, among others – challenged the conventional view that regarded Antarctica as little more than a frozen, uninhabitable wasteland. They explored man’s relationship with Antarctica by examining and showcasing present and future modes of living, and offered a glimpse into the surprising culture and community existing within the continent. According to Inhabitat, the Pavilion aimed to

spark architectural debate and change to the existing research stations and spur interest in the continent’s cultural potential.

The pure white continent

The envisioned Antarctic Biennale hopes to carry on this mission of transnational cooperation, creativity, and scientific and cultural development. Samman was quoted by The Art Newspaper as saying that:

[The Antarctic Biennale] will bring together scientists and artists on vessels around Antarctica to define a new Antarctic culture beyond institutional missions.

The Biennale’s statement of philosophy reads:

Antarctica is the last continent of freedom. Under the 1959 international treaty it belongs to no state and is intended exclusively for creativity ‘in the interests of the entire mankind’. Antarctica is pure, hard-of-access and enigmatic like art itself! This white continent is like a white sheet of paper on which artists of different lands and nationalities will try to write new rules of cooperation.

Michele Chan


Related Topics: biennales, touring shows, art and science collaborationart and the community, curatorial practice, Russian artists

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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