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Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art 2017 to open in September
Röda Sten Konsthall. Photo: Hendrik Zeitler.

GÖTEBORG.- The Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art 2017 will seek to stimulate public discourse on a subject of contemporary social and political significance: that of the secular. What role should secularity have in society today?

Based on the principle of a separation of religious belief and non-belief from the state, contemporary Western liberal secularity strives to create the conditions that produce and protect four civic cornerstones: political and social equality, minority rights, religious freedom, and the legal separation of private and public domains. Secularity, not to be confused with atheism, has played an essential role in society, creating the conditions for regulating complex and often divisive areas of transaction, including abortion rights, sexual freedoms, same-sex marriage, freedom of belief, social equality and freedom of expression. Its strength lies in allowing different modes of living to co-exist due to the protections and rights provided under the law. Secularity has taken many forms around the world, key examples of which include the ‘Averroism’ of Islamic Andalusia in the Middle Ages, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s modernising ‘Kemalist’ secularism in Turkey in the early 20th century, the constitutional secularism of Laďcité in France, as well as the constitution of the United States of America.

Yet, in the midst of the geo-political upheaval that continues to take place since the beginning of the 21st century, together with an increasing consciousness of fear and precarity, liberal secularity finds itself under acute pressure, being pushing in many regions towards collapse. In this state of affairs, where unrestrained identitarianisms have emerged and many conservative positions are brought to the fore, secularism itself can be used to legitimise oppression and violence against minorities. Numerous profound questions emerge about the future.

What happens to secularity during moments of crisis? How can we sustain freedoms – social, sexual, cultural or religious – in a situation of stark cultural differences? What do we mean by ‘belief’ today? Is secularity itself defined, as some scholars believe, by relations to perceived others? Is it the state that is best positioned for defining secularity? If not, who should?

GIBCA 2017, titled WheredoIendandyoubegin: On Secularity, looks to address such complex questions on the status of secularity in the situation of its crisis.

WheredoIendandyoubegin will be a multi-faceted event, comprising primarily of an exhibition of art and artefacts, with numerous site-specific art projects developed in collaboration with different constituents and organisations in Gothenburg, as well as significant events and conversations that will function necessarily at the level of the civic, the academic, the cultural and the political. It will seek to engage with some fundamental questions about Europe, the formalisation of its values, and the fine line between protection and violence. Art, as a field that has a historic foot in the spaces of religion and its contemporary foot in that of the secular, has an important role to play in this debate on the relations between governance, belief and freedoms that forms the foundations of this biennial. With the participation of approximately thirty artists, it will look to open a genuinely pluralistic debate, allowing artistic intelligence to encounter other, perhaps conflicting, perspectives and practices, seeking to open up a space, as philosopher Judith Butler proposes, for “cohabitation and struggle, through participation in public discourse, through cultural and educational projects, allowing modes of separateness to coincide with modes of belonging”.

Curator: Nav Haq, Senior Curator at M HKA – Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp
Organiser: Röda Sten Konsthall, Gothenburg, Sweden

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