Facial reconstruction

Search LJMU Research Online

Browse Repository | Browse E-Theses

Commoning the Biennial or the Biennialisation of the Commons? Examining how Large-scale Periodic Exhibitions Learn from Urban Common Spaces: Athens Biennale 5-6, OMONOIA (2015-2017) and documenta 14, Learning from Athens (2017)

Tsampalla, S (2023) Commoning the Biennial or the Biennialisation of the Commons? Examining how Large-scale Periodic Exhibitions Learn from Urban Common Spaces: Athens Biennale 5-6, OMONOIA (2015-2017) and documenta 14, Learning from Athens (2017). Doctoral thesis, Liverpool John Moores University.

2022tsampallaphd.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial.

Download (6MB) | Preview
[img] Text
2022tsampallaphdinternal.pdf - Accepted Version
Restricted to Repository staff only

Download (14MB)


This research project explores the relations between biennials, which are periodic, large-scale, international city-wide exhibitions, and common spaces, spaces shaped by commoning, collective creative practices of self-management, cooperation and solidarity. It contributes to the nascent field of exhibition studies and is addressed to biennial makers and researchers interested in the intersections between art, curating, exhibition making and activism.

Bringing together the biennial, an exhibition considered hegemonic in contemporary art, and commoning, a key concept in discussions about alternative socio-political, economic and urban futures, the research project responds to a knowledge gap in literature. In the aftermath of the squares movement of 2011-2013, the wave of protests in which several squares were occupied, addressing a critique to neoliberalism as well as fostering commoning, biennials became the most prominent exhibitions both hosting and being contested by activist practices. However, relations between biennials and commoning remain underexplored. Although some of the issues examined apply to other art institutions, this is the first study to attempt an in-depth investigation of the relations and contradictions that traverse art and commoning with a focus on biennials and the city.

The research project focuses on two case studies: the Athens Biennale 5-6, OMONOIA (2015-2017) and documenta 14, Learning from Athens (2017), two examples that shared intentions to learn from common spaces in Athens. It grounds the cases in the attention that the city drew as a vantage point to learn from collective grassroots practices contesting austerity, in a period marked by neoliberal crisis. Drawing on biennial literature and recent spatial approaches to commoning, the research employs qualitative data gathered during fieldwork and semi-structured interviews with artists, members of collectives and curators.

Examining biennials and common spaces together, two phenomena that both converge and contrast each other, the thesis expands knowledge with regards to the limits and potentials of biennial-making and city-making in their encounter. Conceptualising biennials as ‘threshold infrastructures’, the research project examines how biennials inhabit the threshold between the neoliberal and grassroots extremes of the spectrum of urban imaginaries, between accumulating power and distributing power, between collective practice and labour. These tensions are conceptualised as a dialectic relation between commoning the biennial, or introducing more horizontal practices in biennials, and the biennialisation of the commons, a term which points to the risks biennials pose for entangling commoning in the power asymmetries that they shape. The research project asks how to potentialise this relation, that is, trace qualitative features that contribute to rethink biennials, as well as the relation between biennials and the city, conceptualised through the two-fold prism of commoning the biennial and commoning the city. In accounting for these challenges, I suggest to ground biennials in everyday city life and be attentive to the relations they institute as events with discursive, spatial and infrastructural capacity. In navigating the ambivalences of the threshold, artists act within and against the biennial, disrupting biennialisation, while claiming both the biennial and the city as a commons, even if temporarily so.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: biennial; common space; commoning; curating; periodic exhibition; exhibition-making; public space; art and activism
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
N Fine Arts > N4390-5098 Exhibitions
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General) > G149 Travel. Voyages and travels (General) > G154.9 Travel and state. Tourism
Divisions: Art & Design
SWORD Depositor: A Symplectic
Date Deposited: 05 Dec 2023 10:57
Last Modified: 05 Dec 2023 10:58
DOI or ID number: 10.24377/LJMU.t.00022005
Supervisors: Krysa, J, Birchall, M and Stavrides, S
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/22005
View Item View Item