Yinchuan Biennale | Ecologies on the Edge: conversation with Marco Scotini

The Yinchuan Museum of Contemporary Art, founded in 2015 as the first contemporary art museum in northwest China, will host the second Yinchuan Biennale curated by Marco Scotini. We met the curator in Milan, right before his departure for Yinchuan. The following is a conversation about his upcoming biennial “Starting from the Desert. Ecologies on the Edge” and about his particular attitude in curatorial practice.


Vincenzo Estremo: In the text presenting your curatorial approach to the upcoming biennial, you mentioned the role of archaeology. It seems to me that with Starting from the Desert. Ecologies on the Edge,  you seek to explore whether and how the contemporary developments in the discipline of archaeology could contribute not only to theories of the image and methods of image analysis, but also to the politics of memories that are an integral part of your curatorial activity. Reciprocally, I wonder how could archaeology – due to its large material corpora and long scholarly tradition – make a considerably larger contribution to contemporary art, in your vision?

Marco Scotini: Archives and archeology (without overlooking the common etymology) are not only two keywords in my curatorial lexicon. They are rather instruments of the same toolbox that I always carry with me. They are a kind of antidote to the idea of totality, universalism, and humanism. What has always interested me in the use that Foucault does of the word “archeology” is its opposition to history. If on one hand history incites itself to find the pure and uncontaminated origin of things (as well as their progress), archeology on the other hand intends to dispel it in a multiplicity and dispersion of events. Confronting with a place or a fact means, first of all, questioning the discursive formation or the statement of which they are the object. What we encounter in our relationship with reality are always discursive formations that have taken place in the relationship between knowledge, behavior, and power. In the case of Yinchuan it was not so much to meet the Gobi desert or the Yellow River, nor the Hui culture, nor the camel, but enunciations and knowledge that we call geography, history, social minorities, science, etc. This is why, together with the curatorial team, we wanted to start by questioning the categories (dichotomies) that modernity has established, for that reason we have worked on four thematic sections. Contemporary art is not excluded from this archaeological investigation – and here I can answer your question. Why on earth should we keep this category (or corporation) as we found it? Why should we take it for good, neutral and universal? Export it, I mean, without raising the doubt of colonization?


The Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan (MOCA) West Exterior Photo (Photo credit ©NAARO), Yinchuan Biennale

The Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan (MOCA) West Exterior Photo (Photo credit ©NAARO)

Kimsooja, Laundry Woman, courtesy of the artist and galleria Raffaella Cortese, Yinchuan Biennale

Kimsooja, Laundry Woman, courtesy of the artist and galleria Raffaella Cortese

Demetrio Stratos-la registrazione di Metrodora negli studi Ricordi a Milano, 1976, courtsey of Roberto Masotti Lelli and archivio Masotti, Yinchuan Biennale

Demetrio Stratos-la registrazione di Metrodora negli studi Ricordi a Milano, 1976, courtsey of Roberto Masotti Lelli and archivio Masotti


VE: Once, while reading some considerations by Franco Berardi (Bifo) about Eastern thought in the Deleuzian text Nomadology: The War Machine, I noticed how the Italian media-activist and philosopher took into consideration the concept of chaosmotic creation, in which there is no real movement without chaining, where the essential is indeterminate. Since your biennial seems to pivot around Deleuze’s nomadology, I wish to know is therefore not a planetary becoming, but instead a plurality of becoming in your curatorial drawn?

MS: The purpose of this Yinchuan Biennale is talking about ecology – but not according to the turn that this is taking in recent years, where we talk about de-growth or limits to growth, etc., focusing the debate only on natural resources, global warming, environmental cataclysms. The real crisis is, instead, the ecosystem within which it’s not possible to isolate single factors: animals, plants, work, human beings and not, a bodily and incorporeal species. I think that if the artistic imagination can do anything in this current situation, it is to work on the definition of “transversal tools,” as Guattari used to say, and to restore the infinite, the possible, to a world that risks suffocating in the progressive abolition of every difference and alternative. Look at contemporary art: what does it do if not operating as a real political institution? Founded on monolingualism and on principles of inclusion and exclusion? How could an art like this be ever able to contaminate and be contaminated? How will art be able to find other imageries, new systems of valorization and forms of life compared to those already existing? For the Yinchuan Biennale we have taken up the Three Ecologies, Chaosmosis but above all Nomadology, where a new radical ecology is emerging. Where it is possible to focus not on the given things (the supposed essences) but on the concatenations, on the transversal traits of subject and object, where identity and otherness are brought to focus and where a fictive reflection is produced on the before and after, on the material and the incorporeal. There is no ecology without diplophony (I think of Demetrio Stratos), triplophony, and also quadrophony! That’s why in Yinchuan you find everything: the voice, the writing, the body, the animal, the plant, the work of man, woman, wind and earth. Not like an encyclopedia, but in its exact opposite.


Giuseppe Castiglione, Portrait of Emperor Qianlong in Winter Suit, courtesy MOCA Yinchuan Collection, Yinchuan Biennale

Giuseppe Castiglione, Portrait of Emperor Qianlong in Winter Suit, courtesy MOCA Yinchuan Collection.


VE: The commoditization of natural resources in a global economic system and the territorialisation practices of nation-states present formidable challenges to the sustainable use of natural resources. Likewise, certain environmental problems such as growth management and residential sprawl have proved intractable to our existing political processes. Recently, during your intervention at the conference “Antropocene. Crisi ecologica e potenzialità trasformative dell’arte” (the conference was part of the exhibition The God-Trick, curated by Marco Scotini at PAV in Turin) you underlined how the growing conflicts around environmental problems may require new political approaches that foster collaboration and knowledge, but also political struggles. Could you explain this concept in relation to your curatorial approach to the second Yinchuan Bienniale?

MS: What I find fundamental in the Nomadology of Deleuze and Guattari is the search for a Nomad Science in relation to what they call State Science, the kind of science that rejects any turbulence, which attributes to everyone and everything a role and a place, and that founded the State, in fact. As we know, this Nomad Science is not detectable from what they call War Machine. A machine always ready to put everything in question, a machine against the state in general. Without disagreement we can only find technical solutions to the crisis, bureaucratic and authoritarian solutions. If we do not pay attention, the current (catastrophist) discourse about ecology will only lead us to these consequences. I think we should see ecology on its contrary, as the attempt to rethink everything, starting from a microphysical level in which to treasure heterogeneity, plurality, minority conditions, etc. Could we ever think of an ecology that lived up to the times without dissent?


Li Binyuan, Freedom Farming,2014, courtesy artist, Yinchuan Biennale

Li Binyuan, Freedom Farming,2014, courtesy artist

Uriel Orlow, Muthi, courtesy of the artist, Yinchuan Biennale

Uriel Orlow, Muthi, courtesy of the artist.Uriel Orlow, Muthi, courtesy of the artist

Joris Ivens, The Uigurs documentary, 1977, Yinchuan Biennale

Joris Ivens, The Uigurs documentary, 1977


VE: In the opening caption of Joris Ivens’ masterpiece A Tale of the Wind – Une histoire de vent (1988) it is written:

“The Old Man, the hero of this tale, was born at the end of the last century in a land where man has strivem to tame the sea and harness the wind. He travelled the 20th Century, a camera in the hand, he has witnessed the storm history of our time. In his twilight years, at the age of 90, having survived the wars and shown what he has filmed, the old filmmaker sets off for China. His foolish plan is to film the invisible wind”.

Is there any foolish plan in your project for this biennial?

MS: During the preparation of the Yinchuan Biennale, we were confronted with many Chinese archaeologists, experts in linguistic and cultural minorities. We were looking for traces of our Hui community and we discovered more. We understood that, historically, the real problem of ancient China was the relationship between nomadic culture and sedentary culture, particularly felt in the northwestern region where Yinchuan is located. Here in Ningxia Province it is still possible to see a fragment of the Great Wall located at the exact boundary between cultivated fields and the desert. The agricultural and sedentary nature of China has always feared as a major enemy what came from the great nomadic peoples of the steppe, from Mongolia or Central Asia. If you think that the title of this Yinchuan Biennale is Starting from the Desert you understand its madness. That of importing the most feared thought from China (where everything has been). Together with Lu Xinghua we also commissioned a book to the Taiwanese philosopher Yang Kailin with twelve contributions by as many Eastern thinkers and entitled Nomadology in China. Let’s see how it will go. Right here we were interested in trying to reduce the great institutions of knowledge to sand, to work like the wind. That is, starting again from the desert, where everything must be taken from scratch, “in the point of chaosmic emergency”, in the idea of a continuous eternal return… Foolish? Sure!


Li Fenglan, Spring Hoeing, 1973, courtesy of museum of Huxian Painting, Yinchuan Biennale

Li Fenglan, Spring Hoeing, 1973, courtesy of museum of Huxian Painting


Starting from the Desert. Ecologies on the Edge: the second Yinchuan Biennale will open on June 9, 2018, at the MOCA Yinchuan, China. Curator Marco Scotini has worked with a curatorial team composed of Andris Brinkmanis, Paolo Caffoni, Zasha Colah, and Lu Xinghua.


Zheng Bo, Marco Scotini, MOCA Yinchuan, China, Yinchuan Biennale

Zheng Bo, Weed Party, 2015, courtesy the artist

Discussion Un commento

  1. November 23, 2018 at 6:54 pm

    […] to know Zheng Bo’s work better this summer, because he was one of the participants in the Yinchuan Biennial that I curated. It was then that I discovered the activity of Zheng Bo, and his research in the […]

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by Vincenzo Estremo
in Letters from China

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