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LA at the Edge of Time

by Clayton Campbell

For a host of reasons LA has vaulted into a position as the new megalopolis, a megacity of the 21st century characterized by decentralization and the lack of a clear ethnic majority. This unprecedented urban dynamic promotes a new kind of internationalism, and it is as an international city that Los Angeles will find itself uniquely positioned within the next decade. Inter- nationalism at this loaded juncture of time (the Millennium! if you donıt know by now) does ask for a different kind of concept, one that is open to cultural difference and identity. Artists in Los Angeles have been looking into these issues for some time. So it is appropriate that the philosophical center of gravity shifts center stage to our city as artists from around the world gravitate towards the pull of meaningful discourse. None of this happens in a vacuum.

The delivery systems that promote art and culture have evolved in Los Angeles with a particularly positive, entrepreneurial spirit. Now in its fourth edition, the LA International Biennial characterizes the kind of eclectic, different effort that provides the ground in which real discourse can flourish. The biennial manifests itself every two years with an abundance of visual offerings, ideas, theories, and just sheer exuberance on the part of the numerous galleries, museums, and art centers that choose to curate an international guest into their midst.

This model of a biennial, one without a central authority figure, is concurrent with the new internationalism. Generally, we are used to an arts discourse generated between a handful of writers and curators overly familiar with postmodern debates centered in European and Western theory. This discourse adds up to what we are used to seeing in many institutional settings. And we are in a way impoverished; we only experience the usual suspects who evidence an international style’ developed on last centuryıs model and whose roots are in Western Modernism. A very small database of names is on this list.

Thatıs changing. As new and previously unacknowledged voices enter the arena, the entire playing field of the visual arts is open to surprise and revision. Ideas and critiques from distant corners of the globe filter through the LA International, anticipating an expanded dialogue about the contemporary arts: what are they, who is involved, where is the shifting, elusive center? It is the product of an artistic nomadism, a diaspora of viewpoints that will come to rest for brief moments over the next decades in the prototypical international cities of the 21st century: Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Beijing, Sydney, Mexico City, New Delhi, Marseilles, Cairo.

Diversity happens because more people are involved in the decision making processes. Itıs not necessarily democratic, nor should it be. But it is more inclusive and in its imperfect, evolving way, the LA International turns up discoveries that might not show up in mainstream institutions. The biennial is a testing ground for those who like risk taking and who use it well. It is the best of opportunities to expose (to one of the most generous audiences, the people of Los Angeles) ideas whose time, while still on the edge, has come.

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