The Cornell Council for the Arts is hosting its fifth Cornell Biennial with a rotating series of exhibitions, installations, performances and artist panels through December. Exhibited across the University campus, Ithaca and surrounding upstate regions, as well as the Cornell Tech campus in New York City, this year’s show centers around the theme: “Futurities, Uncertain”.
The featured creators includes invitational artists, affiliates of the Mellon Public Curatorial Expression Program, as well as Cornell faculty and students who participated in the CCA’s open call competition for artwork submissions this past winter.
According to Prof. Timothy Murray, comparative literature, curator of the past three biennials and director of the CCA, the arts show aims to reorient traditional thinking about the future that is oftentimes based on preconceived notions.
“We asked artists to think about how our relationship with presentness gets impacted by the precarity of the future now as we’ve come to understand it through COVID, global warming, the Black Lives Matter movement, continual pressure put on Indigenous communities, as well as intensive pressure put on the health of women and people of different sexualities,” Murray said.
The biennial features artwork aimed at both educating students and the general public on pressing societal issues, while highlighting and introducing these themes in a new light.
For instance, the Circulating Matters outdoor installation touches base on the future of the construction industry in the face of climate change. It was composed of reused materials from the deconstruction of a 1910 residential structure in Collegetown that was originally slated for demolition.
Circulating Matters, designed by Prof. Felix Heisel, architecture, in conjunction with the Circular Construction Lab, of which he serves as director, is part of an overarching research project on promoting the circular construction economy and scaling reuse throughout Ithaca and communities across the world.
“The piece is of course part of the Biennial, but just one part of a much bigger research agenda in the Circular Construction Lab. The mapping of the piece addresses the question of what the build environment is doing and what its influence has on global development and climate change,” Heiseil said. “Once we switched the paradigm and worked with reused materials, we were focused on coming up with viable solutions for the uncertain futurities that we face today.”
Displayed prominently in the center of the Arts Quad, the installation piece aims to draw attention towards the future of global development.
Other exhibitions centering around the current geopolitical state of the world, like A.D. White Professor-at-Large Xu Bing’s Background Story, have been subject to the very themes that the artwork covers.
Composed of recycled materials and other miscellaneous trash items collected from daily life, the piece was designed in China and was intended to be shipped over to the United States in time for the celebration of the Cornell Biennial.
Postponed due to recent shipping delays that have plagued the world economy, however, the exhibition will open approximately two to three weeks after the original opening date.
“The supply chain and the shipping chains have been disrupted by COVID and remain to be disrupted,” Murray said. “The problem with shipping currently is that not only are the ships delayed, but also once [Background Story] gets in the ports, the ports and the trucks are also backlogged.”
Nonetheless, the fifth edition of the Cornell Biennial continues to progress and artwork by 40 different artists will be present through the end of December.
“What we’re excited about is how strongly the artists rose to the occasion and are providing works that help us rethink the present in relation to the future through imagination, fiction, art and science in inventive ways that weave strains between them,” Murray said.