We Want Our Biennale Back ; the Challenge by Venice to Its Title Is the Least of the Problems with Turin's New Art Show. Especially When Their Own Police Keep Closing Down Exhibits for Obscenity

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The action on Mathieu Briand's racetrack has ground to a halt. There should be two remote-controlled cars hurtling around the closed circuit but they are off to one side having their innards dissected. It's not the first time this has happened, but Briand remains philosophical. "It is still an art work," he says. "The public can still get an idea of what is meant, they are just seeing progress in motion."

The installation, designed to sit in a grandiose, disused circular building, part of Turin's royal riding school, worked perfectly before it was installed: cameras attached to the front of the cars and sides of the track allowed drivers to constantly switch perspectives as they rally-raced arcade- style. Briand blames mobile phones and the nearby military buildings for interfering with the frequencies, but is determined to get it up and running again. "There is no aim," he explains. The interactive piece is just about communal space, and the idea that life is a game.

Turin is hosting its first Biennial of Emerging Artists - much to the annoyance of Venice who argued it should have exclusive rights to the word Biennale - and the Cavallerizza Reale, the magnificent 18th-century stables have been commandeered to house the visual arts and design sections. Young artists from all over Europe are taking part, as well as some from China - this year's guest country.

Lilian Bourgeat's Dispositif pour Ballon de Basket is another work that breaks down the barriers between art and spectator by presenting an irresistible game in a familiar format. A neat stack of paper imprinted with photos of basketballs tempts passers-by to scrunch and throw into a nearby basket. The growing mountain of missiles at the foot of the basketball stand visual proof of its popularity.

I'm Not Asking For Anything by Xu Zhen couldn't be further removed from this light-hearted fun, and the uproar in the Italian press provoked by its showing saw the police swoop within days and carry off every last trace of it. In a tiny adjacent room to one of the main galleries, a film showed a man repeatedly smashing a dead cat to the floor. The setting was a bare, concrete cell and the gratuitous violence a chilling reminder of what goes on in similar cells the world over. The reaction in the gallery was mixed - some recoiled instantly, while others stood transfixed, looking grim.

The only other exhibit to be removed was On/OFF by Anna Jermolaewa (Russia). This consisted of a TV screen showing a close- up of a flicker light switch. Enter right a slow-moving, erect penis, which made its way across the screen to nudge the switch. Darkness. Another nudge brought light and a retreating member - a one-trick wonder in endless repeat mode. Funny in a ridiculous sort of way, but obviously not something the authorities wanted visitors exposed to.

The Biennial goes under the banner BIG Torino 2000, and the organisers are keen to stress just how big the show is. Five hundred artists from 35 countries; more than 350 events; 250 productions; and dozens of locations in and around the city. The non-stop, month- long programme includes dance, theatre, fashion and food. "We want the world to come to Turin, and Turin to be open to the world," declared the mayor Valentino Catellani at the official opening. This is Turin's chance to put itself on the international cultural map. And with five billion lire in the coffers, the city is pulling out all the stops in its efforts to be taken seriously.

A blue dragon made up of anchovies has been chosen as this year's emblem and has been plastered across town - the dragon as a nod in the direction of China; the anchovies because the fish is ingredient number one in local Piedmontese cooking. BIG is aiming to reach every corner of the city, to reactivate disused buildings, and to work its way into the daily lives of the Turinese. The main stage in Piazza Castello certainly acts as a magnet to the local population, though one show saw a group of 40 onlookers staring in the opposite direction - mesmerised by a gang of builders laying down the square's final paving stones. …