VENICE BIENNALE. NATIONAL PARTICIPATIONS
The 54th Venice Biennale has been marked by a growing interest to the national participations on one hand, and increasing quest of their legitimacy on the other. On the contrast with the gigantic and amorphous main show, national pavilions look much more convincing; however the entire principle of national representation is, yet doubtful. The curatorial collective of the Central Asia Pavilion initiated discussion of this issue and addressed a few questions to international art-professionals, including curators of this year’s national pavilions in Venice.
Beral Madra, advising curator of the Azerbaijan pavilion (2011), curator of the Central Asia pavilion (2009)
Viktor Misiano, curator of the Russian pavilion (1995, 2003), Central Asia pavilion (2005)
Boris Groys, curator of the Russian pavilion (2011)
Stefan Rusu, one of the initiators of the campaign GHOST-PAVILION of Moldova (2011)
Alevtina Kahidze, participant of the Morocco pavilion (2011)
Ekaterina Degot, curator of the Russian pavilion (2001)
Preston Thayer, director of the New Mexico State University Art Gallery and art critic
Zeigam Azizov, participant of the Azerbaijan pavilion (2011)
Nazareth Karoyan, curator of the Armenian pavilion (2011)
Venice Biennale is constantly growing in size, and now it is
already visually ungraspable. It can be stated that, Biennale is visited
not to be seen. It’s clear that this expansion will only grow as the list
of countries not established their pavilions yet, but willing to get aboard
2. Is it possible to radically change the situation of ‘cultural hierarchy’ when most of the attention is given to the pavilions located in Arsenale and Giardini – to, so to say, the titular nations of the Biennale?
3. Have you seen the exhibition of the Central Asia Pavilion Lingua Franca/Франк тили? If yes, what is your opinion about this exhibition?
4. The principle of national participations in Venice has always been criticized; however, the number of participating countries is constantly growing. So, Bice Curiger’s apologetics of nations this year, somehow, follows the ‘natural attitude’. Why do you think the principle of national participation is so rigid? Is it at all possible that Venice Biennale will once quit reproduction and labeling of geopolitical hierarchies?
I agree with all the ambiguous facts indicated
in this question, however I would like to think that Venice Biennale with
its geographical position is the most convenient international meeting
point. In particular, for the countries/nations east of Vienna (this is
the good old historical border between Europe and the rest of the world)
Venice seems to be “the center” when it comes to present the current contemporary
art production. More than a century old “hospitable” character of Venice
is a major positive issue. Even the nations who had no access to European
artistic environment during the Cold War, could come to Venice. This attitude
is still valid and despite the financial and bureaucracy difficulties
people from very different state and governmental systems feel at home.
2. I have been somehow active in Venice Biennale since 1991 and I have seen the progress of growing recognition for “the other”. Today, these are the good times for Non-EU countries; most of the visitors are curious to see the national pavilions of Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. In the 90’s (and probably before) there were still prejudices, discriminations and stereotype perceptions. For example Turkey could participate in the 43rd Venice Biennale, due to the insisting invitation of Mr. Carrandente and we were given a 10m2 room at the far end of the Italian Pavilion. Even this modest presentation was a challenge to the local art scene as well as to the appreciation of the international art experts. However, after so many years of experience I can openly say that if you spent enough money you can be as visible as the so called titular countries. I regret to say that even if the artist or artists of the non-titular countries make the most significant work, there is not much chance to be recognized. After two decades of talks and debates on global equality and togetherness, there are still differences and discrepancies in cultural systems and policies, so that there are advanced cultural policies and advancing cultural policies or even no cultural policies that prevent the real dialogue and mutual appreciation. From the standpoint of a Non-EU artist, curator, gallerists and even collector, the art crowds of the titular nations can sometimes look very pontifical! The real and genuine recognition and collaboration only happens when political, financial or cultural interests concur or intersect!
3. I was very pleased to see that Central Asia pavilion have presented a much updated work of two generations of artist; and I have been following the process of making this pavilion. It was based on genuine research and it reflected a democratic process based infrastructure. It is not a glorious exhibition –as expected in Venice Biennale - production but it has integrity and critical expansion.
4. I have expressed my criticism on Bice Curiger’s rather Pollyanna-like concept as if she is living in a very peaceful world in the catalogue text of Azerbaijan Pavilion. If we decide to re-think about the concept of “nation”, it is not possible to accept “nation” as the basis of cultural creativity; it is even very difficult to imagine the integrity of nation! Since half a century many theoreticians and scholars have stated on the collapse of nation state (for example Alain Minc in The New Middle Age). On the other side “nationalism” is still powerful very well blended with racism and neo-capitalism. Under the socio-economic and political circumstances that create uncanny models of nations all over the world the contemporary art is one of the alternative ways of creating a resistance and opposition to the degenerated ways of nation concept. In a way many artists in this Biennale have replied to the concept of Curiger with radical criticism. On the other hand, the work content of Curiger’s exhibition was quite Euro-centric.
National pavilions in Venice are primarily
a fact of official representation. The character of this representation
is always a scanning of the cultural policy of the country, which initiated
the pavilion. To the extent that official cultural policy affects the
art scene, a representation in the Venice pavilion can be significant.
However, this value is mainly political. The national art scene could
demand from cultural bureaucrats, that representation in the national
pavilion should be in line with their notions of professionalism and creative
consistency, but they would do so not because of any expectations of artistic
revelation in the pavilion, but because they want to confirm their compliance
with the globalized aesthetic norms.
To the extent that the goal of any representation
in Venice is a political fact, destroying it is, in principle, impossible.
Cultural policy is following geopolitics. And so in the foreseeable future
the pavilions of the United States or France would be more attractive
than the pavilions of Vietnam or Congo. Preferential interest is always
created by the regions whose living standards and social values are normative.
3. I’am planning to be in Venice in September/October. I will certainly visit the Central Asia Pavilion.
National representation remains in force because
the world, despite of globalization, to a great extent continues to be
structured on this principle. Cultural infrastructures - museums, exhibition
centers, etc. still remain national, ie, financed and managed by national
bureaucracy. And this infrastructure provides development and improvement
of knowledge to those who have access to it, ie, to those who live in
the country, and for the most part to its citizens. And while this is
so, I would not hurry to abandon national representation. It continues
to correspond to the realities of contemporary world and explains a lot.
For Venice, it is justified also because national representation is a
historical phenomenon of this institution, its specificity.
1. To some extent yes, it does. To many, the exhibition in the national pavilion in Venice seems as a kind of demonstration of achievements of the country. Expectations, sense of participation in an international competition, and the hope for success in this competition, linked with this national participation mobilize interest in contemporary art in these countries. And this in itself is not bad, although, of course, all of these motivations are completely illusory.
2. I think it is impossible to change this situation with some strong-willed decision. It can only change if the art of a country will become interesting to the world’s art community. This is what partially happening to China.
3. Unfortunately I did not visit. I got stuck in my own pavilion.
4. It seems to me that the concept of national art can not be dispensed in any foreseeable time. The fact is that museums, art academies, schools and universities with art faculties are all national properties. International art institutions do not exist. There is an international art market, but it can not provide sustainable existence and traditioning of art. So reliance on national art institution for the arts so far has no alternative.
The impact on the local art scene after this year participation in Venice
Biennial of Republic of Moldova was significant. The first ever participation
of Moldova at the Venice Biennial is more than contradictory, from one
hand the Ministry of Culture denied that it is official presentation of
Republic of Moldova claiming that selection was done by the Venice “Minsitry”
of Culture, from the other hand there was officially appointed commissioner,
curator and 3 artists with individual projects selected without any public
contest to represent Moldova at 54th edition of Venice Biennial.
2. I think breaking this logic is very much in the hand of appointed Biennial’s curator and his stuff/advisers who is responsible for the selection of the participants for the main exhibition at Arsenale and also who deals with the strategy in relation with the so called ”national” pavilions. The other important problem is that the artists selection presented in Arsenale and national pavilions from Giardini and other locations around the city very much reflects the capacity of art markets from those countries as well to respond to certain issues and contemporary art trends. In this sense for the new members of Venice Biennial-“club” is hard to face such competition and in most of the cases the differences between the logistic/financial capacities of those countries are far too obvious and as result it is hard to break the hegemony established by the capital.
3. I saw the exhibition and I like it, but what is important about this project and selection is that this is a result of a democratic selection and as a result it does reflects multiple aspects of contemporary art community from Central Asian countries. It is important that this Pavilion was organized trough an open call and it is based on a concept elaborated by curators, which was appointed based on an open contest that respected a model of transparency.
4. The Biennial is an established brand, which is hard to change its hierarchy and rules. At the same time the national representation is a very efficient branding tool, which was appropriated by the political establishment from the countries that constitutes the Venice Biennial’s “VIP club”, it also serves the commercial interests of the Biennial’s organizers/owners as well for the political ambitions of all the countries. We could only hope, but in my opinion I don’t notice any signs of change of the actual policy of Venice Biennial and it is hard to anticipate that something progressive will happen in the future.
1. Cannot disagree! National participation in Venice provokes a certain discourse on local art scene: Who? How? How should it be? However it is so, that participation in this international exhibition is not a reflection of the art process of the country itself, but a mirror of established hierarchies and mechanisms of cultural process of the country.
2. Everything is possible
3. I didn’t see this exhibition…
4. I was delighted to get the invitation from the curator of Moroccan pavilion and to contribute to the project ‘Working for Change’… I worked on this project with the very easy feeling… But, would I have the easiness if I was invited to the project by the cultural ministry of Ukraine – I don’t think so. And in this hypothetical tension I blame the states with their outdated approaches to culture rather than the international exhibition – the Venice Biennale.
statement about the vastness of the Biennale is the opinion of someone
who came in the three preview days, possibly while on the way hurrying
to Basel. In fact, nothing prevents one to arrive in August and see everything
in a week, which I’m personally going to do this year and what many of
my friends who are tired of the atmosphere of the preview days will do
2. As a person from Russia, I categorically refuse to use the term "titular nation", even as a joke. In fact, I can say that you are deeply mistaken. This year, I conducted a public and private poll of critics and professionals, who have been to Venice, and they all pointed out the national pavilions (as opposed to the main project); many of them tried to see lesser known pavilions, in particular, those that were not in Giardini, and many have succeeded to do so. Furthermore professionals strive to see things that they cannot see in the main project and what they have heard a lot about (for example, because in the previous year it was an interesting project, or because the country attracted attention politically or just because someone saw something, and told everyone about it). This is not a purely positive process (after all, this is largely a market strive in pursuit of "fresh meat"), but it is absolutely real, therefore no one should sit back and complain about the lack of attention (I would have rather understood complains about lack of funding).
3. I have not been to Venice yet. Hope to see everything later this year.
4. I believe that if the Venice Biennale suddenly abandoned the national pavilions, and consisted of only a general exhibition, made by one curator (as is the situation in all other biennials), a celebration of geopolitical hierarchies in its worst form would take place. All other things being equal, artists from lesser-known regions simply would not have a chance to be seen and heard, only because the curator normally would not have enough time and budget to travel to all possible regions, and so he would rely on what he already knows (in case of Asia it would be Asia, in Switzerland it is Switzerland, in Sao Paulo it is Latin America and so on - now not the globalization of the biennials takes place, but on the contrary, their regionalization). Lament the fact that there are geopolitical differences is just as productive as complaining about the differences in the status of national languages, and require that everyone should speak your mother tongue (Russia, as it is known, sometimes has such claims). Of course, when communism begins, nations will disappear, all countries will unite in a single community and will even manage to make it so that the center of this community will not be in Moscow, Beijing or New York, but everywhere equally; that's when everything will be completely different. But for now the world is divided into countries and languages as a temporary concession to an unfair order, from which, (as it’s usually the case) a certain amount of dividends can be extracted.
1. I cannot speak to these two questions directly, as I suspect each country's art scene is unique, but I would say that national participations at the Venice Biennale are an important way of being part of the dialogue about contemporary art. The world's art critics, curators, and commentators focus their attention on Venice for a few days, and it is a good opportunity to present a professional audience with thoughtful art (or art in thoughtful presentation, as with the Central Asia Pavilion). As an arts correspondent covering the Biennale, I appreciate being able to see and create dialogues between the arts presented by each country. I do not attribute national values to the art, preferring to approach it on a work-by-work basis; if the country of origin usually gets mentioned, I hope that stereotypes are avoided, if not overturned.
First, I am not convinced that most attention is paid to the pavilions.
The international curated show (this year by Bice Curiger) is at least
as important a focus, judging from column inches of commentary in major
English-language journals and web-based magazines.
3. I did see this exhibition. I was very favorably impressed by the theme, and would have liked to see more artwork that directly addressed the issue of visual art versus written communication -- of art as an antidote to the hegemony of English. As an English-only American, I appreciate being catered to (even Taiwan videos have English subtitles!), but I am concerned about the dampening of cultural expression if it must be filtered through English to find a broad audience. Unlike the issues raised by national pavilions, the effect of the Lingua Franca / Frank Tili on contemporary art is rarely addressed by art commentators, and needs to be. I congratulate the Central Asia Pavilion curators for tackling this important issue.
4. Where does the money come from to bring the artwork to Venice? Would it be better to have the Microsoft Pavilion, the Stolichnaya Pavilion, the Ferrari Pavilion? At least with government- or arts agency-supported national pavilions, there is the possibility of a selection process that is influenced by knowledgeable people in each country's art scene. Two other points. First, we should recognize that increasingly, national pavilions present art by non-nationals: this year, Israeli Yael Bartana is in the Poland pavilion; the American pavilion hosts two Puerto Rican artists; the American-born Elizabeth Hoak-Doering is one of two artists at the Cyprus Pavilion; and the Danes invited 18 artists from 10 countries to fill their space. In 2009, Germany turned over their entire pavilion to English artist Liam Gillick. In part this may be symbolic, but if we are going to critique national pavilions for perpetuating a hegemonic symbolism, let us recognize that different games can be played on the same board. Savvy curators can reconfigure the meaning of nationalism itself, at least temporarily and over a limited space, by continuing this trend of inviting "foreigners" to exhibit at national pavilions at the Biennale. Second, we have seen tentative movements toward internet-based projects. Not so many in 2011, but in 2009, the Catalonian pavilion, Padiglione Internet, DropStuff.org and an internet radio station all suggested fresh thinking about creating communities. Perhaps younger curators like yourselves can imagine new ways to connect with curators elsewhere, and create a dynamic counter-biennale!
1. First of all I must say that I strongly believe that visual art is today is the main force of production of the false consciousness of the global capital and the image colonialism. The Venice biennale is the mediator of this position! So the old idea of the nation doesn't seem to be taken from the critical position anymore as it creates tremendous capital. The other thing is the censorship being the normal state of affairs, as it happened in the pavilion of Azerbaijan Republic. It is just strange: the pavilion like an embassy, which is visited by the president at night and in the morning couple of pieces are censored! No reaction from the Curator or the Director of the Biennale! All the fuss is made by the press which is really marginal to art or to any kind of activism...
2. Yes, it is possible and some pavilions, outside the Arsenale and Guardini attracted a lot more visitors. To be honest, Azerbaijan pavilion had the most successful opening, because of very experienced artists and their attractive work, although curating was the worth ever!
3. YES, I liked it a lot. And i find the curatorial solution to the absence of Turkmen artist by replacing it by the TV: when artist doesn't work, media rules!
4. I already answered to this above!
1. For the countries, newly appeared on the world map, the Venice Biennale has enormous legitimizing significance. In terms of representation this significance can only be compared with hoisting of the national flag in front of the UN Headquarters in New York. This explains that very special attention the national pavilions attract in their own countries. A chance to access symbolic capital of this scale, even in the framework of one single exhibition, presents a capacity that can be invested in modernization of institutional system, restart of some functions or establishment of new structural instruments on the national art scene level. It is known that art scenes in newly independent countries are poorly marked and structured. Two year cycle of repeated operations (appointment of the commissioner, identification of curator and selection of artists, etc.) increases the efficiency and regulates the institutional system of local art-scene. Thus, just a single exhibition can become a driving engine of the entire art scene.
2. I would say that the task is not so much in breaking this cultural hierarchy. Let’s take this hierarchy, existing on the representational surface of contemporary art, as something similar to monarchial tradition present in the political reality of some nations, while respect, paid to some titular nations, let’s consider as tribute for their contribution to the history of avant-garde and contemporary art. The more important thing is what the artistic communities of newly emerged states can propose, how they can respond to this situation. Can they initiate a discourse, formulate an agenda and propose practices that in their originality in formulating questions and approaches will generate a ray of hope that is so needed to overcome the crisis in the world in general, and in the world of art in particular? Is it possible to transform the dominating in the art-economy centre-focused and based on controversies and collisions of signs representational means of production to communicative and interdisciplinary space in which the preference will be given not to colorful and vociferous feast, but to the daily creative work? However, it doesn’t only depend on art’s own tendency to take new responsibilities outside of production of the symbolic. It also implies modification of other niches of social activity.
Yes, I saw the exhibition. I think that appearance in 2005 of the Central
Asia pavilion was a kind of challenge to the Venice Biennale as it introduced
a regional approach to the world art forum previously structured exclusively
according to the national principle. Central Asia pavilion opposes horizontal
surface of regional cooperation to the vertical structure of the Biennale.
Apart from the political aspect, this approach also reflects the situation
on the art scenes of the Central Asian states: on one hand there are some
active artists and curators, on the other – absence of the developed institutional
environment in each country. I don’t think that this regional initiative
would’ve been possible if developed local institutional contexts existed
in each country. I was also impressed by the curatorial approach to conceptualization
of the challenge of presenting in one expositional space artists from
so different contexts and with such varied individual experiences. The
effect of such Hegelian method of transforming problem into resource is
Is it better instead of the Venice Biennale to have another transnational
forum like Istanbul or Sao-Paulo biennials? There is the main curated
exhibition of the Biennale, which is somehow similar to those forums,
but the Venice Biennale is a unique phenomenon in the art world because
of the national participations. This format is powered by the geopolitical
process taking place outside the art world, such as emergence of new states.
In this nexus, somehow, takes place that division of the sensual between
the political and the aesthetical, that Jacques Rancière talks about.
Translated from Russian by Adrienn Hruska and Georgy Mamedov
|54th Venice Biennale © 2010-2012 Central Asia Pavilion|