The Pavilion of Chile at the 55th Venice Biennale
By Martin Macdonald
As expected from Alfredo Jaar (Santiago, Chile, 1956), his immersive site-specific installation Venezia, Venezia (2013) at the 55th Venice Biennale’s Pavilion of Chile is at once socio-politically charged and thought-provoking. In an increasingly globalised world whereby complex networks operate, the cultural sector remains problematic for many reasons - particularly because many developing nations feel they are inadequately and unfairly represented on the world stage. Whilst Jaar’s work is a critique of the systems at play, namely the national pavilion model at the Biennale, Venezia, Venezia also offers a glimmer of hope.
Housing around 30 national pavilions, the Biennale’s pumping heart - the Giardini - tends to be more popular than the rented spaces around the city where many additional nations showcase their art. Chile itself has rented a space in the Arsenale. Although part of a less exclusive club, these nations are at least represented via their own pavilions.
Upon entering the Chilean Pavilion, the visitor is confronted with a light-box photograph of Argentinian-born Italian artist Lucio Fontana (1899-1968) who having visited Italy in 1946, emerges from the rubble of his studio. This post-apocalyptic scenario - a result of the WWII bombings is visible for all to see. Despite such destruction, humankind’s will to rise from the ashes, rebuild and start anew is clearly being alluded to here.
Echoing Venice’s famous bridges, the visitor then goes up steps and across a bridge-like structure leading to a large pool of greenish liquid of the same tone as the water flowing through Venice’s canals. At regular intervals, a scale model of the Giardini momentarily appears if only to be submerged once again under the green sludge.
Curated by Madeleine Grynsztejn, the Lima-born Pritzker Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Venezia, Venezia is foremost a critique of the Biennale’s national pavilion model rather than a reflection of the city’s physical sinking under the Venetian lagoon’s green tides. The photograph of Fontana is actually a symbol of hope and renewal – a message not only that the Biennale needs to catch up with the times but also that culture as a whole requires a re-think.
Jaar envisages that the Biennale’s national pavilion system will slowly fade away and echoing the globetrotting curators and artists of today, the Giardini will become a park of exhibitions whereby curators will call artists from all over the world to exhibit their works. The green sludge of Venezia, Venezia therefore binds long-held, old-fashioned traditions as well as gives hope for renewal in this globalised era. Like the German Pavilion itself, the Chilean Pavilion serves as a critique of the national pavilion system but in quite a different manner.
Based in New York since 1982, Alfredo Jaar’s work has been exhibited at the Venice Biennale (1986, 2007, 2009), Sao Paulo Biennial (1985,1987, 2010) and Documenta (1987, 2002). Solo exhibitions include the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (1992), Whitechapel, London (1992), Moderna Museet, Stockholm (1994) and Museum of Contemporary Art, Rome (2005). In 2012, a major retrospective of Jaar’s work was held in Berlin at the Berlinische Galerie, Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, and Alte Nationalgalerie.