The Venice Biennale Ideological Guide 2013

The Ideological Guide to the Venice Biennale consists of a free application for iPhone and Android that provides information on the political, economic, and ideological framework of all national pavilions of the 2013 Venice Biennale.

The Venice Biennale is an international art event modeled after the world fair and organized every other year. The first edition took place in 1895, making it the oldest Biennale in the world. In 2013 this cultural manifestation comprises about ninety national exhibitions, each attributed to a specific country. These pavilions may be considered to function as embassies, where each country showcases the artists it believes to be most representative for the current developments in its art sector.

The presence of national pavilions makes the Venice Biennale unique among the many other art manifestations. The position of the pavilions relative to each other reveals in a remarkably accurate way the history of transnational alliances by which states continue to promote their political, economic, and military interests. The organization of pavilions is reminiscent of the former colonial empires and their present day continuation, with the United Kingdom, Spain, and The Netherlands holding key positions in the famous “Giardini:” the most central and luxurious part of the Biennale grounds. Countries that were not at the height of their power during the crucial phases of development of the Venice Biennale, such as newcomers like Iraq, Mexico, or Macedonia, find themselves marginalized in the more obscure parts of Venice, their pavilions hidden in the back-ends of the city. With important powerful newcomers such as China, which lacks a self-owned pavilion, and India, who this year is not even participating, kept at a distance, the Biennale can be seen as a key battleground where the war for cultural hegemony is waged on all fronts.

The organization of the pavilions of the Venice Biennale may be interpreted as an allegory of the global political order. In this context, curators and artists become ambassadors and the artworks landmarks in the field of global political power play. The orchestration of national pavilions in Venice is more accurate in mapping the current global political order than the countries’ actual geographical positioning. Art in the context of the Venice Biennale does not imagine the world “differently” but rather more accurately than it often presents itself. The geographical representation of Venice Biennale, in other words, could be regarded as an alternative map of the world.

Every two years, hundreds of thousands of visitors travel to Venice to inform themselves on developments of contemporary art. The Ideological Guide to the Venice Biennale aims to provide these visitors with the tools to read into the global-political hardware of this manifestation. How has the organization of pavilions been decided upon?, Why has a particular artist been selected or curator appointed? How and with what kind of money has the exhibition been funded and how do these choices relate to the current social and political situation in the country? And how does the geographical position of the countries mirror traceable geopolitical alliances — past, current, and maybe even future?

Articles on each pavilion written by prominent artists, theoreticians, critics, and philosophers from all over the world, accompanied by maps providing a new insight in the way underlying geographical politics respond to the different contextual and subterranean aspects of the Venice Biennale, its history, architecture, programming, board, funding, and so on. The Ideological Guide thus provides an ideological blueprint of the art manifestation through which the artworks presented can no longer be considered sovereign objects, but rather instruments in the geopolitical chessboard of the Venice Biennale.

Project by Jonas Staal.

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