CEE / Discovery

57th Venice Biennale | Eastern Europe

We are very happy to announce that curator and artist Walter Seidl will be contributing to the #viennacontemporaryMag in the upcoming months. In the first post he writes about the presence of Eastern European artists at the Venice Biennale

The question of national identity as a concept that was valid when the Venice Biennale was founded in 1895, has lingered throughout the 20th century with its wars about national and ideological sovereignty, but has been subject to scrutiny towards the end of this millennium in the wake of post-colonial theory and discourse.

The 1990s saw the difficulty of re-positioning Europe by questioning its former East-West divide. This problem has permeated the Venice Biennale ever since 1989, especially regarding former Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, which have been divided into different states but solved their identity construction in different ways. While the former Czechoslovak pavilion alternates in presenting Czech and Slovak art each time, the Yugoslav pavilion has been claimed by Serbia because of Belgrade having been the former capital of a national entity in the process of disintegration, while the other states which evolved out of former Yugoslavia constantly have to fight for their space in the vast area of the Biennale and the city of Venice.

Dealing with the re-positioning of Europe in the wake of the current refugee crisis, one of the collateral events by NSK (Neue Slowenische Kunst) aka IRWIN coinciding with a lecture by Slavoj Žižek has been the most adequate response to the political developments in recent years. In a designated space at the University of Venice, visitors have to climb up a 45 degree-angled platform designed by Turkish artist Ahmet Öğüt, thereby facing metaphorical challenges in relation to the insecure fate of migrants in order to answer questions regarding notions of Europe and to finally obtain an NSK passport for this “NSK State in Time.” As a collateral event realized in collaboration with the Wiener Festwochen, a temporary passport office in conjunction with an installation by Ramesch Daha and Anna Jermolaewa have also been realized at Vienna’s newly founded ARCC.art space, which testifies to the constant necessity of launching new spaces for artistic representation.

Apart from this “Slovenian” interference into the Biennale, the country’s official contribution in the Arsenale by Nika Autor shows a very striking filmic take on migratory structures, referring to a train line for commuters between Ljubljana and Belgrade from the 19th century, where refugees are currently forced to travel hidden between the train wheels.

In the opposite open pavilion structure by Croatia, Marko Tadić’s interest in the history of modernist architecture and its utopian potential led to an intriguing installation that combines found footage in a flickering film and slide projection embedded in a studio-like setting. In his installation for the Kosovo pavilion, Sislej Xhafa erected a wooden hut with a counter and a telephone that never rings, reminding of the 1667 people from the Kosovo war who are still missing and whose birthdates are listed in an accompanying publication.

While the latter three states managed to be represented in one of the core venues of the Biennale, Montenegro has kept its place close to Palazzo Grassi whereas Bosnia & Herzegovina managed to be represented again after four years of absence with the “University of Disaster” by Radenko Milak in collaboration with IRWIN’s Roman Uranjek near San Marco. This entanglement of sorts demonstrates how the ties of a former national territory are still valid despite the changing parameters of space and time and how the Venice Biennale constantly changes the number of national contributions and their intertwining structures.


Photo: Jane Štravs

Walter Seidl, lives in Vienna. Studied cultural studies (MA) and contemporary history (PhD) at universities in Graz, Seattle (photography), Paris and New York. Seidl works as artist curator and artist. His photographic and video-based work deals with the transformation of image politics and the identity constellations inherent therein.
Seidl curated numerous exhibitions throughout Europe, North America, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Africa. His writings include various catalog essays for artist monographs, exhibition reviews, and criticism. Seidl contributes to several international art magazines, most frequently to Camera Austria, springerin and Život umjetnosti.


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21 – 24 September 2017
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