Venice Biennale 2013

Strata (public sculpture by Renata Kaminska)

by Nadim Samman

The founding of the Venice Biennale was perhaps the first cultural regeneration project – and it is a model that continues to inspire copycats from Sharjah to Guangzhou. Founded in 1895, taking its cue from the Great Exhibition of 1851, it emerged from the century of upheaval and ignominy that followed Napoleon’s crushing of the Venetian Republic in 1797. No longer a maritime power with imperial dominions – its strategic importance eclipsed by alternative systems of control – the city was depressed until it was cannily rebranded as a realm devoted to the festive business. Today it is host to countless parties, carnivals and conferences for its demographic majority of temporary visitors, and in recent years the all powerful biennale secretariat has expanded its roster of events to include biennales of dance, architecture, sound and film. With so much on offer the visitor has always missed out on something. Is this overproduction?

The question does not apply to Venice alone. Europe’s living capital of contemporary culture, Berlin, fares similar – and away from Aegean glamour the issue takes on more social relevance. The city’s current identity is, in no small part, built upon on the aspirations of a migrant artist workforce that have been drawn towards an increasingly untenable economic siren call. The famously cheap rent and incomparable social benefits are gradually being eroded. You can’t go to a nightclub, market or exhibition opening or without hearing the word gentrification on someone’s lips.  Something that looks suspiciously like a property bubble is emerging thanks to an influx of speculators hoping to capitalize on the city’s ‘lifestyle’ – and artists complain but continue to pave the way, enlivening the urban fabric with their projects. The posters announcing their contributions, on lampposts and street corners, are testaments to their collective enthusiasm. They accumulate in layers, like geological strata but laid down much quicker. The lampposts in Mitte are palimpsests of self-realization and enticement, and it is their example that constitutes Renata Kaminska’s contribution to Catherine Lorent’s (Luxembourg Pavilion) invitation in the courtyard of Ca‘ del Duca.

Kaminska has relocated a particular batch of layered posters from outside her studio in Berlin to the courtyard of the Ca’ del Duca. As a Polish national based in Germany her participation in the pavilion is exceptional – the result of her being invited by the Luxembourgian artist Catherine Lorent. But she has made this liminal status vis a vis the context of the ‘national’ exhibition the subject of her artwork. The resituated German posters are like the artists who travel to the biennale or Berlin in the hope of recognition. They also seem to stand for national representations at the biennale in general: They have come a great distance in order to be at the centre of something, and yet so many find themselves eclipsed. Those who endeavour to scale the peaks of the artworld’s attention economy all too frequently become the ground upon which others build their edifices. Our cultural topographies are mutable and fragile – here today, disappearing the next.
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