Reflections on the Venice Biennale 2011

Fassler_234w Barbara Fässler in Eurozine:

The more complicated matters become, the more things pile up and meanings get difficult to decipher, the more necessary it becomes to devise an itinerary of one's own and select a grid that is completely personal. In a situation where certainty and clarity are lacking, where there is no opportunity to gain a detached view, it becomes essential to follow Ariadne's thread guiding us like a red line through the wanderings of the labyrinth. But it has happened to me numerous times that on coming out in an exhausted state from one of the biennials or one of the documenta, I encounter an art critic, curator or journalist firing comments like a machine gun: “It's weak this year… a festival of mediocrity… a heap of material without meaning and an absence of any curatorial idea or guidelines whatsoever…” or things like that.

My immediate reaction has always been: “Why don't you change your job?” and “It's time you learnt how to look”, or even “Get your brain involved and use it.” I've also thought that one could seek to develop some sort of measure for quantifying the combined efforts of all the artists in order to contradict this type of judgment which sounds more like prejudice and which often is not based on genuine experience from exploring in depth and trying to understand what is in front of them. You could, for instance, ask all the artists present how much time they had invested in the works on display, and for how many years they worked as artists prior to being invited to participate in the Biennale. The sum of hours/days/decades, or indeed centuries, could almost be a quantitative indicator, even if – admittedly – it is no longer a measure of quality.

It has taken some time to understand that this position of the critic is probably – more than inability – to some extent a kind of survival reflex. To review a show such as the Biennale in its totality, with its 83 artists (of which 32 are women and 32 under the age of 35), 89 pavilions and 37 collateral events is simply impossible. To pretend to be able to manage to do this is a form of megalomania. I think that the only way of getting out of this is to make precise selections based on themes, trends or reflections which may have been sparked off by particular aspects of the various curatorial concepts, rather than specific works or pavilions. Therefore when faced with the boundless variety I decided to investigate three themes: the problem of light, the notion of nation and the principle of interaction.