Question 1. (Manca Bajec and Isobel Wohl) Ralph Rugoff writes that this year’s exhibition, entitled May You Live in Interesting Times,‘will no doubt include artworks that reflect upon precarious aspects of existence today, including different threats to key traditions, institutions and relationships of the “post-war order.”’ How do you feel that the work that you are presenting as part of your curated project responds to this set of concerns? (Or, for curators, how do the curatorial choices you have made respond to this set of concerns?)
Alicia Knock: Maybe the cosmos is not so extraordinary by Albanian artist Driant Zeneli is a response in itself, as it expands out from the first Albanian science fiction book, published in 1983 at a time when people had no real access to images of space conquest. It directly challenges Western history and memory, introducing alternative narratives around what we consider truth, or staged truth if we think of the passionate debates over the first steps of man on the moon.
Driant's film installation follows the journey of five teenagers manipulating a supposed 'space shuttle' in the mine factory of Bulqize, a desolate city in Northeast Albania where chrome has been extracted since Communist times. Emancipated from expected political narratives (Cold War or local communist propaganda), space travel here becomes a way to dive into the infinite as a potential space for doubt and failure, seen from a chaotic reality. The project engages the unresolved space between the very outlines of the real and an open-ended vision of cosmos, between dystopia and myth, beyond mere scientific or political discourse.
Question 2. (MB and IW) What does it mean for you as an artist, a curator, or a curatorial team to represent your country? How does the structure of the Venice Biennial, with its individual national pavilions, influence your choices as a participant? What does it mean, in terms of the current state of European and world politics, for us to emphasise national representation in the arts sector? I do not represent the country where I was born, that is, France. It is a statement in itself, for me and Driant, as we both believe that national frames today are not relevant regarding art practice. This is also something we are addressing in the catalogue, envisioned as an artists’ book, where Driant’s project is expanded through other contexts.
Knock: I do not represent the country where I was born, that is, France. It is a statement in itself, for me and Driant, as we both believe that national frames today are not relevant regarding art practice. This is also something we are addressing in the catalogue, envisioned as an artists’ book, where Driant’s project is expanded through other contexts.
We asked people to reflect on different notions of parallel futures resonating with the Albanian context and the connection between emancipation and failure (Nigerian magic realism in literature, Afro futurism in South African jazz, Cyberpunk in Latin America). We also invited around 15 artists to respond to the dystopian title of the pavilion. This was a way for us to create, beyond the ‘borders’ of the Biennale, a larger community mostly coming from southern countries, hinting at the mapping of chrome, the mineral—and bone of contention of Albanian politics and economy—that acts as the red thread of Driant’s film installation. This was also a response to Driant's first 'desire' as an artist in Venice: to build bridges.
Question 3. (MB and IW) How do the choices you’ve made in your national pavilion relate to recent developments in your artistic or curatorial practice? What do you hope that your creative decisions in this project will contribute to your work going forward?
Knock: This project is a way for me to think further about notions of context, to reflect on the porous layers between reality and fiction. How can local and other contexts be connected in a relevant way, without becoming simply—and sadly—‘global’? How can reality open spaces for transformative fictions and vice versa? I hope that the pavilion, expanded in the catalogue, can bring people together maybe in a future workshop, create virtual encounters and also real collisions. Maybe the book can be activated or performed at some point, and translate later into a future show!
Manca Bajec is an artist and researcher living and working in London, UK and Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Isobel Wohl is a visual artist and writer. She lives and works in London, UK and Brooklyn, NY.
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