An Interactive Performance during the 57th Venice Biennale
Preview Days May 8-12
Open to the public from 13 May to 16 November 2017
Tunisia is present at the 57th Biennale di Venezia – an international exhibition of contemporary art, for the first time since 1958 thanks to the patronage of the Tunisian Ministry of Cultural Affairs. The pavilion is presented in an atypical fashion and away from the traditional spaces exhibiting artists’ works, in the shape of a symbolic and interactive action. The intention is to provide a jumping-off point for discussion around the topic of ‘frontiers’ and to highlight the spirit of the Biennale itself: a world without borders.
Split across three kiosks, the pavilion takes on the form of an art performance by nine young Tunisians who have been affected by migration. Alongside established artists, they represent Tunisia, which had been absent from the Biennale di Venezia for nearly 59 years. Thanks to its unique concept, the Tunisian pavilion received wide acclaim right from the opening of the Biennale, as is evident from numerous press articles and the following figures:
- 40 000 ‘Freesas’ (universal visas) issued over 110 days, which will further increase during the remaining 87 days.
- Over 93 media outlets around the world covered the event, including The New York Times, The Wall-Street Journal and Le Monde.
- Over 7 000 Facebook likes and over 2 500 followers on Instagram within the first month of the Biennale.
During its biennale, Venice morphs into an outdoor amphitheatre seeking to represent - through a number of national pavilions - the world in miniature and as a place where human beings may move freely and unfettered from one nation to the next.
It is within this context that the Tunisian contribution is placed. Recognising that Tunisia has been a place of migration throughout its history and continues to be in its present time, it was necessary for us to engage the international public in Venice in issues related to the abolition of geographical and cultural frontiers, the denunciation of intolerance and the defiance of the notion of the Other at the heart of the migratory phenomenon. We took it upon ourselves to make visitors reflect on their own way of travelling and the paths they follow in this world, to evoke in them the desire to belong to a human community that seeks new possibilities to redraw borders and renegotiate outlines.
On this occasion, our country raises the question about rethinking the notion of territory, by presenting a performance entitled The Absence Of Paths, during which visitors have access to a dream of a migratory nation at three symbolic spots. In line with the desire to abolish frontiers and with a perspective that goes well beyond Venice, the reflection continues in an interactive online platform that introduces works by artists and intellectuals in a variety of forms ranging from essays to audio recordings.
“I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.
Whoever brought me here, will have to take me home.”
Maulana Rumi (1207-1273)
The Absence of Paths, Tunisia’s first national pavilion since 1958, challenges contemporary political order through an interactive performance intended to inspire further enquiry into human movement. Curated by Lina Lazaar, commissioned by The Presidency of the Tunisian Republic and the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, The Absence of Paths marks a continued partnership between the public and private stakeholders in Tunisia’s flourishing Art community.
Through a process of reductionism, The Absence of Paths makes use of Venice’s representation during the 57th Biennale as a microcosm of our planet. Leveraging the existence of the various national pavilions, as well as the multiethnic, culturally diverse, and intentionally transient ‘visitors’ accessing the island of Venice, The Absence of Paths presents participants the means to lodge an artistic challenge towards the reinvigorated strands of nationalism at the forefront of sociopolitical activity today. The Absence of Paths will further enable each and every participant to continue their personal protest, beyond Venice, in the most sacred of national forums -their passport- and to shed the baggage of national identity that is stifling our collective human consciousness.
“I continue to be inspired by Pangaea, and imagine a world connected in the truest sense of the word,” states Lina Lazaar. “How should we deal with our interconnectedness, and during these cyclical periods of separation, remain true to our common heritage? The reminder that we are all ‘Only Human’ is the inspiration behind the Absence of Paths, and with some luck, will be the panacea participants will take with them, through their every step.”
The Pavilion, in part inspired by Tunisia’s destination as a migratory launch pad into Europe, is a-typical in its physical manifestation, set away from the Aresenale and the Giardini, ensuring an experience that is everywhere and nowhere, a project void of traditional art or artists. The majestic, art-empowered, open-air theatre that is Venice, buzzing with visitors on the move, from one national exhibition, to the next, is at the heart of The Absence of Paths. Tunisia’s contribution - a thought experiment that can only exist through the prism of the Art world – is being curated to include, among others, real life contributions from aspirant migrants. This has been the most powerful, yet challenging, component of what is intended to be a waltz between the city of Venice and her many stage actors.
The debate extends beyond the physical space of Venice, through an interactive online platform which will feature text, video, audio, recipes, and photography collected from a wide range of thinkers, and will serve as a meeting point for visitors around the world.
At 10.30 each day from 9 – 12 May, short readings and performances will take place at the pavilion. A full programme and locations will be announced in late April.