The Garden of Reality in Venice: The German Pavilion

Venice is always an amazing place. It is awesome to see people getting lost in the calli and canals, fighting over the last tote bag from the Korean pavilion, getting drunk at 11 am with prosecco and eating only tramezzino crumbs. Ok, it’s been nice, but there’s a whole Biennale to see and in spite of the activities mentioned above, I think I could have left out most of the opening events of this 56th Venice Biennale. For sure we enjoyed the sun, spending time with friends — but the Biennale and its formula have something that needs to be reviewed. The main show: ‘All the World’s Futures,’ curated by Okwui Enwezor, for instance, has failed my expectations. But this is not an article about Enwezor, it is an attempt to analise the “Garden of Reality” inside the Giardini. We are not talking about the mobile trees by Céleste Boursier Mougenot in the French pavilion, but about the national pavilion right in front of it. As you’ve guessed, we are talking about the German pavilion, curated by Florian Ebner. I want to use the trope of the garden as a Synæsthesia. Mixing sensory inputs in an impossible perspective. Such as asking ourselves how the images in this exhibition sound. Obviously this exercise is only possible if you compare the German pavilion with all the others. Because only in this comparison it is evident how the (German) garden of reality is real. In the main exhibition, or better, in the intents of Okwui Enwezor, the relation between historical times (past and future) had to be central but, as I said before, something went wrong.


Venice Biennale's Central Pavilion

Venice Biennale’s Central Pavilion


Let’s start from the basement, where the video installation “Factory of the Sun” (2015) by the Berlin-based artist Hito Steyerl is hosted. The video is screened in the large dark ‘basement’ of the reconfigured German Pavilion – a high up mezzanine which led down to three ground-floor chambers – with grids of blue LEDs that create a Tron-like environment where viewers can lounge on deckchairs. In her video installation, Hito Steyerl makes use of the notion of sunlight seeking to show symbols and cryptic meanings connected to it.


Factory of The Sun, ©Hito Steyerl, Courtesy: the artist; Foto: Manuel Reinartz, German Pavilion.

Factory of The Sun, © Hito Steyerl, Courtesy: the artist; Foto: Manuel Reinartz.
One-channel video, 23 mins, HD video pro rez .MOV file. + motion capture studio with a blue, illuminated grid in the space + free-standing projection architecture, sunloungers, and beach chairs.


The video deals mostly with our digital present or better, it deals with the idea of death in our digital era. Is the internet dead? Are dead people really dead? And what is death in the digital era? Hito Steyerl measures the potential of the Internet against its “deadly transparency.” The video has the shape of a videogame, everything seems to be immaterial, it seems to have the same immateriality of light. The light that is, at the same time, a medium of information and a lethal tool of destruction. Even if the tension between reality-fiction is always present in the video — a big superimposed notice “This is reality” appears several times during the screening — it is not entirely clear where reality lies. Is reality what we’re seeing? Is the videogame real? Is reality this dark room we’re sitting in?


Factory of The Sun, © Hito Steyerl. Courtesy: the artist, German Pavilion

Factory of The Sun, © Hito Steyerl. Courtesy: the artist.


Factory of The Sun, © Hito Steyerl. Courtesy: the artist, German Pavilion

Factory of The Sun, © Hito Steyerl. Courtesy: the artist.


This year, the German Pavilion is strictly connected with German history and identity. And if Hito Steyerl shows how the tension of this theme exists in the digital environment, another artist — photo reporter Tobias Zielony — solves this problem in a more traditional, documentary way. Tobias Zielony’s series “The Citizen” deals with the presence of ‘the Other’ — here embodied by African refugees. Zielony’s view is directed towards the self portrayal of these people, their personal stories, their entitlement to be taken seriously as political subjects in Germany. The video installation “Out on the Street” by Jasmina Metwaly and Philip Rizk is an attempt to study the reality of workers today. The artists seek to show the conditions of the labour market in our time, contextualizing the entire narration in a factory that has been privatized and is being wound-up. The theatrical act of Olaf Nicolai is a choreography made possible by three figures living on a roof for seven months. These characters perform a mysterious activity, a shadow economy enacted under a glistening sun.

The pavilion then seeks to start a reflection on the notions of work, migration, and revolt. A garden, as I said before, is where an analysis of reality is possible. A garden as a factory, according to the title of Hito’s work, is a vanished or virtual factory of imagination, or a factory for political narratives and for analyzing our visual culture.

56th Venice Biennale Arte, Venezia. May 9 – November 22, 2015


Tobias Zielony, The Citizen, 2015 , Courtesy the artist and KOW Berlin, German Pavilion

Tobias Zielony, The Citizen, 2015 , Courtesy the artist and KOW Berlin

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by Vincenzo Estremo
in Focus on Europe

Wed Development by Digital Art Factory