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The Art of Exchange: Germany at the Venice Biennale

The Art of Exchange: Germany at the Venice Biennale

Picture of Rebecca Jagoe
Updated: 27 January 2016
With national borders no longer impenetrable divides and globalisation the contemporary watchword, the curator for Germany’s National Pavilion, Susanne Gaensheimer, has decided to focus upon the notions of cultural exchange and the representation of national identity. This year’s theme builds upon the exploration of international discourse: both through the international artists invited to represent Germany; and through a unique move in collaboration with the French Pavilion.

For the past decade, Germany and France have been discussing the idea of a cross-cultural dialogue between their pavilions, and this year sees these aims realised as the two countries exchange their pavilions for one year only. The unprecedented move was announced last year after it was unanimously supported by the artists represented, with the press release for the Institut Francais stating ‘the curators as well as the artists feel committed to the vision of a common European culture in the larger framework of a global cultural community.’ Gaensheimer’s choice of artists too is fundamental to the Pavilion’s theme of cultural exchange. She has invited Ai Weiwei, Romuald Karmakar, Santu Mofokeng and Dayanita Singh, who hail from China, France, South Africa and India respectively. All four artists exhibit across the globe and their work is received on an international platform; furthermore, each artist has a significant working relationship with Germany. Collectively, their practices span sculpture, installation, photography and film, and while there has been no announcement of the formal plans for the arrangement of their works, it is clear that their selection is also based on each of the artists’ strong engagement within differing political spheres.



Fairytale, 2007, 1001 Chinese Visitors, Ai Weiwei

An artist of international acclaim who needs little introduction, some have feared that the choice of Weiwei might overshadow the other contributing artists. Nonetheless, Weiwei has long maintained strong artistic ties to Germany, exhibiting regularly in Berlin and Frankfurt. His interdisciplinary work embraces installation, film, sculpture, and relational aesthetics, and his reputation as a political dissident in China is intrinsic to his practice. For Documenta 12 in 2007, Weiwei invited 1001 Chinese residents to Kassel through his blog, with each staying for eight days over a period of three months. Titled Fairytale, the project resulted in a documentary that was produced by Weiwei, although the artist stated that the artwork itself lay in the everyday experiences of the participants as they wandered around Kassel during their stay. The film Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry provides further insight into both his activism and his art.


Go Away Closer, 2007 © Dayanita Singh, Frith Street Gallery

Dayanita Singh is a photographer and bookmaker who lives and works largely in New Delhi, though her work is exhibited internationally. The images Singh creates blend fact and fiction to weave a series of ambiguous narratives. Crucially, publishing remains fundamental to her practice; unlike many photographers, it is often her primary choice of display, rather than simply an alternative means of distribution. For her most recent book, The House of Love, Singh worked closely with writer Aveek Sen, and the result is a work of nine photo-stories ‘designed to blur the lines between an art book of photographic images and a work of literary fiction.’


Between the Devil and the Wide Blue Sea, a film by Romuald Karmakar, Film still, 2005 © Pantera Film GmbH

Romuald Karmakar is a French filmmaker working in Germany. Born in Wiesbaden to an Iranian father and French mother, his output embraces documentary and fiction, yet is always underpinned by a dominant historical or political backdrop. His acclaimed films have been celebrated in both cinematic and artistic spheres; The Flock of The Lord was shown in the 2011 Venice Film Festival, while his work has also been screened at the Centre Pompidou, and in 2008 MoMA included Das Himmler-Projekt as one of the 250 most important acquisitions of the museum.


Buddhist Retreat near Ixopo, 2003 © Santu Mofokeng, MAKER/Lunetta Bartz, Johannesburg

Whilst the South African artist’s output is manifested in photography of landscapes, to describe Mofokeng’s work as ‘landscape photography’ would be to simplify what are, in fact, deeply conflicted investigative images. Usually working in his national terrain, Mofokeng’s often black and white photos explore notions of memory, power and ownership. Much like Singh, his work integrates both real and constructed scenes, and though often using allegorical tropes, Mofokeng examines a sense of belonging within a landscape.



The German Pavilion was designed by Daniele Donghi, an architect of the Venice City Council. Built in 1909 to host Bavarian artworks, it has shown German works since 1912 and in 1938, ownership of the pavilion transferred to the German government. It was rebuilt under Nazi direction following the design of Ernst Haiger, with the desire for a more modern building: this politically contentious past has often influenced the exhibiting artists. The French Pavilion, where Germany will be exhibiting this year, was designed by Faust Finzi and constructed in 1912: its aesthetic ties in more conservatively with the conventional Venetian architecture. The discourse between the two countries will no doubt produce fascinating results. Liberated from the respective histories of the pavilions, the participating artists for both France and Germany will perhaps further be able to fulfil the curators’ ambitions for a cultural exchange on an international scale.



German Team

Artists: Ai Weiwei, Romuald Karmakar, Santu Mofokeng and Dayanita Singh

Commissioner/Curator: Susanne Gaensheimer.

Venue: Pavilion at Giardini



About The Culture Trip’s Venice Biennale Project

The 55th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale will take place from 1 June – 24 November. The Culture Trip’s Venice Biennale Series is an article series leading up to the start of the exhibition. With 88 countries participating in this year’s Biennale — 10 of them for the first time — and 150 artists from 37 countries, our coverage over the next couple of months will highlight a selection of the National Pavilions that will be participating in the 2013 edition of the Venice Biennale. Watch this space for our daily Venice Biennale updates or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest!



By Rebecca Jagoe


Images courtesy of Germany National Pavilion;

1: Fairytale, 1001 Chinese Visitors, Gottschalk-Hallen, ladies dormitory, mixed media, 2007/Photograph by Ai Weiwei.

2: Go Away Closer, © Dayanita Singh, Frith Street Gallery, 2007.

3: Between the Devil and the Wide Blue Sea, a film by Romuald Karmakar, Film still, © Pantera Film GmbH We see Nina Rai from the band ‘XLOVER’, 2005.

4: Buddhist Retreat near Ixopo, 2003 © Santu Mofokeng (b. 1956), MAKER, Lunetta Bartz, Johannesburg.