Ghost Pavilion – A Publication for phantoms, stories and fading topographies in and beyond Latin America

  • 21.04.2017

Latin America is not the only continent currently suffering from an identity crisis. Its vulnerability in the world order is not just a recent malady; it has always been the fundamental cause for this so-called crisis. A present example in the cultural sector is the death of the IILA pavilion for Latin America. As it officially will not be actively participating in the upcoming Venice Biennale, unlike in years past, a symbolic and social diaspora will overtake the void caused by lack of funds and political unrest. These issues are mentioned in the official statement as justification for the offensive lack of interest of the member countries to exhibit this year. The IILA (Instituto Italo Latino Americano) is, as it has been for many years, a solitary case.

One single pavilion at the Arsenale for an entire region, encompassing numerous national borders: What criteria justifies its existence?

The apparent marginalisation of the Latin American pavilion at the farthest end of the Arsenale, as well as the dislocation from the establishment of Latin-American artists that are meant to represent this geographical context represented by the IILA, reveal the decay of an apparently unified idea behind a Latin American pavilion.

The concept of the continent has been apparent in almost every exhibition curated for the IILA within the last decade. What could possibly connect Latin American countries and their artists for a show, besides the phantoms of cultural transgressions, social marginalisation and the geographical hierarchies within a continent?

Ancestral voices of the Andean and Amazonian regions have already pronounced the decay of this concept. Two years ago, the artists invited to the Latin-American Pavilion commissioned audio-documentations of lost indigenous languages instead of showing their own works at the Arsenale of the Venice Biennale. A digital archive on Google Arts & Culture of the featured projects for the 2015 IILA exhibition can be found online (1).

The name of the exhibition, “Voces Indígenas” (Indigenous Voices), was alarmingly arbitrary, as it automatically homogenised the roles of the represented peoples and representing artists. An aspired decentralisation of cultural values remains wishful thinking. Instead, it conveys exactly what is still problematic within the entire structure of the national pavilions at the Venice Biennale. Instead of creating vital liaisons, it only contributed to further isolating the nations from each other.

The case of the absent Latin American Pavilion awakes a ‚mémoire involontaire’ (2) of artists, curators and authors from the region who advocate for contemporary discourses and practices in the arts: Its absence turns into an autobiographical trauma, into stressful moments of frustrated past projects, emotional disorders towards colonial and postcolonial conditions, into an iconic reminder of the lack of infrastructures for the arts to play the fundamental role it should have within society, and feeling - last but not least - somehow responsible for an effective change.

“How does the geographical position of the countries mirror traceable geopolitical alliances — past, current, and maybe even future?” This question lead artist Jonas Staal to create a downloadable app for an ideological guide to the Venice Biennale in 2013 (3).

The research contributions to the ideological guide are made mostly by people with incidence in the discourse of art beyond national borders and who demand a just transparent exchange between artists, curators, institutions, markets, states and companies. The unequal pairing of governmental and financial, corporate and intellectual representation and presence within the ideological guide does not need comments to be added. The list speaks for itself.

However, institutional turbulences of underrepresented countries at the Venice Biennale are unfortunately not only recurrent at international level, as obviously visible, but also inherently affecting local infrastructures within the various countries. These are only three of many questionable situations and examples of the diplomatic labyrinths of getting things done in Venice, ergo deep within the system of the distribution of art.

In 2015, Rosina Cazali invited curators and artists to sign an open letter to the directors of the Biennale regarding the irregularities within the pavilions of Guatemala, Costa Rica and Ecuador, which all took part of in the global exhibition under questionable conditions. While Guatemala’s exhibition was curated by Daniel Radini Tadeschi, even though he proved a lacking relatIon to actual concerns with the country’s cultural context, Ecuador was being informally represented by María Verónica León, claiming to have organised an exhibition of her own works with the support of the cultural embassy of Ecuador in Italy, while none of the local Ecuadorian diplomats were aware of the artist’s claims or actions.

The Pavilion of Costa Rica, on the other hand, was literally kidnapped by functionaries who voted in favor of an opaque professional behavior between the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design in San José (MADC) in their own interest (including an attempt to invite Romina Power as a participating artist. This sounds like fun, if it would not be at the cost of everyone invested in an autonomous cultural scene in the country.)

If previous public demonstrations or theoretical frameworks will not allow networks to create real and fruitful modes of participation for Latin American artists to operate within other cultural contexts without feeling automatically responsible for the ‚collective identity‘ of the entire continent, then we should turn to the contemporary logics of hybrid cultural contexts and art practices in the post-internet world. For them, it is presence, not representation, that is the essential purpose.

To broach the subject of presence, we - Reflektor M and its collaborators, Ediciones Popolet - have decided to put ghosts in the place of concrete debates related to national narratives and concerns surrounding the construction of a common language for an entire region. Reflektor M invited around 25 international artists, authors and curators to awaken haunting presences in their own stories of ghosts. Ghost Pavilion is thus not catering to the discussion of whether the IILA should be re-activated or not for the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019.

The contributions by Maria Thereza Alves, Ayami Awazuhara, Marlon de Azambuja, Adrián Balseca, Sol Calero, Ilich Castillo, Post Brothers, Mateo Chacon-Pino, Federico Del Vecchio, Gürsoy Doğtaş, Ana María Gómez López, Delfina Fantini, Ignacio Gatica, Quisqueya Henriquez, Rodrigo Hernández, Eduardo Jaime, Andrés Komatsu, Martin La Roche, Engel Leonardo, Zöe Claire Miller, Seth Price, Pablo José Ramirez, Pablo Rasgado, Tálata Rodriguez, Oscar Santillán, Marinella Senatore, Karina Skvrisky, Iza Tarasewicz and Iris Touliatou are intrinsically bound to a common territory shaped by personal experiences of a certain landscape. Their works shape an alternative to the redistribution of political roles in 2017 for artists and curators at the Venice Biennale, opening up the frame of the Latin American pavilion towards a less representative and more relational one. As a compendium of stories, the publication appears as a timeless magazine, holding its breath of what could not be, of what could be, and of what remains.

Ghost Pavilion will be presented in Venice during the opening week of the Biennale at Café Paradiso, with a lunch reception on May 12th, at 1.45 pm. A copy of the Ghost Pavilion and a ticket for the flying lunch can be purchased via RSVP only / Limited space.