- Digital Formats
Acting on behalf of the Federal Foreign Office, ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) has played a decisive role in positioning the German Pavilion at the Biennale Arte in Venice since 1971. Since 2009, ifa has also acted as the pavilion’s commissioner, assuming overall responsibility for the major project.
The contribution of the German Pavilion has already been awarded the Golden Lion seven times, among these four times as the best national contribution: In 1984 Lothar Baumgarten (Commissioner Johannes Cladders), in 1986 Sigmar Polke (Commissioner Dierk Stemmler), in 1990 Bernd and Hilla Becher, in 1993 Hans Haacke / Nam June Paik (Commissioner Klaus Bußmann; best national contribution). In 2001 Gregor Schneider (Commissioner Udo Kittelmann; best national contribution), in 2011 Christoph Schlingensief (curator Susanne Gaensheimer; best national contribution) and in 2017 Anne Imhof (curator Susanne Pfeffer; best national contribution).
Over the past fifty years, the visual arts department has worked with each respective artistic team to coordinate and realize altogether twenty-three German contributions to the Biennale.
As of now, there is an archive of the restored original websites of the artistic positions of the Biennale years 2007-2019. These contributions of the past years can now be experienced and researched anew. It is moreover a key address for scholars, journalists, curators, and artists interested in the history of the Biennale. Over the coming months, additional materials on the German Pavilion (1972-2005) will be successively put online.
“ifa bundles the extensive knowledge about the German Pavilion. This is where the experience, expertise and stories acquired in 50 years of coordinating the German contribution to the Venice Biennale are collected and preserved. As a repository of knowledge, ifa is thus the central point of contact for artists, curators, scholars, and journalists concerned with the history of the German Pavilion. Through its practice-oriented research on biennial topics, the publication of important reference publications, and its networking activities, ifa also provides valuable impulses to the biennial discourse.”
Dr. Ellen Strittmatter, Commissioner oft he German Pavilion and Head of the Visual Arts Department
“A kind of schizophrenia has always been typical of my work and my life. If I limited myself to one thing only I would simply get bored, my mind would be starved of inspiration. Between music and image, people and language, the healthy and the infirm, the funny and the sad I always need to be given the chance to state the opposite too. To my mind, everything in the world is ambiguous.” (Christoph Schlingensief, May 2010)
After his death in August 2010, curator Susanne Gaensheimer and Aine Laberenz — Schlingensief’s wife and for many years, his closest collaborator — decided to not exhibit Schlingensief’s sketches and proposals for the German Pavilion, but rather, to show existing works. The selected works offer insights into central aspects of his multifaceted oeuvre.
In the main hall of the German Pavilion the stage of the Fluxus oratorio A Church of Fear vs. the Alien Within, which Schlingensief conceived for the 2008 Ruhrtriennale were presented. In A Church of Fear vs. the Alien Within, Schlingensief uses his own personal experiences to contend openly with the universal and existential themes of life, suffering, and death. The play’s stage, which consisted of many film and video projections and a multitude of sculptural, spatial and pictorial elements, offered viewers, more than any other of his stage-sets, an all-encompassing total installation. One of the pavilion’s two side wings featured a movie theatre where a program of six selected films from different moments in Schlingensief’s career were played on a large screen: Menu Total (1985–6); Egomania (1986); the Germany trilogy of 100 Jahre Adolf Hitler (1988), Das deutsche Kettensägenmassaker [The German Chainsaw Massacre, 1990], and Terror 2000 (1991–2) and United Trash (1995–6). The pavilion’s left side wing was dedicated to Schlingensief’s Operndorf Afrika, his opera village in Africa. Alongside photographs and documentation of the already realized parts of the African project — and in conjunction with selected scenes from Via Intolleranza II, Schlingensief’s last play in which he collaborated with actors from Burkina Faso — this portion of the pavilion featured a large-scale panoramic projection of footage of the natural scenery surrounding the construction site of the opera village. Website 2011
Susanne Gaensheimer presented in critical examination of the meaning of traditional forms of “national representation” in national pavilions at La Biennale di Venezia, the format of the national pavilion as an open concept in which Germany is to be understood not as a hermetic entity but as an active participant in a complex, worldwide network. With Romuald Karmakar, Santu Mofokeng, Dayanita Singh and Ai Weiwei Susanne Gaensheimer invited four international renown artists from four different countries who all challenge the notion of the unambiguous biography and of the specific national or cultural identity. They also explore the dissolution of particular concepts of identity precipitated by modernization and the globalization of their respective realities.
Romuald Karmakar has been producing works that grapple with German history, German themes, and German identity for almost three decades. In his films he shows that political ideologizing is no longer contained within national boundaries. Dayanita Singh’s iconography is shaped by a way of life in which India’s social and familial traditions collide with the contingencies of modern life. The photographer’s travels all over the world and itinerant existence have influenced her life and work more profoundly than ties to her native Delhi ever did. Santu Mofokeng’s photographic series reveals how transnational developments, cultural traditions, and personal destinies can clash head on. His photographs show how the restrictive reality of life under apartheid also influenced the spiritual identity of black South Africans and how trauma and memory are now inscribed in the landscape itself. The loss of cultural identity caused by the Cultural Revolution and transformation of Chinese society brought about by breakneck modernization are central themes in the work of Ai Weiwei.
At the initiative of the French and German foreign offices and on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, the German Pavilion was to be housed in the French Pavilion, and vice versa. Website 2013
Works of art by Olaf Nicolai, Hito Steyerl, Tobias Zielony and the artist duo Jasmina Metwaly & Philip Rizk transformed the German Pavilion 2015 into a factory (german: Fabrik) of
reproducing images, whose objective is not merely to represent reality, but to change it. The notion of the factory provides a link between the four artistic positions, all of which reflect on the concepts of economy and work in their own way. They reveal the flaws in our interconnected and globalised world and, with completely different approaches, turn their attention to the circulation of images, goods and human beings. At the same time, all of them hold on to the “human medium“ as a real agent and protagonist of change.
The factory had various production sites at its disposal: Workshop – Olaf Nicolai’s installation and performance “GIRO”, Print Unit – Tobias Zielony’s work “The Citizen”, Motion Capture Studio – Hito Steyerl’s video installation “The Factory of the Sun” and Rooftop 1&2 – , Jasmina Metwaly’s and Philip Rizk’s sculptural intervention “Draw It Like This” is the name of the and the film and sound installation “Out on the Street – Variationen”. Website 2015
Gazes cross, but no communication ensues. They perceive others, but there is no recognition, no acknowledgment. Post-gender, individualized, peculiar and yet stereotypical: such are the human figures in Anne Imhof’s paintings and scenarios. Noises, sounds, and compositions lend a rhythm to the spaces and bodies, synchronizing them in a dilated time loosely structured by narratives. The spaces limned by bodies and sounds and the architectural space overlap, interpenetrating until a brief instant of congruence is reached, only to break apart moments later. Imhof envisions the pavilion as a body whose contours can be displaced. The action is contingent; everything might be different at any moment. The purport of the movements is at odds with their form, revealing their rehearsed character. They fluctuate between the viscous mundanity of everyday life and mysterious rituals, between schematic, remote-controlled procedures and individual malfunctions, between uniformity and punk. Aligned with the group, an aimless individuality persists. They may sing together, but their song is of the I. The bodies in Anne Imhof’s pieces are subjects locked in an everlasting struggle against their objectification—ruled by capital, they yet defy their unremitting optimization. Strained to the point of bursting or gone limp, these regimented and fragile bodies appear as a material molded by pervasive yet invisible structures of power. At the same time, media representation is innate to these bio- techno bodies: they seem forever on the verge of transformation into pictures ready for consumption; they aspire to become images, digital commodities. Anne Imhof confronts the brutality of our time with a hard realism. Her scenarios visualize the constitution of the body in the demarcation of material and discursive, of technological, socioeconomic, and pharmaceutical boundaries. Imhof thus reveals the space between body and reality, the space where our personality comes into being. Website 2017
How can community beyond totalitarian unity and uniformity be thought of? The curator Franciska Zólyom takes up a position for the reflection on such questions that activates aesthetic research in concrete social contexts, yet not only analyses or comments on social, ecological or political conditions, but also seeks to shape these. She has selected the artist Natascha Sadr Haghighian, who plays with and questions identities, and for the purposes of the German contribution calls herself Natascha Süder Happelmann. Natascha Süder Happelmann unfolds the poetic, imaginary and critical potential of art and encounters attempts to interpret it hastily with an amiable multiformity. Her work is articulated in text, image, space and sound. Her voice is full of advocacy when she raises an objection. In her art, she creates a strong presence in order to take a back seat in acting and speaking with others as an amplifier. She works chiefly with installations and performatively. She addresses the collective and transdisciplinary aspect of artistic work through collective processes. For example, six musicians of different musical traditions and styles created contributions on the whistle for the sound installation ‘tribute to whistle’. The rhythms and sounds can be heard in constantly shifting, ever-changing overlapping constellations. Three videos by Natascha Süder Happelmann mark the stages on the way to a transit camp. They bear witness to places such as transit camps in Bavaria and link them with tomato plantations in Apulia and the rescue ship Iuventa, which is stuck in the customs port of Trapani. Website 2019