Pavilion of Catalonia – The Venice Biennial Ideological Guide
By Peio Aguirre and Rosa Lleó
The Pavilion of Catalonia was initiated in 2009 under a coalition government of three left-wing political parties, two of them Catalan nationalist parties. The city of Venice, with its history as an independent Mediterranean city-state, and the relation of the 19th century Catalan artist and designer Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo with Venice (Palazzo Fortuny) were the perfect historical pretexts for Catalonia to become part of the Eventi collateralli (the so-called “Collateral Program” for stateless states), positioning itself next to other territories such as Scotland, Wales, and Taiwan.
The Institut Ramon Llull – a public body founded in 2002 by the Government of Catalonia with the aim of promoting the Catalan language and its culture – managed and funded the project. Following the ethical guidelines for art institutions and museums released at the time by the Spanish Minister of Culture, a committee of experts was appointed. They developed the foundations of Catalonia’s participation at the Biennale and selected, through an open international call, a proposal that reflected critically on the symbolic territory of Catalonia and on new forms of relations that questioned the concept of identity in contemporary communities. The 2009 exhibition, “The Unavowable Community,” reflected on the idea of the “communal” and moved beyond the unsustainable notion of the nation-state. Although Catalan artists have been participating in previous editions at the Spanish Pavilion, this new pavilion showed the openness towards national and regional representation that current contemporary art calls for.
Two years later, the Institut Ramon Llull integrated another Catalan-speaking territory: the Balearic Islands; a decision that did not take into consideration the political consequences of that move, considering that the Balearic Islands had a conservative and non-nationalist government. As a result, the 2011 edition hosted a shared pavilion for both regions, which lasted only for one biennale edition. This year marks the third edition of the pavilion featuring a project that touches upon the current economic crisis in Spain, where the unemployment rate has grown terribly to 25% in Catalonia. The project, entitled “25%,” aims to tackle that social situation through the life of eight selected examples of unemployed people, using artworks from the collection of the MACBA Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona chosen by these eight people as objects of inquiry. Beyond its opportunistic and paternalistic intentions, this exhibition, conceived by curator Jordi Balló, artist Francesc Torres and filmmaker Mercedes Álvarez, touches upon an ineluctable situation in current Spain; the intensification of the long and polemical historical debate about the configuration of the Spanish nation-state.
Reorganised during the so-called Spanish Transition to Democracy (1975-1982) the Spanish nation-state was conceived as an inclusive mosaic of regional ethnic plurality and diversity, something that has been contested by different nationalistic groups within the state, mainly the Basque but also the Catalan independence movements. The current financial crisis in Spain has recently given rise to Catalan independence movements (both from the right and the left) which have pushed for a referendum on independence in 2014. If the Catalan pavilion is intended to work as a pre-enactment of the future sovereign state, what can it tell us about its conflicts and successes?