by Devanshi ShahJul 05, 2022
A strange silence welcomes you to the German Pavilion 2022 at the Venice Art Biennale. It makes you question where the “artworks” are. Shouldn't there be objects on pedestals or on the floor, hanging off the walls and ceilings? It is a strange claim to make but if one were to look closer, the ‘artwork’ is revealed through the act of uncovering and exposing. German artist Maria Eichhorn’s project Relocating a Structure consists of numerous components to dissect in spite of its supposed emptiness. The pavilion's curator, and art historian Yilmaz Dziewior, spoke to STIR and commented on inviting Berlin-based Eichhorn for a solo exhibition, saying, "I started to think about the format of the show and the special context that the German Pavilion is. I looked at who I could invite, but in the end, it was very clear to me that I wanted to invite Maria Eichhorn. The situation with the German Pavilion, it is very loaded and very special.” He continued, “Eichhorn in her artistic practice very often analyses the context she exhibits. I knew I would not show art for art's sake. I would not just put paintings on the wall.”
Eichhorn's site-specific and large-scale installation art at the Venice Biennale 2022 is a careful deconstruction of the pavilion's history. The carefully chipped plaster or the excavated floor are not acts of destruction but rather an act of revelation. Reminiscent of an archaeological recovery, Relocating a Structure requires a dive into the past.
The pavilions in the Giardini are in many ways frozen in time. Since its conception in 1907, the Giardini now hosts 30 national pavilions, the German Pavilion was one of the first to be built in 1909, by Daniele Donghi, as the Bavarian Pavilion. In 1912, under the architrave proclaiming the Bavarian Pavilion, the structure was rechristened Germania, the exterior facade and overall form of the pavilion remained largely unchanged. However, in 1938 the structure underwent a fascist facelift. It is this moment that Eichhorn uses to attempt to unravel the iconoclastic impact of architecture. Under the direction of Munich architect, Ernst Haiger, the Neo-classical facade of the German Pavilion was fundamentally changed. The redesign, which is also the current design, of the pavilion slides more towards what we might call Empire Architecture, a revival of Greco-Roman elements with more grandiose proportions, to signify monumental proportions. It is important to create a distinction here. While a rear extension was added to the main space, the most visible change is to the facade and the overall scale of the pavilion. This was done by increasing the height of the pavilion by a third and enlarging the portico. Understanding these changes to the pavilion's architecture is fundamental to understanding Eichhorn's intervention.
The exposed brick walls and foundation reveal the joinery between the 1909 and 1938 sections. This comes as a physical manifestation of a year's analysis and examination by Eichhorn and conservator Giuseppe Tonini. Before settling on the exposed architectural elements part of Eichhorn's process involved two experimental proposals to physically move the pavilion. Two conceptual studies can be viewed in the exhibitions catalogue, one by Henrik Hachenberg, of Pirlet & Partner and another by Maurizio Milan, Silvio Manfrinato and Letizia Artioli of Milan Ingegneria S.p.A.
Hachenberg's proposal is a complete deconstruction of the pavilion building itself. Milan and Silvio's proposal sees the entire structure lifted off from its current location and relocated to another part of Venice. Dziewior elaborated on this process explaining, "What you may consider the final form, it is one part of the whole project. For Eichhorn, it is important as the project consist of several parts. We started the project with a lot of research, we went through the archives to understand the history of the pavilion, the Venice Biennale, but also the current context of the biennale."
He elaborated on the proposed relocation saying, "Part of the project is the relocation of the pavilion. We worked on the concept of relocating, which meant removing the building during the period of the biennale, putting it somewhere else, and at the end of the biennale putting it back again. We got two studios onboard to work on real concepts. One proposed moving it as a whole, another to move it in parts and of course to put it again. This is as much a part of the project as what you see at the biennale."
Dziewior’s curatorial reach and Eichhorn’s intervention extend beyond its physical presence at the Giardini. In addition to the exhibition catalogue that documents the process and research, the project also involves a series of tours through the city of Venice titled Places of Remembrance and Resistance. Dziewior explained, "The tours through the city of Venice take one to anti-fascist monuments in Venice that commemorate the cruelties of the fascists, and the German troops. This is also a part of the project."
A contemplation that would occur to anyone who has perhaps visited the Art and the Architecture biennale, would be about which biennale is this particular project better suited for. It was a question we posed to Dziewior who responded, "Actually, what is interesting is that the curator of the architecture pavilion, Anh-Linh Ngo, has written our catalogue. So, the question is apt because there is a strong interconnection, in Maria’s piece between art and architecture. This is quite natural because if you exhibit this architecture, which has such a political language, one can understand why Maria choose to deal with the architecture. There is a strong connection.”
The deceptively simple intervention of the German Pavilion presents numerous portals of contemplation. From considering the value of architecture as an archive and political document to questioning if the installation itself would be better suited for the Venice Architecture Biennale. The latter is perhaps a larger and more academic question, how and more importantly who decides what is art and what is design. Is there a pH scale to measure a large-scale installation art-ness? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
The 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, titled The Milk of Dreams is open to the public from April 23-November 27, 2022, at the Giardini and the Arsenale, Venice.
Click here to read more about STIRring Dreams, a series of articles by STIR that explore some of the best presentations at this year's edition of the art biennale.