ArtReview sent a questionnaire to artists and curators exhibiting in and curating the various national pavilions of the 2015 Venice Biennale, the responses to which will be published daily in the lead-up to the Venice Biennale opening.
Alfredo Cramerotti and Olga Jurgenson are the curators of the first National pavilion of Mauritius. The pavilion is in the Palazzo Flangini, Cannaregio 252, Campo S. Geremia.
What can you tell us about your exhibition plans for Venice?
AC & OJ: For Mauritius, we planned a Pavilion based on the idea of aesthetic canons and cultural value judgement - elements that can easily be either overlooked or dismissed in an event like the Venice Art Biennale. It will be a Pavilion with contrapositions of canons, styles, artistic approaches and cultural motivations. Importantly, counter placing built-in models of aesthetic appreciation and evaluation will be exploited through the artworks.
Are you approaching this show in a different way as to how you would a ‘normal’ exhibition?
OJ: Very much so. The project was born out of our dialogue, the 'urge' to talk about difference in cultural and even aesthetic canons, why these differences are there and how we approach them. We wanted to put Mauritian artists in the centre of attention, by inviting established European artists to create a work as a direct respond to a work of a Mauritian artist.
AC: It's quite easy to 'dismiss' a certain approach as naive, immature or wanting to play hardball with geopolitical issues, without really understanding what's going on in that region and why certain tendencies have developed and are there. Being that manifestation either a political and activist approach or a more transcendental and spiritual one - incidentally, both very present in the Mauritian artistic scene.
What does it mean to ‘represent’ a country? Do you find it an honour or problematic?
AC: Well, a bit of both really. You have expectations and measurements upon yourself, but at the same time it’s a fantastic opportunity to test things out, to see how far you can go, to ‘project’ in the strict, etymological sense of the term, where you throw something in one direction, aiming, but cannot completely control or be sure where that thing is going to land. It’s a process of self-discovery, of awareness as well as trust-buliding.
OJ: I agree with Alfredo, it’s both. I really love Mauritius, I was there twice, for the first time – 7 years ago, when was in a residency as an artist. I have met many local artists, familiar with what art scene can offer or not to offer there. Having a little bit different background myself (from former USSR) I can understand what it feels like to be an outsider in the Western Art world.
How are you approaching the different audiences who come to Venice – the masses of artist peers, gallerists, curators and critics concentrated around the opening and the general public who come through over the following months?
AC: For the Mauritian Pavilion, that’s part of the idea and the plan. To have such different audiences, with different backgrounds, expectations, criteria of value judgement, is crucial for the Pavilion to work fully. I expect audiences to be disoriented, moved, upset and even displeased, as it will be difficult to grasp an ‘identity’ or a precise aesthetic approach that speaks for the Pavilion as a whole.
OJ: Appreciation will be superseded by questioning the constellation of approaches, techniques, genres and typologies - from ‘transcendent art’ to activism and political movement, from high-end modernism to research-based works.
AC: Every step will sort of negate, or at least question, the precedent. The idea is that one will only be able to grasp the Pavilion as a whole by taking a step back, and reflecting on her or his own mental models for artistic appreciation. Hopefully recognising the patterns at work.
What are your earliest or best memories of the biennale?
AC: Gosh. I’m from Trento, in the Alps — not far from Venice. I remember seeing the Biennale on top of my older brother (a graphic designer) when I was probably eight, ten max — means in the 1970s! I remember vaguely some works placed in courtyards and in public spaces. My best memories are the moments with people I like and respect — not necessarily art professionals. Venice works for me as a catalyser of relationships, actions, thoughts. It’s a bit of a whirlwind really.
OJ: My first experience was relatively recent: 2009, and I was totally blown away by it. It’s not only the greatest place to experience what art world has got to offer, but also to meet up with the colleagues you otherwise would have to travel to many countries to see. Everybody comes to the preview, it’s an amazing event.
You’ll no doubt be very busy, but what else are you looking forward to seeing?
AC: In Venice, Okwui’s show. I am truly looking forward to experience it. Also the Icelandic and the Estonian pavilions in particular, since I've worked with the people recently. I've just curated the Sequence Festival in Reykjavik, and I was part of the selecting jury for Estonia.
OJ: It’s the main exhibition (curated by Okwui Enwezor) of course. Also, Pavilions of Russia, Estonia –I am from the area and worked in Russia quite a lot in the past few years. British Pavilion is always in the plan, as I am based in the UK, and others too, of course.
How does a having a pavilion in Venice affect the art scene in the country?
AC: It really effects partly on the ‘measurement’ about how much one country is taking care of and investing in its contemporary artistic potential, also funding-wise; and partly on the idea of having an effect, and not only a position in culture. With every country being a segment of a much bigger global narrative, this can be quite important for future generations (not only of artists).
OJ: I really hope this will bring more interest and support to contemporary art scene in Mauritius, will encourage local artists to be involved in contemporary art. Hope that the Pavilion won’t be a one-off, but will come back to the Biennale every 2 years.
Online exclusive published 9 May 2015.