Student Journal

CARTOGRAPHY DEFERRED The Venice Biennale as a Heterotopia


         It began as marshland in the Adriatic Sea. Around 400 CE people started to settle in the Venetian lagoon.  Initially a refuge for people escaping Attila the Hun and the “barbarians” of northern Europe, over centuries Venice grew to become a successful center of trade and commerce.  This city, which would go on to form an independent republic that would last until the invasion of Napoleonic troops in 1797, is described by historian John Julius Norwich as “the principal crossroads between East and West, the richest and most prosperous commercial centre in the civilized world.” [1] Centuries of warfare and commerce would eventually give way to leisurely travel and tourism, but throughout it all, Venice has functioned as a port for goods and ideas.  Greatly influenced by Byzantine culture, Venice has collected its histories while building its distinctive architectural topography. Over time this has resulted in a cultural waterscape unique in relation to any other Italian city. For those entering the city, transitioning from terra firma, or solid ground, to the canals and alleys of Venice is an experience that have awed visitors throughout centuries, and continues to amuse tourists today.  The ocean waters that gave birth to Venice consistently threaten to re-claim the city, affirming that this urban center did not emerge from a void, but maintains a dependency with its environment that could drown it at any moment.  Unlike other European cities built and developed during the middle ages, Venice does not have any city walls—just the sea for fortification.  This delicate balance between human architectural achievement and maritime phenomena is the foundation of a city that continues to function and develop as a center for cultural exchange.  The history of Venice resides in its spatial distribution, which has been built and re-built through series of architectural layers that have come to form the physical, geographic foundation of the Venice Biennale.

         How place is manifested in Venice, how its topography has developed and is experienced, informs the unfolding of Venice Biennale spatially and temporally.  The Biennale emerged during a transitional period between the wane of European colonialism and rise of capitalism in the nineteenth century as Venice, a city built on mercantilism, was attempting to promote itself as culturally and economically relevant.  While Venice informs the spatial distribution of the Biennale, the Biennale has come to modify the Venetian topography through its temporary exhibitions and historical legacy.  In turn, the Venice Biennale can be considered an integral part of the city’s fabric and its material relations.  As the second half of twentieth century witnessed the transition of former colonies to independent nations along with the rise of neoliberalism and a transnational information network, both the Biennale and Venice have adapted to these changes.  The maps of Venice and its Biennale exist in a living symbiotic relationship, creating counter-sites, or heterotopias, for national exhibitions of contemporary art that function as politicized geography that participate in material and power relations.  The temporal characteristic of the Biennale as a contemporary art exhibition event occurring every two years (with some exceptions) has resulted in a geography that is, as Jacques Derrida phrases it, sous rature, or under erasure—a cartography that is deferred.  Like the tides of the Adriatic Sea, the Biennale flows in and out of the Venetian alleys and palazzios, but with each iteration, it leaves it topographic marks on the city.  Gestures, which constitute the expression of material and power relations, have been involved in the creation of this terrain since its inception.  It is upon this terrain that the gestures of geopolitics associated with the Venice Biennale unfold. 

In this paper, I read the Venice Biennale as heterotopic place, focusing on the geopolitics of the event in relation to the physical geography of Venice.  Moreover, I examine the overlay of Biennale maps on top of the Venetian urban topography in order to explore the geopolitical relations revealed through location.  In addition to Michel Foucault’s definition of a heterotopia, I draw upon Irit Rogoff’s definition of geography as orders of knowledge and systems of power and Frederic Jameson’s model of cognitive mapping in order to examine the spatial distribution of the Venice Biennale in relation to place histories and geopolitics. During the Biennale, Venice becomes the site where institutional and national gestures of inclusion and erasure enact national and global relations.  As exhibition sites, the pavilions of the Venice Biennale and their respective locations, whether in the Giardini, the Arsenale, or scattered throughout the city of Venice, informs the reception of the art. At the Venice Biennale, the utilization of place for the presentation of art extends beyond the gallery to include the distribution of pavilions.  The Biennale transforms the city of Venice, but is also informed by its topography, cultures, and histories.  By reading the Biennale as heterotopic, it becomes possible to unravel the complex interactions that take place between various participants in relation to the city using geographic distribution as the guiding thread of analysis.

The Biennale and its relationship to Venice can be visualized as a series of layers.  These layers are not distinctive, but interact and intersect through innumerable foldings that comprise the cultures and histories of Venice.  At the base, there is Venice’s unique topography of canals and alleys.  Next, there is the art and architecture of the city that blends styles from distinct cultural regions, exhibiting Venice’s history as a site for cross-cultural encounters.  Venice’s legacy as a destination for travelers and tourists contributes to these cosmopolitan qualities.   There are the layers life activities that incorporate—though is not limited to—locals going about their daily business, the city’s urban infrastructure, and the mass of tourists who flock daily to this city reputed to be “the most romantic place on Earth.”  These performances comprise the sociological qualities of the city, creating cultural experiences that, like the city’s architecture and topographical qualities, are distinctively Venetian.



Satellite Image of Venice (Google Maps)

A Geographic History of Venice

   Venice originally grew from a series of villages in the marshes of the Venetian lagoon, tucked away in the northeastern corner of present-day Italy in the Adriatic Sea.  The city currently consists of 117 islands. The residents created the foundations for these buildings by submerging hundreds to thousands of posts into the marshy earth, pushed down through mud and sand until firmer ground could be found. Over time, these posts have petrified, continuing to hold up the many buildings that defy their surrounding terrain. [2]   Historically and today, the buildings are subject to the uncertainty of the ocean, including the ebb and flow of daily tides, rising water levels, and the slow sinking of the city. As a city that floats on water, Venice is comparable to an anchored ship—a floating site that is on the one hand contained by the parameters of its architectural accomplishment and on the other hand subject to the infinity of the sea.  Furthermore, Venice does not travel from port to port, but instead is dependent on whatever can be brought on board.  The intimate relationship of Venice to the ocean is an acknowledged quality of its culture, made explicit by the traditional Ascension Day performance of tossing a ring into the waters as a symbol of Venice’s marriage to the sea. [3]   Venetian life has always depended on the ocean to provide protection and sustenance, including its extensive mercantile trade network and a highly capable naval fleet.  During the mid-thirteenth century, Venice became an independent republic founded on trade.  According to Norwich:

And that trade […] owed its phenomenal success not to any territorial expansion but, paradoxically, to the very smallness of the Republic […] by virtually confining the Venetians to so restricted a space, it had created a unique spirit of cohesion and cooperation—a spirit which showed itself not only at times of national crisis but also, and still more impressively, in the day-to-day handling of their affairs. [4]

Without many natural resources except for the ocean itself, the channels of commerce would eventually transform into the canals of tourism.

Venice’s geographic and architectural history changed over time as additional places were made habitable and available for urban development.  The centuries long process of building up Venice has resulted in a blending of various architectural styles and inspirations throughout the city, including Byzantine, Medieval Gothic, baroque, neoclassical, and twentieth century modern.  Deborah Howard describes how the history of Venice is preserved in the fabric of the city itself: “like animal fossils petrified in layers of rock, so the life of the Venetian people through the ages is recorded in the architecture of the archipelago on which the city was founded.” [5]    This maritime port of goods and ideas developed into a center of cultural exchange that continues to attract travelers who marvel at the uniqueness of Venice’s architectural development.  The nature of the city, like the swamps upon which it is built, is amphibious—evolving and adapting in order to stay afloat in spite of the literal as well as economic and political tides. 

When Napoleonic troops entered Venice in 1797, Venice began to undergo a period of great political, social, and economic upheaval with the waning of the aristocracy and the beginnings of urban modernization inspired by Enlightenment principles. [6]   Significantly, this event marked the end of Venice’s existence as an independent republic.  The process of “revitalization” involved the destruction of Renaissance monuments and buildings that encapsulated Venice’s medieval heritage to make way for broader alleys, the Giardini, and building renovations including a new royal palace in the Piazza San Marco. [7] Napoleon’s reign of Venice, while short-lived, established certain attitudes concerning the modernization and industrialization of the city, [8] which came to inform the creation of the Venice Biennale.   After Napoleon, Venice would come under Austrian domination until 1866.  At this point, the city changed considerably as the medieval way of life made way for an era of technological modernization.  Many demolitions of notable historical buildings in addition to constructive changes were made during this time, including the arrival of the railway to Venice and the erection of iron bridges. [9]   These changes made the city able to accommodate a different type of traveler of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries—the leisure tourist who could easily enter and exit the city. The Venice Biennale is considered part of the initiative to attract tourists to the city as it attempted to establish itself as “an international centre of scholarship and the arts.” [10]   Venice has continued to change since the Biennale’s inception, with this art event participating in the shifting geographic terrain of the city through the development of the Giardini, the restoration of the Arsenale, and the introduction of official national pavilions and what the Biennale refers as “collateral events” in buildings throughout the city.  Concurrently with this push for innovation, there has been an increasing desire for preservation of previous architectural and artistic accomplishments, providing juxtaposition between contemporary aspirations and historical legacy that characterizes the setting for the Venice Biennale.

Moreover, the development of Venice resulted from the initial inhabitation of a waterscape, which through ingenuity became the site of urban construction.  Through the interaction of human action and technology with natural elements, the inhabitants of Venice were able to build about this marshy terrain in order to dwell and then thrive.  Martin Heidegger considers the human interaction with place in his 1951 lecture, “Building Dwelling Thinking.”  He states:

To be a human being means to be on the earth as mortal.  It means to dwell […] both modes of building—building as cultivating […] and building as the raising up of edifices […] are comprised with genuine building, that is dwelling.  Building as dwelling, that is, as being on the earth, however, remains for man’s everyday experience that which is from the outset “habitual”—we inhabit it. [11]

That is, the architecture that occupies the designated topography of Venice is more than just shelters for human activities, but are the result of dwelling.  According to Heidegger, “building as dwelling unfolds into the building that cultivates growing things and the building that erects buildings.” [12]    These buildings sited on the constructed “bedrock” of the city that contain remnants of histories and culture that are preserved, decay, sink, and are refurbished, resulting in an architectural blend of styles and techniques that trace Venice early Byzantine influence to the modernization of the industrial era, including the beginning of the Biennale, and present-day sustainability aspirations. 


Satellite image of the Giardini

Satellite image of the Giardini (Google Maps) 

       The Giardini is the geographic heart of the Venice Biennale.  This park, which was created by Napoleon, has hosted the Biennale since its inception.  The transformation of the gardens from a reminder of the fall of the Venetian Republic into a site of cultural exposition cannot be overlooked. This act functions as a gesture of reclamation that redefines an urban space created by the outsider Napoleon, turning it into something representing Venetian and Italian patriotic ambitions. Irit Rogoff argues that geographies are not neutral categorizations of space, but are “always gendered, always raced, always economical and always sexual.  The textures that bind them together are daily re-written through a word, a gaze, a gesture.” [13] The re-designation of the Giardini would be one of the first geographical gestures involving the claiming of space as a part of nationalist performance at the Venice Biennale, instigating a process that continues into the twenty-first century.  Gestures such as this play a key role in the “re-writing” of local space that comprises Biennale geopolitics. 

         The Giardini currently hosts 30 permanent pavilions that represent 34 countries. Starting with Belgium in 1907, nations began building permanent pavilions to be maintained by the host nations. The Giardini temporarily houses Biennale exhibitions while collecting layers of exhibition history.  Yanya Madra argues that the "very architectural forms that populate the Giardini of the Venice Biennale […] inadvertently reveal the traces of the overdetermined history of this oldest of all biennials." [14]   This history is informed by the evolving nature of political and economic relations from the late days of colonialism, to the struggles associated with the two World Wars and its aftermath, as well the era of post-colonialism when nations outside of the Europe were clamoring for international recognition. According to Vittoria Martini, the first wave of pavilions consisted of Belgium (1907), Hungary (1909), Germany (1909), Great Britain (1909), France (1912), Holland (1912), and Russia (1914). The second wave, which took place after World War I and during Italy’s fascist era included Spain (1922), Czechoslovakia (1928), the United States (1930), Denmark (1932), Switzerland (1932), Poland (1932), Austria (1934), Greece (1934), Romania (1938), Yugoslavia (1938), and Egypt (1938). A third wave of pavilion building took place in the Giardini after World War II, though was limited due to space restrictions.  The third wave consists of Israel (1952), Venezuela (1954), Japan (1956), Finland (1956), Canada (1958), Uruguay (1961), Scandinavia (1962), and Brazil (1964). Finally, despite spatial restrictions, Australia obtained permission for a pavilion in 1988 and South Korea in 1995. [15]  Martini notes that after World War II “every political change and re-establishment of borders was mirrored in the nomadic movements of the pavilions within the Giardini territory, and then of those located in the city within Venice itself.” [16]    For example, Israel requested a pavilion in 1948 just shortly after being a declared nation. Between 1947 and 1948, there had been talk of adding a Palestine pavilion, but with the creation of the Israel, Palestine was no longer considered an acceptable contender and Israel took its place. [17]    The Israel Pavilion situated next to the U.S. pavilion, a primary supporter of the state.  During this third wave of national participation, according to Martini, “never before had the significance of having a ‘national art container’ been so important.” [18]   National pavilions are more than just sites of exhibition, but offer the opportunity to participate in transnational network of art, politics, and economics.      

Map of the Giardini, 2011 Venice Biennale

Map of the Giardini, 2011 Venice Biennale 

Of Other Venices: the Venice Biennale as Heterotopic Place

Far from being the utopia of cosmopolitan co-existence, the Venice Biennale creates counter-sites both to the city of Venice as well as the nations that participate in the event. According to Foucault, a heterotopia is a counter-site or kind of “effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites […] are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted.” [19] The heterotopic place introduced by the Biennale overlay and incorporate the city of Venice, which is not an empty stage or blank canvas, but a unique urban landscape rich with its own blend of cultures and histories.  The Biennale involves the construction of place that brings together a variety of cultural and geographic places that would otherwise not occur.   The heterotopias of the Venice Biennale are characterized by its mappings of imaginary geopolitical landscape over the city of Venice.  Some of these places, such as the permanent pavilions of the Giardini and the exhibition halls of the Arsenale are officially designated spaces of the Biennale and primarily utilized for that purpose.  However, the architectural foundations of these places were not initially designated for this use.  Instead, the Biennale has appropriated these places and “refurbished” them for the specific use of exhibiting contemporary art.  These prior histories are not erased through the acts of appropriation, but form the foundation upon which the heterotopia emerges.   This can also be said for the multitude of off-site pavilions scattered throughout the city of Venice as these tend to be buildings temporarily “taken over” as exhibition sites, even though their previous usage may have been for non-art related purposes.  As Edward Casey points out, Foucault describes how heterotopias are both “absolutely different” from the surrounding places they reflect, while at the same time are “locatable in geographic reality.” [20]   Heterotopias are part of the fabric of a place, but simultaneously introduce an alternative site that may disrupt the material and power relations of that place.

         The Giardini’s designation as a public garden is also significant to reading it as a heterotopia. Foucault describes gardens as one of the oldest examples of heterotopias that “is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible.”[21]   Gardens are living installations that combine plants, water, and other natural elements in a single, manicured space that would not exist in any other state. The garden is a site that encourages life and growth, but also contains this growth within the parameters of the space.  As an urban garden in a congested floating city, the Giardini as a heterotopia provides a stark contrast to the city terrain just beyond its borders.  This contrast can be perceived through satellite photos of Venice, with theGiardini appearing like an island of green in a sea of red tiled roofs.   Unlike other gardens on firm land, the Giardini is fully constructed from the ground up, built like the rest of the city on posts above the delicate marshes, just floating above the surface of the ocean waters.  In this sense, the Giardini fulfills Foucault’s criteria of heterotopia as a human constructed parcel of land in a floating city that would not exist naturally. 

Hans Haacke—Exhuming History

       The collected histories that may contribute to heterotopic place can also become that target of institutional critique. Hans Haacke uses the histories of place as the inspiration for his work, Germania,which was presented at the 1993 Venice Biennale.  His installation involves the destruction of the floor of the German Pavilion.  By tearing up the floor, Haacke intends to evoke the Nazi regime’s remodeling of the Pavilion in 1938.  Through his destructive gesture of ripping up the floor, Haacke reveals national complacency through an institutional critique that makes the pavilion’s fascist foundation apparent. Instead of articulating these sentiments, Haacke uses an act of negation to resurrect the tainted history of the pavilion.  Like exhuming a corpse, Haacke’s destruction of the floor does not allow for Germany’s fascist past to rest in peace.  The inclusion of the term “Germania” (Hitler’s name for Nazi Berlin) in large, capital letters and a photograph of Hitler visiting Venice compounded Haacke’s intentions as well as alluding to Italy’s and the Biennale’s fascist history.  That year, Germany was awarded the Leone d’Oro for Best National Pavilion.


German Pavilion at the 1993 Venice Biennale

Hans Haacke, Germania, German Pavilion at the 1993 Venice Biennale


Image of Adolf Hitler included as part of Germania

Image of Adolf Hitler included as part of Germania by Hans Haacke

         Even though Haacke’s work makes specific use of the architectural space of the German pavilion, it is not bound to the physical environment.  Instead of being site-specific, which has universalizing tendencies as it is defines site as the material location, the work can be treated as site-particular.  For a work to be site-particular, it is not predetermined by conceptual or ideological constructs, and neither is it totalized in terms of physical form, which consists of a modernist definition of site as a neutral space experienced by a universal spectator. [22]   In contrast, acording to Ilya Noé:

[A site-articular work] is constructed performatively out of the exchanges between the artist, environment, and audience.  It is an ongoing series of interrelational and open-ended processes: always partial, always situated, multiply layered, often contradictory and messy, and produced by active agents negotiating between all kinds of positions and working through all kinds of relationships. [23]  

With the site-particular, emphasis is placed on the convergence of experience, situating the spectator in relation to the various conceptual, ideological, and material negotiations that participate in the construction of art.  

         Frederic Jameson describes how Haacke’s work can be considered a political variant of conceptual art that “redirects the deconstruction of perceptual categories specifically onto the framing institutions themselves.” [24]   Haacke’s installation makes exact use of the German pavilion, transforming the gallery into the work of art, which destroys the illusion of neutrality of the white cube.  At the same time he treads onto German’s legacy as a Biennale participant and reaches into the darkest corner of its twentieth-century history, baring the bones of trauma through the destruction of the pristine space.  Evoking Hitler through the inclusion of a photograph incorporates a recognizable symbol in Europe and the United States that for many is the ultimate face of evil.  Even if the spectator does not appreciate the significance of Haacke’s gesture of destroying the gallery floor, it is likely that she will recognize Hitler’s image and be able to associate the work in terms of historical significance.   Does the presentation of the Golden lion for this institutional critique function as a way for Italy to reconsider its own fascist past that greatly informed the development of the Venice Biennale during the early Twentieth Century? When Haacke dug up the gallery floor, was he revealing the hidden skeletons of the Biennale’s institutional infrastructure?  These questions arise from examining the interactions of gestures and material relations of power that are expressed in this site-particular work.   

Instead of viewing architecture as a container of space to be filled, Jacques Derrida proposes that it can be understood as an event—more of a happening than a thing.  In the essay, “Point de folieMaintenant l’architecture,” he emphasizes the now, or maintenantof architecture as opposed to a “properly architecutral moment, the hieratic impassibility of the monument.” [25]   He challenges the axiomatic understanding of architecture as “the trial of the monumental moment […] [that] connotes something stubbornly closed on itself in accordance with a fixed arche and telos,” [26] since it permits “no trace to appear on its body because it afforded no chance of transformation, permutation or substitutions.” [27] Architecture does not exist in a static state of preserved monumentality, but it is constructed and changes through interactions with the environment and its inhabitants in a dynamic process where places and spaces of movement that are “destined for events: in order for them to take place.” [28]   Moreover, Derrida’s concepts of spacing and deferral, which he originally proposed in terms of writing, can also be utilized when it comes to understanding the function of architecture and how it relates to experience. [29]   According to Derrida, understanding architecture as an event treats it as a “writing of space, a mode of spacing which makes a place for the event.” [30]   Taking this dynamic approach to architecture and place makes room for the gestures that accompany the experiences of dwelling.

Satellite Image of the Arsenale

Satellite Image of the Arsenale (Google Maps)

Growing Beyond the Giardini

         Once it became apparent that the spatial distribution of the Biennale was limited by the parameters of the Giardini, other exhibition sites were appropriated.  One of these sites is the Arsenal of Venice, also referred to as the Arsenale, which for centuries had functioned as the state-owned shipbuilding yard where masses of warships and mercantile vessels were created for Venetian use. Situated in the east of the city—and west of the Giardiniconstruction originally started on theArsenale around 1104 under the direction of Doge Ordelafo Falier.  According to Norwich:

Over the next half-century, there grew up the mighty complex of dockyards, foundaries, magazines and workshops for carpenters, sailmakersropemakers and blacksmiths that Dante described in the Inferno and that gave a new word to the English language and many others beside—the Arsenal. [31]   

The word emerges from Venice’s intertwined relationship with Middle Eastern culture, as it comes from the Arabic Dar Sina’a, which translates to “house of construction.”  With the founding of the Arsenale,the industry of shipbuilding would become standardized and localized in Venice, functioning as the industrial heart that regulated the city’s extensive seaborne networks.  At its zenith in the 15th century, it was considered the eighth wonder of the world and was the largest industrial complex of medieval Europe. [32]   As a city born of water, shipbuilding and its related industries played a key role in the rise of Venice from a city to a republic.  Norwich writes: “over the years, the Venetians always remained better and faster shipbuilders, more accurate navigators and more resourceful seamen than anyone else.” [33]   Norwich also points out that when it came to the construction and use of ships, Venice never differentiated between defense and commerce:

Her war captains […] were never averse to trading on the side—a predisposition which meant that many of her military expeditions actually paid for themselves—while her merchant vessels has always to be ready to defend themselves against pirates or, occasionally, competitors […] the warships produced by the Arsenal were endowed with as much storage space for additional cargoes as could be devised, and the merchantmen given plenty of provision for defence. [34]

Initially, the geopolitics of the Arsenale was informed by its shipbuilding industry that built up a fleet of ships that carried Venetian influence around the world.  As the site of production of these vessels, theArsenale was more than just an industrial center, it provided Venice with the means to extend beyond its geographic limits and acquire the resources necessary for a thriving urban center. 

         By 1600, technological changes in shipbuilding and warfare combined with the waning of Venetian military strength diminished the significance of the Arsenale as a site of production.  Even so, when Napoleon invaded Venice, he considered the Arsenale a prime objective, resulting in considerable damage to the complex. [35]   The Arsenale would continue to be in use well into the twentieth century with some refurbishment and reallocation of purpose.  In 1980, the Venice Biennale began using the Coreria della Tana ropewalk as a site for staging exhibitions.    

         Through these gestures of reclamation, the Arsenale was transformed from a site of ship production for the fortitude of Venice, even if just terms of historical legacy, into gallery spaces.   In some ways, the use of the Arsenale by the Biennale is like its reclamation of the Giardini through the alteration the material relations of power through refurbishment and the repurposing of place. However, the history associated with the Arsenale goes back much earlier than that of the Giardini. Also, unlike the Giardini that functioned as a sign of the Republic’s defeat, the Arsenale was once a major power center for the city—it brought Venice to the world.  Paradoxically, as a Biennale exhibition center, it is the place where the world comes to Venice.   By the beginning of the twenty-first century, restoration work on the Arsenale was underway along with the creation of more access points with the nearby Giardini in order to create stronger geographic connections between these two Biennale exhibition sites.


Satellite View of Giardini and Arsenale

Satellite View of Giardini and Arsenale (Google Maps)        

         The original structure of the Arsenale is not abolished through the Biennale’s gestures of appropriation.   Both internally and externally the building structure is maintained—instead of transforming the halls into white cube galleries, the internal exhibition spaces are left with pillars in tact and bricks exposed.  While this may not provide a neutral surface for the presentation of art, the references to the original architecture and function of the Arsenale create an illusion of continuity with the Venetian landscape.  According to Jameson, with this type of referential tactic, the original building “stands as some last minimal remnant of that older space as it is worked over, canceled, surcharged, volatized, sublimated, or transformed by some newer system.” [36] Despite the preserved facade of the Arsenale complex, it has been repurposed.  Reference may be paid to the original function of the site and the historical legacy that its architecture signifies, but it has been modified just as the trade network within which it functioned has drastically altered since its peak of productivity centuries ago. 

         In 2011, the exhibition halls of the Arsenale contained works by over forty artists that constituted part of IllUMI nations, the thematic exhibition organized by curatorial director Bice Curiger. Included in this group was Swiss-American artist Christian Marclay, who was awarded the Leone d’Orofor Best Artist of the international exhibition for his work The Clock (2010).  Essentially a collage consisting of cinematic moments of characters interacting with timepieces, this 24-hour film corresponds each showing of a clock with real time.  Instead of compressing the unfolding of narrative events to the standard 2 to 3 hour running time of film, Marclay gathered a collection of moments from predominately U.S. movie history to present a film that both correlates with the pace of time of the spectators as well as spanning decades of cinematic production.  This intrusion of the past into the present experience of time alters the temporal experience of film.  Exhibited in a darkened gallery in the Arsenale with rows of comfortable couches, spectators are encouraged to get comfortable and stay awhile.   Subsequently, Marclay’s The Clock invites gestures from its spectators—to sit for hours at a time and engage with one particular work, or possibly to relax and doze off in the cool and comfortable gallerythat challenges the performance implied by the exhibition galleries.  The architecture encourages spectators to move from one gallery to the next in a unidirectional linear manner as dictated by the architecture of the building.  Also, for a number of evenings, the Arsenale stayed open to allow spectators to view the film in its entirety, since its 24-hour running time is not accommodated by the scheduled gallery hours. 

         While Marclay’s work challenges the implied performances of place introduced by the Biennale, these latter actions differ from the implied performances of the Arsenale as a site of industrial production.  The Arsenale’s original gestures constituted hard labor in a stifling work environment that Dante compared to hell in the below passage of the Inferno:

As in the Arsenal of the Venetians

     Boils in the winter the tenacious pitch

     To smear their unsound vessels ov'er again,

For sail they cannot; and instead thereof

     One makes his vessel new, and one recaulks

     The ribs of that which many a voyage has made;

One hammers at the prow, one at the stern,

     This one makes oars and that one cordage twists

     Another mends the mainsail and mizzen. [37]

Over time, the material and power relations that gave rise to the Arsenale and turned it into a significant center of the Venetian mercantile system and its naval fortification have changed.  While the rooms have been refurbished, remnants of the original architecture remain as lingering evidence of its history.  As with the Giardini, the appropriation of the Arsenale has not wiped out traces of Venice’s past, but merges with new experiences of place. 

Map of the Arsenale, 2011 Venice Biennale

Map of the Arsenale, 2011 Venice Biennale

          Since 1995, the Biennale has offered countries lacking permanent structures the possibility to exhibiting at national pavilions outside the permanent structure of the Biennale. Martini writes how the buildings are “made available by the city, private owners, cultural institutions or the Church, guaranteeing that these sites were to become official national pavilions during the period of the Biennale." [38]   New Zealand has participated in this capacity since 2001.  Judy Millar’s installationGiraffe-Bottle-Gun, which was one of New Zealand’s two official pavilion sites at the 2009 Venice Biennale, provides an example of how contemporary art is juxtaposed against the backdrop of Venetian history while also informing the experience of place.  The exhibition took place in the Church of the Maddalena, the only circular church in Venice, and took advantage of the building’s unique architecture in the realization of the work.  The church was originally founded in 1222, but the present structure was built on top of the original medieval building.  This Neo-Classical version was designed by Tommaso Temanza and begun in 1761.  According to Howard, the small Roman Catholic church was “much loved by Venetians, especially as a setting for weddings.” [39]   Its design was influenced by the architectural trends popular at the time of construction, incorporating “plainest possible architectural elements.” [40]    The works that make up Giraffe-Bottle-Gun take advantage of the church’s unique cylindrical space, with the largest element of the installation being a large painting in the round that dominates the room.  Millar’s large-scale paintings are actually digital reproductions of smaller works enlarged to emphasize the gestural qualities of the abstract designs.  There is a strong contrast between of the artist’s loose brush strokes juxtaposed to the representational religious paintings already located in the room.   The shapes of the other pieces, which loom over the viewers, are non-rectangular and irregular, jutting into the Neo-Classical symmetry of the church, disrupting any illusion of perfect form.  According to the exhibition website, the work interacts with the physical dimensions of La Maddalena, instigating “a lively dispute with the venue in which it intrudes, between the great history of Venetian painting and this contemporary practice.” [41]   Millar’s installation folds into the architecture of La Maddalena, forming a temporary heterotopia that layers two eras of Venetian art and cultural history—the Neo-Classical with the contemporary—onto each other. 


Installation View of Giraffe-Bottle-Gun by Judy Millar located in Church of the Maddalena, one of the New Zealand pavilions at the 2009 Venice Biennale. Photograph by EL Putnam. 

         Giraffe-Bottle-Gun works both with and against the space.  According to the curator, Leonhard Emmerling, the work is about conflict and not fitting in—juxtaposing the multiple histories of painting in Venice compared to the short history of Euro-American influenced painting in New Zealand. [42]  The work intentionally creates a mismatch of histories, functioning as a proposal of New Zealand cultural identity as well as an attempt claim a place in the history of painting through the literal insertion of these works into the Venetian context.  The exhibition space determines the work, especially its claustrophobic qualities that result from the large painting in the round placed in the center of the church.  In addition, the work cannot be experienced from aback, but only through immersion with the body of the spectator functioning as the filter of reception. 

The Geopolitics of Heterotopic Place

Maps of the 2007, 2009, 2011 Venice Biennale

Maps of the 2007, 2009, 2011 Venice Biennale overlaying map of Venetian tourist zones. 

The above map displays an overlay of the 2007, 2009, and 2011 Venice Biennales.  The digitally produced document gives a visual sense of how the Biennale have infiltrated the city of Venice, particularly in the past few iterations when national inclusion has increased.  The biennale grid exists in conjunction with the tourist grids, as pavilions may direct spectators in directions that are off the tourist beaten path.  While the off-site pavilions can be found throughout the city and on the surrounding islands, nations tend to cluster sites around more easily accessible routes, such as along the Grand Canal or in the space between San Marco, Rialto, and Accademia—an area that IsabellaScaramuzzim, vice-director of Consorzio per lo Sviluppo Economico e Sociale della Provincia di Venezia, refers to as the “tourist triangle.” [43]   This triangle is marked in red in the above map.  The more curvaceous red line indicates the imagined boundary between the international zone, where many foreigners to the city own apartments, and the more residential areas located at the outer ring of the city’s distribution. 

Location is important for off-site national pavilions, since if they are located in parts of the city that are too difficult to navigate or are too far off the beaten path, than the pavilion will receive less spectatorship than other, more centrally located pavilions. Originally, the Giardini pavilions belonged to European countries, with pavilions for some Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern being added over time.  Other non-European pavilions occupy off-site venues, with most of these nations only began sending official national representatives in past few Biennales.  The growing presence of Middle Eastern and Arab nations in the recent decade is particularly notable. In 2011, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirate (UAE) all had national pavilions.  Saudi Arabia and the UAE were located in the Arsenale for easy access, while Iraq was only a short distance away along a well-traveled alley.  Iran occupied the same location as it did in the 2009 Biennale, which is near the “tourist zone” of the city.  Syria was a bit more difficult to visit, as it was located, along with Cuba, on the Isola di San Servolo.  These two pavilions were only accessible by boat travel and unlikely to be “stumbled upon” by spectators like other off-site pavilions located in the more popular (and populous) parts of the city.

         In addition, at the Venice Biennale, there has been a tendency to overlook the contributions of indigenous peoples in terms of national performance.   These underrepresented histories typically are not included as national pavilions, but are presented as collateral events.  For example, a history generally not included in the Biennale is that of Native North Americans, which James Luna addresses in his 2005 collateral event Emendatio.  This exhibition, which consisted of live performances and two installations, claimed Venice as part of Native American cultures and histories.  While preparing for the exhibition, Luna came upon the story of Pablo Tac, a Luiseño Indian—which also happens to be Luna’s tribe—who left Mission San Luis Rey in California and traveled to Rome, Italy become a Catholic priest in 1834.  During this time abroad, truncated by an early death from disease in 1841, Tac studied extensively, performed research, and wrote extensively, including the beginnings of a Luiseño dictionary.  He also took this opportunity to correct the errors in the way Europeans understood his people. [44]   This process included writing an account of the missionization of the Luiseños in California from the native perspective.  This text provides an alternative to the dominant European narrative, challenging the authenticity of presumed historical facts.  As Tac states, "I could have taught more, but who could teach others what they don't know? What I knew, I taught. What I didn't know, I've left.  Better to be quiet than saying lies." [45]   The Latinite term “emendatio” translates loosely into English as “emendation,” and refers to this process of demystifying misinformation, and unfortunately, many perceptions of Native Americans  are fueled by inaccurate ideas and nostalgic fantasies. 

Installation shot of The Chapel for Pablo Tac

Installation shot of The Chapel for Pablo Tac by James Luna in the Palazzo Querini Stampalia, 2005 Venice Biennale. Photo by Katherine Fogden. 

Installation shot of Apparitions: Past and Present

Installation shot of Apparitions: Past and Present by James Luna in the Palazzo Querini Stampalia, 2005 Venice Biennale.Photo by Katherine Fogden. 

         Emendatio is comprised of two installations, The Chapel for Pablo Tac and Apparitions: Past and Present as well as performances by Luna.  Truman Lowe, co-curator of Emendation, describes the first installation as an homage to Pablo Tac where  “Catholicism becomes the connective tissue linking the artist’s tribal community and history to Italy.” [46]    The chapel that Luna creates is filled with Luiseño objects along with artifacts of the type that Tac may have owned or used during his time in Rome.  Authenticity is not necessary since Luna does not strive for historical accuracy in the work.  According to Lowe, he “deliberately blurs and blends fact with fantasy.  His installation effectivelyreinscribes history and memory—much as Tac’s own account of a Catholic mission was an emendationto the dominant ‘text’ of history” (italics in original). [47]   Luna commonly utilizes this process in his work.  Jane Blocker describes how he “spends a great deal of his time as an artist clowning in the costume of memory and history, throwing a pie in the face of liberal guilt and white ‘native envy.’”[48] Through his transformation of place, Luna contributes to the experience of place by bringing to light the story of a Native American in Europe that has slipped through the cracks of the hegemonic narrative.  This work functions as part of Luna’s larger project, as described by Block, to “show the present reality of Indians, to demonstrate native appropriation of white culture, and to document his community’s persistent survival despite its occupation by outsiders.” [49]   With Emendatio, Luna has expanded the parameters of his discursive terrain of the relationship of Indians to white in the Americas in order to relate to his European audience.

         Apparations: Past and Present also plays with human connections over time and in the present. For this work, Luna used projections to super impose images of present-day Luiseño people onto photographic portraits of Luiseño Indians of the past.  The postures and gestures of the former mimic those of the latter, creating an overlay of images that compress about a century of time into the boundaries of a photographic space.  On top of these images, the shadows of spectators would interfere with the projected shots, intermingling the gestures of these witnesses into a dynamic process of historical reclamation.  As Paul Chaat Smith, Assistant Curator of the National Museum of the American Indian and co-Curator of Emendagtio, notes in his essay for the exhibition catalogue, “Emendatio claims Venice as part of Indian history, and in doing so demonstrates a belief held by Luna and many other Native people: that every place is a native place.” [50]   The works create connections over centuries of time as well as space, inscribing into place a history of Native North Americans into the Venetian topography, but also into the memories and experiences of the spectators 

         In addition to the installations, Luna presented a performance "ceremony" that alludes to Catholic rites, continuing to use these practices as a means of creating connections with Europeans. Lowe, describes the performance as follows:

After blessing and laying a ritualistic circle of stones, low-income food items, sugar packets, medical vials, and syringes—references to the current health crisis of many indigenous [North American] nations—the artist begins to dance in place for four hours on each of the four days at the outset of the Biennale.  The emphasis on the number four is significant because in many cultures, this number signifies the four cardinal directions and is considered sacred.  When something is repeated four times, it carries with it a statement about permanence.  Thus, Luna's strenuous performance serves as a quiet metaphor for the physical and spiritual endurance required for indigenous survival in the twenty-first century.  At the same time, it serves as gestures of sacrifice, healing, and renewal, honoring a global community. [51]

With this performance, Luna introduces Native American gestures into the fold of Venetian place upon the Biennale stage.  The implications of this work are significant when considering the role of Native North Americans in the cultural and national performances of the United States. Smith points out that the "creation myths of North America allow little room for Indians.  We are inconvenient reminders of a tragic past." [52]   In 2005, the representative for the United States was Ed Ruscha, who presented ten paintings inspired by the Jeffersonian layout of the U.S. pavilion.  The title of the exhibit, "Course of Empire," is ironically appropriate when juxtaposed to Luna's exhibition.  While Ruscha's work is conveniently housed in the U.S. Pavilion in the Giardini, Luna's exhibition is located in the Palazzo Querini Stampalia, which is located between St. Mark’s Basilica and the Rialto Bridge, though at a distance from both the Giardini and Arsenale.  The building is accessible from the San Zaccaria Vaparetto stop, though this does require some navigation of the Venetian Alleys.  The “course of empire” in this instance pushed Native Americans away from the U.S. Pavilion, and into the periphery of a Biennale collateral event mixed into the maze of Venice.

Satellite image showing location of the Palazzo Querini Stampalia

Satellite image showing location of the Palazzo Querini Stampalia, the site of Emendatio (red marker) in relation to the Arsenale entrance (blue maker) and the Giardini (yellow marker) (Google Maps).

These Biennale heterotopias are not consistently distributed, but vary depending on location in the city.  For example, the Giardini and Arsenale, require the purchase of tickets to enter.  They are easy to navigate due to the layout of the locations and the exclusivity of the site.  Thus, the people who visit these sites specifically paid to view the exhibits.  In contrast, the temporary pavilions located throughout the city are immersed in a sea of tourist activity. In the Giardini, the geography and participating nations are predictable due to the organization of space and lay out of the pavilions. When attempting to experience the pavilions located throughout the city of Venice, it is more difficult locate the exhibitions.  Also, without permanent structures, the off-site participating nations arevariable as their location tends to change from Biennale to Biennale.  In addition, more work is exerted on behalf of the pavilion organizers since it takes effort to locate and secure an appropriate location. While there is typically no monetary entrance fee for off-site pavilions, the cost consists of the ability to find the location, which can be difficult due the challenging urban terrain of alleys and canals that constitutes Venice.  Most off site pavilions use markers located on the ground to direct spectators to specific destinations, which at times can be indispensable when it comes to finding pavilions. Moreover, Biennale heterotopic place, particularly off-site pavilions, is informed by the urban folds of Venice—a city without a solid foundation on land, but exists as a disorienting, floating water space.  At the same time, the Biennale alters the urban terrain as it draws spectators off the tourist beaten path to explore other regions of the city.  The Biennale utilizes the unique qualities of Venice as a means of informing its geopolitical layout

         Venice’s long standing history as a destination for travelers and a port of exchange contributes to it being an appropriate site for a biennial, where contemporary art from various countries around the world are presented to an audience.  Arguably, Venice can be considered one of the first cosmopolitan cities.  Like peddlers promoting their goods in designated stalls at a bazaar, pavilions are allocated for the display of works attempting to grab the attention of passers-by.  These spectators, who for the most part are also tourists in the city, move through the galleries, participating in an exchange of culture and ideas that has a long precedence in Venice.  The terrain of Venice has been built up through layers of such cultural interactions, with the Biennale continuing to contribute to this legacy.  As such, Venice is a place that has been developed through layers of experience.  Edward Casey describes how places gather “things in their midst—where ‘things’ connote various animate and inanimate entities.  Places also gather experiences and histories, even languages and thoughts.” [53]  Subsequently, places are not static, but dynamic.  The experience of place is not just held in the bodies of its residence, Casey describes how places “keep unbodylike entities as thoughts and memories.” [54]   In Venice, the memories that these entities hold may stretch back centuries, and whether or not the tourist or passer-by may have knowledge or appreciation of this history, these entities participate in the creation of new memories that are added to the place.  As such, Venice functions as a cartography deferred, where the city’s terrain is molded through interaction and experience.  According to Casey:

Gathering gives to place its particular perduringness, allowing us to return to it again and again as the same place and not just the same position or site.  For a place, in its dynamism, does not age in a systematically changing way […] [a] place is generative and regenerative on its own schedule.  From it experiences are born and to it human beings […] return for empowerment […] [A place’s] power consists in gathering these lives and things, each with its own space and time, into one arena of common engagement. [55] 

For the Biennale, this arena of common engagement began in the Palazzo Pro Arte in the Giardini, expanding and altering over subsequent Biennale years when the experiences gathered resulted in the building of national pavilions, the appropriation of the Arsenale, and the temporary occupation of buildings throughout the city of Venice. 

Geographies are not just the identification of place or the “charting of land masses, climate zones, elevations, bodies of water, populated terrains, nation states, geological strata and natural resource deposits.” [56] In Terra Infirma, Irit Rogoff defines geographies as “at one and the same time a concept, a sign system and an order of knowledge established at the centers of power.” [57] The determination of geographies is an exercise of authority, as seen through the Colonial contests of the Europe during the Imperialism with the claiming and renaming of lands throughout the Americas, Africa, the Pacific Islands, parts of Asia and the Middle East.   Rogoff describes how geographies are both bodies of knowledge as a well as systems of knowledge grounded in “issues of positionality, in questions of who has the power and authority to name, of who has the power and authority to subsume others into its hegemonic identity.” [58]   In other words, the acts of claiming and reclaiming land and space through geography are gestures that exercise authority and hegemonic influence.  The claiming of pavilion space at the Venice Biennale can be considered a neo-imperial exercise that translates these actions into the exhibition of contemporary art, where the geopolitical implications are both literal and metaphoric.  A pavilion represents a claim in the transnational art scene as well as a national stake in the celebrated international playing field of the Venice Biennale. The gestures associated with these pavilions, such as the gestures of inclusion on behalf of the Biennale, state supported curatorial gestures involved in the organization and implementation of the exhibitions, artistic gestures involved in the production of the work, and the gestures of the tourist and spectators in experiencing the art, all influence the relationship between contemporary art and Venice as a place. These gestures are expressions of material and power relations that re-write the cartography of Venice with each passing Biennale. 

In addition, national pavilions are not considered neutral gallery exhibition spaces.  Instead, they are physically identified in regional terms as being located Venice, Italy, as well as conceptually as sites of cultural diplomacy and participation in the transnational art network.  Just as the national participants have changed over time, the nature of the transnational art scene has transformed from being based in European traditions or consumed through colonialist exploits, to becoming a neoliberal network informed by increasingly digitized networks of communication.  In other words, the transition from colonialism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to the rise of neoliberalism in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century can be mapped through the geographic inclusion of pavilions and their placement at the Venice Biennale. 

Cognitive Mapping and the Geopolitics of Place

       Understanding material and power relations spatially can be illustrated using Frederic Jameson’s definition of cognitive mapping.  For Jameson, cognitive mapping is the negotiation of urban space involving processes of the political unconscious that link the psychic with the social, “which seeks to endow the individual subject with some new heightened sense of its place in the global system.” [59]  He bases his theory upon American urbanist Kevin Lynch’s analysis concerning the “legibility” of city space from the perspective of its inhabitants using landmarks. [60]   Jameson then adds the philosophies of Louis Althusser and Jacques Lacan in order to present an ideological and material means of mapping imaginary relations spatially.  According to Jameson, considering the Althusserian definition of ideology in relation Lynch’s description of mapping experience in physical space allows us to re-think these issues “in terms, for example, of social class and national or international context, in terms of the ways in which we all necessarily also cognitively map our individual social relationship to local, national, and international class realities.” [61]   Jameson differentiates between cartographic maps, which emphasize mimetic representations of place on a two-dimensional plane, with cognitive mapping.  Specifically, cognitive mapping utilizes contemporary texts and aesthetic acts in order to connect our imaginary relations with the real conditions of our existence. [62]     

       As geopolitical, heterotopic place, the Venice Biennale presents a prime opportunity to examine the understandings of national identity from a variety of perspectives, and how these understandings are cognitively mapped in relation to each other. As the above image of the layered Biennale maps from 2007-2011 show, this configuration includes the social geography of Venice.  It is on the stage of Venice that the performance of national identity takes place—a bazaar of geopolitical uncertainty and diplomatic relations participating in a transnational competition of the arts where presence, absence, and location are connected to political and economic relations.  The association of national performances with Venetian geographic, historical, and cultural topographies is an unstable, constantly metamorphasizing state of affairs.  It is necessary to historicize the Venice Biennale—to contextualize it terms of time and space while taking into consideration the material relations and structures of power that give rise to the event.  Instead of treating space and time as empty formal containers or “structurally enabling presuppositions,” as Kant does, [63] Jameson emphasizes how material relations actively transform them. According to Jameson:

Neither space nor time is ‘natural’ in the sense in which it might be metaphysically presupposed (as ontology or human nature alike): both are the consequence and projected afterimage of a certain state or structure of production and appropriation, of social organization of productivity. [64]

At the Venice Biennale, material relations overlay the space of the city, where imaginary relations of geopolitics are spatialized, inscribing cognitive maps onto the pavilions system—an urban scaled model of world politics.  These relations can be experienced in space, but the attention that cognitive mapping brings to these relations remains significant.  The local, or the Venetian, is the site for national allegory to participate in transnational or “global” relations.  As noted in the James Luna example above, when the underrepresented native population is juxtaposed to an official national representative, national allegories are not always consistent, emphasizing how they are also far from complete.  This cognitive map is rendered geographically, where physical placement of the pavilion becomes a manifestation of imaginary, social, and material relations between the Native North Americans and the United States government.  The incompleteness of allegory is one reason that Jameson has proposed the method of cognitive mapping.  For Jameson, this increasingly complex postmodern—and neoliberal—world is far too complicated to represent using traditional forms ofmimesis, such as cartography.   Cognitive mapping functions as a means of tracing material relations in terms of a new (and ever changing and evolving) global totality.  Instead of just reflecting on past experiences, however, cognitive mapping “insists much more strongly on the way in which art itself functions as a mode of knowledge, a mode of knowledge of the totality.” [65] Thus, it creates what Ian Buchanan refers to as a “usable representation of the present,” [66] making it possible to read between the lines of these spatial and geopolitical relations.  Jameson emphasizes throughout his writing that totalization is impossible, but cognitive mapping presents some semblance of totality to read the relations that bind us together. 

Throughout the history of the Venice Biennale, material and political relations have informed national participation.  From 1895 and up until the first World War, the world system mapped through the Biennale was that of industrial capitalism and the wane of European colonialism.  After World War I, when Italy saw the rise of fascism, the Biennale followed suit by emphasizing Italian national superiority.  The end of World War II marked an alternative approach to international relations with the rise of the United Nations.  At the same time, many new nations were formed with the end of European colonialism.  The Biennale continued to change its mapping of the world system in the late twentieth century with the rise of neoliberalism, notably marked by the opening up of the city of Venice in 1995 to off-site pavilions accommodating nations that exceeded the spatial confines of the Giardini.  Subsequently, the mapping of the Biennale continues to inform the topography of Venice as more and more national pavilions and collateral events are added to accommodate the recognized underrepresented.

Within the system of pavilions, there is geopolitical pecking order.  As Yahya Madra points out, any “nation-state that does not have a permanent pavilion, yet wishes to participate in the Biennial […] has to rent space in the city, most probably in one of the overpriced empty palazzos that are struggling to stay afloat (in most cases literally) in a state of decrepitude.” [67]   Madra argues that the since its inception, the Biennale’s architectural structure makes evident the geopolitics and economic relations of the hegemonic world order. [68]   However, these transitions are not always clear-cut or easy.  According to Madra, the Venice Biennale has been going through an uneven and undoubtedly incomplete transition from a ‘nation-state/imperial’ mode of appropriating art to a new ‘transitional’ mode.  Yet, this emerging transnational mode is not simply replacing the earlier national mode.  The newer editions of the Biennial have included both types of exhibitions, and there is indeedan ‘exchange,’ a political negotiation between the two modes. [69]   The continued significance of the nation even in a supposedly “global” art fair becomes apparent when examining the work of artists who represent groups or regions that are not recognized as nations, such as Palestine, Wales, Hong Kong, and Native North American tribes.  The designation of these groups as “collateral events” sprinkled throughout the city of Venice present a second tier in the geopolitical pecking order of the Biennale.  These exhibits may bear the official Biennale logo, but are not acknowledged as official national participants, and therefore do not qualify for the Golden Lion for best national pavilion, which since 1986—when prizes were taken up again after they were suspended after 1968—has been granted primarily to the United States or a European nation. [70]

 The cognitive and cartographic maps of the Biennale are not consistent because the world is not stable.  The changes and shifts that have occurred in the Venice Biennale from inception to the present participate in these transitions. Each passing Biennale comes with the expectation that the event will return in two years in a different shape and form—every Biennale carries the foundation of future Biennales in addition to the traces of previous ones.         


The Biennale pavilions provide an opportunity for artists to occupy Venetian sites and transform them for the duration of the exhibition through the installation of contemporary art.  Okwui Enwezor explores how the emergence of contemporary art from “postcolonial sites of production, dissemination, markets, media, and institutional reception" [71] have increased in prominence in part due to the increasing network of biennials around the globe.  At the same time, the Venice Biennale has been required to challenge its geopolitical order with the opening of the city of Venice to national pavilions in order to accommodate national requests for participation as more nations are acknowledged as “worthy” participants on the international (and Biennale) stage.  Also, the pavilion sites can provide an opportunity for nations to reconsider their colonial past, as can be gleaned from the U.S. presentation of Puerto Rican artists Allora & Calzadilla in 2011.  Moreover, Enwezor argues: “exhibitions of contemporary art over the last two decades must be perceived from the point of view that they have become place-making devices for articulating the empirical evidence of the imaginative practices of contemporary art across the world, not just in Western centers of power.” [72]   In this day and age, over 100 years since the Biennale’s inception when the world order was running on the steam of colonialism, to be granted a space at the Venice Biennale is to be provided with an opportunity to make a place that participates transnational material relations through contemporary art.  Despite the temporary nature of the exhibitions, these installations are also part of a legacy of cultural exchange that precedes the Biennale and can be considered part of Venice’s history as a port of goods and ideas 

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[1] John Julius Norwich, A History of Venice (New York: Vintage Books, 1989)., xxiii-xxiv

[2] Ibid., 27

[3] According to historian John Julius Norwich, the beginnings of this ceremony took place in 1000 when the Doge decreed that in commemoration of the Venetian victory over Dalmatia and the acquisition of its territory, every succeeding Ascension Day, the Doge along with the Bishop of Olivolo and the nobles and citizens of Venice, “should sail out […] by the Lido port into the open sea for a service of supplication and thanksgiving.”  Over time, the ceremony grew more elaborate and included the tossing of a propitiatory golden ring into the sea; “thus it was slowly to become identified with a symbolic marriage to the sea—the Sposalizio del Mar - a character that it was to retain till the end of the republic itself.” Ibid., 55

[4] Ibid., 155

[5] Deborah Howard, The Architectural History of Venice, Revised and enlarged ed. (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2010)., 3

[6] Ibid., 261-2

[7] Ibid., 263

[8] Ibid., 266

[9] Ibid., 272-3

[10] Ibid., 281

[11] Martin Heidegger, "Building Dwelling Thinking," in Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell (London: Harper Perennial Modern Thought, 2008)., 349

[12] Ibid., 350

[13] Irit Rogoff, Terra Infirma: Geography's Visual Culture  (London and New York: Routledge, 2000)., 28

[14] Yahya Madra, "From Imperialism to Transnational Capitalism: The Venice Biennale as a 'Transnational Conjuncture',"Rethinking Marxism 18, no. 4 (2006)., 525

[15] Vittoria Martini, "A brief history of I Giardini: Or a brief history of the Venie Biennale seen from the Giardini,"  Art & Education(2009),

[16] Ibid.

[17] Jean Fisher, "Voices in the Singular Plural: 'Palestine ℅ Venice' and the Intellectual Under Siege," Third Text 23, no. 6 (2009)., 789-790

[18] Martini, "A brief history of I Giardini: Or a brief history of the Venie Biennale seen from the Giardini".

[19] Michel Foucault, "Of Other Spaces," Diacritics 16, no. 1 (1986).

[20] Edward Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History  (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997)., 300

[21] Foucault, "Of Other Spaces.", 25

[22] Ilya Noé, "Site-Particular," in Mapping Landscapes for Performance as Research, ed. Shannon Rose Riley and Lynette Hunter (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)., 149

[23] Ibid., 150

[24] Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism  (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991)., 158

[25] Jacques Derrida, "Point de Folie--Maintenant l'architecture," AA Files, no. 12 (1986)., section 10

[26] Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History., 312

[27] Derrida, "Point de Folie--Maintenant l'architecture.", section 10

[28] Ibid., section 15

[29] Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History., 310-312

[30] Derrida, "Point de Folie--Maintenant l'architecture.", section 3

[31] Norwich, A History of Venice., 84

[32] Celia Clark and David Pinder, "Naval heritage and the revitalisation challenge: lessons from the Venetian Arsenale,"Ocean & Coastal Management 42(1999)., 936

[33] Norwich, A History of Venice., 269

[34] Ibid., 85

[35] Clark and Pinder, "Naval heritage and the revitalisation challenge: lessons from the Venetian Arsenale.", 938

[36] Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism., 119

[37] In this description, Dante compares the Arsenale to the crowded darkness of hell’s depths in lines 7-15 of Canto 21 (Longfellow’s translation).  Quoted in Fredric Lane, Venice: A Maritime Republic  (Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 1973)., 163

[38] Martini, "A brief history of I Giardini: Or a brief history of the Venie Biennale seen from the Giardini".

[39] Howard, The Architectural History of Venice., 252

[40] Ibid., 253

[41] “History of NZ at Venice,” NZ at Venice, accessed March 4, 2013, 

[42] Leonhard Emmerling (curator of the Giraffe-Bottle-Gun), gallery talk, June 2009.

[43] Robert C. Davis and Garry R. Marvin, Venice: The Tourist Maze  (Berkley: University of California Press, 2004)., 96

[44] Paul Chaat Smith, "Luna Remembers," in James Luna: Emendatio, ed. Elizabeth Kennedy Gische (Washingotn DC: NMAI, Sminthsonian Institute, 2005)., 44

[45] As quoted in Elizabeth Kennedy Gische, James Luna: Emendatio  (Washingotn DC: NMAI, Sminthsonian Institute, 2005).

[46] Truman T. Lowe, "The art of the unexpected," in James Luna: Emendatio, ed. Elizabeth Kennedy Gische (Washingotn DC: NMAI, Sminthsonian Institute, 2005)., 20

[47] Ibid., 20

[48] Jane Blocker, Seeing Witness: Visuality and the Ethics of Testimony  (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2009)., 14-15

[49] Ibid., 21

[50] Smith, "Luna Remembers.", 44

[51] Lowe, "The art of the unexpected.", 22

[52] Smith, "Luna Remembers.", 26

[53] Edward Casey, "How to get from space to place in a fairly short stretch of time: phenomenological prolegomena," inSenses of Place, ed. S. Feld and K.H. Basso (Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 1996)., 24

[54] Ibid., 25

[55] Ibid., 26

[56] Rogoff, Terra Infirma: Geography's Visual Culture., 21

[57] Ibid., 20

[58] Ibid., 21

[59] Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism  (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991)., 54

[60] Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City  (Cambridge, MA MIT Press, 1960)., 2-6

[61] Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism., 52

[62] Ibid., 51

[63] Fredric Jameson and Ian Buchanan, Jameson on Jameson: Conversations on Cutlural Marxism  (Durham, NC & London: Duke University Press, 2007)., 364

[64] Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism., 364

[65] Jameson and Buchanan, Jameson on Jameson: Conversations on Cutlural Marxism., 157

[66] Ian Buchanan, Live Theory: Fredric Jameson  (London and New York: Continuum, 2006)., 106

[67] Yahya Madra, "From Imperialism to Transnational Capitalism: The Venice Biennale as a 'Transnational Conjuncture',"Rethinking Marxism 18, no. 4 (2006)., 525

[68] Ibid., 526

[69] Ibid., 531

[70] Nations awarded the Golden Lion since 1986: France (1986, 1997, 2005), Padigilione Italia (1988, 1999), United States of America (1990, 2009), Germany (1993, 2001, 2011), Luxembourg (2003), Hungary (2007).  The only “non-Western” nation to be granted a Golden Lion has been Egypt in 1995, which is also the only African and Middle Eastern nation with a pavilion in the Giardini.  In 1990, the African Countries Pavilion - Nigeria and Zimbabwe did receive honorable mention.  For a complete listing of the prizes granted since 1986, see

[71] Okwui Enwezor, "Place-Making or in the "Wrong Place": Contemporary Art adn the Postcolonial Condition," in Disapora Memory Place, ed. Salah M. Hassan and Cheryl Finley (Munich: Prestel, 2008)., 107

[72] Ibid., 114