Speech by Minister of State Katja Keul at the opening of the German Pavilion of the 59th Biennale in Venice

22.04.2022 - Speech

A very warm welcome to all of you to the inauguration of the German Pavilion at the 59th Biennale.

This year’s Biennale takes place at a critical moment. We see an illegal war against a sovereign state in the middle of Europe, including massive bombardments of various civil facilities.

This geopolitical watershed cannot be without consequences for an event like the Biennale. And the Biennale has reacted fast and determined. It has made a clear pledge of solidarity to Ukraine. And it has invited all Russian artists who have courageously protested against the war in recent weeks.

Also, the Russian pavilion’s artistic team took up a clear position by canceling its participation in protest against Russia’s aggression.

The war in Ukraine is the latest and most terrible chapter of a development we have seen for many years. Autocracies try to dissolve the rules-based international order. They dismiss human rights as Western ideas. And they actively try to undermine democracies, for example with fake news, disinformation and cyber-attacks.

This development raises many questions also for our international cultural policy. With the war in Ukraine they have become all the more pressing.

How can international cultural exchange contribute to preserving peace and international cooperation? How can we promote cultural exchange in times of shrinking spaces in so many countries? How can we support and protect artists whose advocacy for freedom, liberalism and humanity puts them at personal risk and persecution?

And of course, there are other long-term challenges that are not just gone because of the war in Ukraine. Take climate change and sustainability. These topics have become very important for the cultural sector over the last years.

The many artistic contributions we can encounter here in Venice take up many of these questions and challenges. And this also holds true for the work of Maria Eichhorn.

Throughout her career Maria Eichhorn has been reflecting on the capacity of resistance of and through art. She is a fierce advocate of the autonomy of art and its political importance.

Here at the Biennale she looks into the history of the pavilion, the Biennale and the city of Venice.

The German pavilion is an architectural symbol of Germany history in the 20th century, including its darkest moments.

In 1938 the Nazis rebuilt the pavilion in order to align it to their self-image: monumental and intimidating. Every artist working with the pavilion has to deal with this historic burden.

Maria Eichhorn addresses this heritage not from a historical perspective. She considers it a contemporary task. She looks at how our world and our societies are still influenced by history and long-term mentality trends.

Despite globalization our world is still organized in large parts by borders. And our thinking as well – consciously or unconsciously – often still follows the same pattern.

Art can be a corrective of these patterns. Art aims to transcend borders. To use Maria Eichhorn’s own words: “Art remains, as I understand it, international and cosmopolitan, anarchic, resisting, political and polemical, fragmentary, critical and independent.”

And yet, contributions in exhibitions like the Biennale are still presented in national pavilions – a dilemma that can nevertheless spur fascinating artistic and intellectual reflections.

Another topic very dear to Maria Eichhorn is the accessibility of art. If we are serious about the claim that art has an important role to play as a medium of reflection of a society at large, everyone should have access to it.

Consequently, Maria Eichhorn and Yilmaz Dziewior have made it possible to retrace their artistic research process on a digital platform of the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifA).

I would like to thank everybody who made this opening possible. My wholehearted thanks go to Maria Eichhorn, to the curator Yilmaz Dziewior and the whole team of ifa, in particular Dorothea Grassmann.

What a tremendous work you have done in these challenging times, including Covid travel restrictions and uncertainties. Without your enthusiasm, devotion and stamina, we would not be here today.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

It’s probably a fair bet that the German word of the year 2022 will be “Zeitenwende”. This historical turning point has many implications that reach far beyond security policy. Here at the Biennale is the right place to reflect and discuss what it will mean for culture and our societies at large.

In these dark days the Biennale embodies the values that are at stake at this moment: the freedom of expression and art; solidarity, human rights and peace.

People from all over the world are coming to Venice and are standing up for these values.

The Biennale is thus no relic of a fading dream. It is the living proof of the willingness to take up the challenge for our common future.

Thank you.


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