I kept spotting these stenciled words around the Giardini on Friday. I’ve noticed publicity for non-official Biennale projects pasted and painted onto Biennale signs all month, so I didn’t think twice about it. Until I stepped inside the Greek National Pavilion and saw this sign which prompted me to take a second look.
I talked with the woman in charge of the pavilion who told me that the vandalism happened overnight a few days ago. “We’re on a canal,” she said, “anyone with a boat can get in.” The graffiti was of particular concern at the Greek Pavilion because of its wood paneled sides. “We can’t just paint over it,” the woman told me, “we are deciding if we’re going to replace the panels or flip them over.” It will not be simple.
She told me that some basic Googling led her to plenty of information about the Anonymous Stateless Immigrants Pavilion. They are a guerilla group that claims “to mobilize people in support of a borderless world and freedom of speech for everyone in opposition to representational and identity politics and limitation of human mobility.” Their Tumblr shows that they have also vandalized the US Pavilion. It also describes a sanctioned action they did at the Danish satellite exhibition “Osloo”—we’re a bit surprised Denmark would work with known vandalizers. The Pavilion worker noted that the vandalism had happened in the midst of a violent general strike in Greece and was confident the guerilla action was meant to comment on that specifically.
She said that artist Diohandi (who goes by only this name) was upset about the vandalism but also sympathetic to the needs and reasons of the A.S.I. The real shame, the pavilion worker told me, is how much the graffiti clashes with the art inside the pavilion (Diohandi has filled the entire pavilion with a low pool of water. Visitors walk through on a bridge just a few inches above the water. A dim purplish light illuminates the white walls of the space.).
I had just come from a talk at the Danish Pavilion about free speech and the importance of resisting dominant power structures and had been surprised no one had questioned the fact that the lecture would take place at the Danish Pavilion, behind the ticketed gates of the Giardini, where, certainly, just those people who had the most to gain from said over-turning would not be able to attend (those speakers didn’t seem to know anything about ASI’s collaboration with Osloo; much more on that talk to come). Apparently, this issue is not just on my mind.
I had in some ways expected to see more radical protests of this kind and though I’m far from pleased to see this vandalism on the Greek Pavilion, I am interested to see how, at this Biennale and in the future, the age-old pavilion structure continues to evolve (or, not).