Freedom of speech is one of the key issues in the current public debate and one that is becoming increasingly contested, given the steady erosion of civil liberties in many countries today. Denmark has always been at the forefront of the public debate on issues in relation to freedom of speech, but it has also suffered the so-called “trauma of free speech”.

This makes the Danish Pavilion an appropriate vehicle from which to visualise and discuss these issues. Freedom of speech is highly relevant in relation to much of what is happening in the world politically today; from press intimidation and censorship, to restrictions on the internet, as well as debates on the limits of freedom of speech, increased surveillance and forms of control. The issue of freedom of speech is highly complex, often subjective – even relative – and invariably debatable. The boundaries surrounding it cannot easily be delineated.

The exhibition Speech Matters aims to provoke a considered debate and to complicate the issue of freedom of speech, highlighting the intricacies, ambiguities and grey areas inherent to the subject, and emphasizing the fact that freedom of speech cannot be exercised or applied in any programmatic or strictly proscribed manner. Finally, the exhibition also touches on the essence of visual artistic practice, which fundamentally entails conditions of freedom of expression. Eighteen artists from ten countries have been invited to participate. The majority will be producing new work for the exhibition.

The exhibition is curated by Katerina Gregos.

Apart from the exhibition inside the Danish Pavilion, this year emphasis has also been placed on the public dimension of Denmark’s representation in Venice, especially in light of the context of the Venice Biennale, which does not classify as an entirely public or open space. By its very definition, freedom of speech is negotiated in relation to the public, so extending beyond the confines of the exhibition in the Pavilion has been an important component of Speech Matters. To, therefore, counteract the reality of the more rarefied space that is the Giardini during the Biennale, this year the Danish Pavilion includes several public projects.

Firstly, FOS’ Osloo is a floating pavilion positioned at the island of San Servolo, which consists of three formal elements: a bar, a radio station and a stage designed to host a programme of events, which is freely accessible to all (further information is enclosed in this press kit). Osloo extends the presence of Denmark outside the Giardini area to what is a genuinely public space.

Secondly, Thomas Kilpper has constructed a structure entitled Pavilion for Revolutionary Free Speech in and beyond the private garden of the Danish Pavilion. This anti-pavilion which aims to challenge the official, permanent architectonic structure of the Danish pavilion and its orthodox, established symbolic value – is a temporary, informal structure and meeting point, which is adjacent to the two more formal modernist and neo-classical buildings that together constitute the Danish Pavilion. Kilpper’s pavilion will also host Speakers’ Corner, an open space consisting of a raised balcony where a series of specially commissioned language-based performances by Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen and Mikhail Karikis will take place during the opening days. Speakers’ Corner borrows its name from the original in Hyde Park, London, a space where individuals or groups freely adopt the right to speak – and a tradition that goes back to the nineteenth century and the Chartist workers’ movement. Speakers’ Corner is an integral part of Kilpper’s pavilion, which is dedicated to revolutionary free speech. Kilpper will also instigate his own programme of lectures, encounters and events beyond the opening days of the Biennale.

Thirdly, Stelios Faitakis has realised an ambitious, large-scale mural entitled Imposition Symphony specially commissioned for the façade of the neo-classical building of the Danish Pavilion. The work unfolds in six chapters – each chapter representing a distinct story – with one ‘interlude’. Its main narrative revolves around six episodes, all relating to questions of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and incidents of censorship and oppression, both contemporary and historical.

And, finally, Johannes af Tavsheden has organised a series of walks in the Giardini. On behalf of af Tavsheden, who wishes to remain anonymous, the artists Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri will be conducting these walks discussing the work and ideas of Johannes af Tavsheden. This performative walk will attempt to outline some of the issues af Tavsheden has been preoccupied with, ranging from various histories of the notion of free speech to his desire to connect thought to action. The walk will also put these questions in direct relation to artistic practice today, the context of the biennale and the notion of national representation in an era of transnational semio-capitalism.

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Foto: Cosmin Năsui

////////////////////// vă prezintă, în premieră, un serial dedicat expozițiilor pavilioanelor naționale și evenimentelor paralele și dar și a celor colaterale ale Bienalei de Artă de la Veneția, unul dintre cele mai importante evenimente europene de artă contemporană.

Mulțumim Institutului Român de Cultură şi Cercetare Umanistică de la Veneția și ICR București pentru suportul și sprijinul acordat la realizarea acestui serial.