Description of your country, including relevant political, geographic, economic, and cultural issues
Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China, is a country located off the coast of mainland China and whose territory is 99% made up of the island of Taiwan. In 1949, the ROC lost the Chinese civil war to Mao Zedong and his communist party, later known as the People’s Republic of China. Having previously controlled all of Mainland China, the ROC lost all of its territory in the war except for Taiwan. To this day, the PRC claims to have sovereignty over Taiwan, and the ROC claims sovereignty over Mainland China. This stalemate is the cause of several diplomatically complicated situations, and Taiwan is only officially recognized as a sovereign state by a handful of countries and international organizations. Because of China’s economic and political influence and their “One China” policy, which bars China’s participation in any event or organization that officially recognizes Taiwan, the majority of institutions worldwide either side with China or attempt to avoid taking an explicit position on the issue. While the majority of Taiwanese say they prefer to keep the status quo to independence or reunification with China, the state of partial existence is the basis of the piece in the Taiwanese Pavilion that I highlighted, This is Not a Czech Pavilion, as well as of the title of the Taiwanese Pavilion as a whole, This is Not a Taiwan Pavilion.
Description of your pavilion’s art at the 2013 Biennale
The piece that I decided to focus on in this year’s Taiwan Pavilion is a collaboration between the Czech artist Katerina Seda and the Czech group known as BATEZO MIKILU titled This is Not a Czech Pavilion. BATEZO MIKILU, a group of six high school students based in Zastavka, Czech Republic began corresponding with Seda two years ago regarding the state of their village, which they lamented was “not our town”. Seda developed a working relationship with the students, who were 14 years old when they began their project, and spent the following two years brainstorming about and documenting the town and the residents’ relationship to it, collecting all of their projects on their website and on Facebook. Fixating upon the idea that Zastavka lacked community because it lacked a functioning town center, BATEZO KA MIKILU (as they call themselves with the addition of Katerina Seda as “KA”) set out to bring the surroundings to the center. When approached by Taiwanese curator Esther Lu to represent Taiwan at the 55th Venice Biennale, Seda recognized some similarities between Zastavka and Taiwan in that they are both places that are defined by their surroundings. Seda decided to incorporate BATEZO MIKILU and her project with them into the Taiwanese Pavilion. Drawing on an earlier project conducted in Zastavka, BATEZO MIKILU constructed an altered map of the Biennale, labeling all of the pavilions as the Taiwan Pavilion but marking the real Taiwan Pavilion with its title, “This is Not a Taiwan Pavilion”. The students then walked around the Biennale wearing blue shoe covers and taking them off and leaving them outside each pavilion, indicating themselves as visitors or strangers. Once inside, they would approach people and ask if they could direct them to the Taiwan pavilion, showing their altered map and saying that they heard that the Taiwan pavilion is the best in the whole Biennale. The piece concluded with a small talk given by Seda and BATEZO MIKILU in the Taiwan Pavilion.
Analysis of the “success” of your pavilion: why and how was this particular artist selected? Was the choice politically- motivated? Do you think the exhibition was a success overall?
Given that the piece was more an extension of an intervention into a small Czech town via the lives of six young students, I think that the existence of this piece at the Biennale is a success. The original aim of the collaboration between Seda and the students was to help them find or create a sense of community, and for Seda to successfully guide them through creating a piece for the Venice Biennale without handing them anything or taking too much control and then allowing for them to perform their intervention (happening? performance?) at the Biennale is very impressive and successful for all parties involved. Regarding the specifics of the piece itself, I’m not sure how successful the group’s tactics were for the specific people they approached within the individual pavilions, but as a larger piece I think the combination and accumulation of all of these small incidents becomes successful. By giving the people they talk to a position of authority regarding the Taiwan Pavilion, which is not allowed to exist (see: One China policy), BATEZO MIKILU “re-orients the way the audience can see the other and the self”. Many countries whose pavilions were used for this performance do not officially recognize Taiwan, and by bringing this acknowledgement of and familiarity with Taiwan to the entire biennale, they are bringing Taiwan from the outskirts of Venice to the center, much like they sought to do in Zasktavka.
I think that it is hard to make a sound argument that anything ever is not political or does not have political implications, although Lu’s selection of Seda did not seem too explicitly political a selection. A prominent article in the Taipei Times discusses Taiwan’s participation in the Biennale as an excuse for soft diplomacy to raise the profile of Taiwan’s political struggle against China, but I think that Katerina Seda avoided falling too much into this pitfall by diluting the subject matter of her piece through the Czech Republic and Zastavka and BATEZO MIKILU and their once-unrelated project as opposed to making a piece that would be seen as simply glorifying or promoting Taiwan.
Brief biography of artist(s) exhibited in pavilion
Katerina Seda was born in Brno, Czech Republic in 1977. She studied at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts, graduating in 2005. She has exhibited extensively in the Czech Republic, as well as in Germany and the US, being included in exhibitions at Documenta 12, the Prague Biennale 2, the fifth Berlin Biennale and the New Museum in New York. As the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago puts it, her “primary media are her friends, family, and community of her native town. Seda uses performance, staged activities, and public interventions to reactivate social concourse as it is the basis for a sense of self predicated on group identification.”[i] One of her most well-known pieces, titled It Doesn’t Matter, consists of a collaboration with her 77-year-old grandmother, who is prompted by Seda to make over 600 pen drawings documenting all of the tools and supplies sold at the hardware store Seda’s grandmother managed for over 30 years in communist Brno. Seda lives and works in Brno.
BATEZO MIKILU (BArca, TErka, ZOrko, MIlca, KIki, LUcka) is a group of six high school students living in Zastavka, Czech Republic, an ex-mining town of about 2,500 people. When they were 14, they wrote to Katerina Seda:
I like your project ‘For Every Dog a Different Master’ so me and my schoolmates decided to do something too. We wanted to ask if you have any ideas, advice or tips that we could apply to the town of Zastavka…our goal would be to bring the inhabitants closer together in some interesting, funny way.[ii]
As stated above, Seda did more than just respond, and ended up collaborating with the group of students. The only other information that I can find on the individual members of BATEZO MIKILU is that most or all of them are originally from smaller towns surrounding Zastavka, and, after the success of their project, have expressed desire to do projects in their respective hometowns responding to similar issues as they did in Zastavka.
(Parentheses indicates corresponding place marker in .kmz file)
This is Not a Taiwan Pavilion
(Taiwan)— Republic of China: lost the chinese civil war in 1949 to Mao Zedong + communists, so they fled to the island of Taiwan. They view Mainland China as an occupied part of their territory, and china views Taiwan as part of its territory, so Taiwan is only officially recognized by a handful of countries.
“One China policy”
(Palazzo delle Prigioni)
Representing Taiwan this year, curated by Esther Lu:
Bernd Behr, a German Taiwanese artist living/working in London
Chia-Wei Hsu, a Taiwanese artist based in Taipei
Katerina Seda + BATEZO MIKILU, a collaborative group made up of Katerina Seda, a Czech artist based in Brno,
(Brno, Czech Republic)
(More on Katerina Seda)
and BATEZO MIKILU, a group of six high school students based in Zastavka, Czech Republic.
(Zastavka, Czech Republic)
Katerina Seda/ BATEZO MIKILU:
Two years ago the 14-year-old students that would later call themselves BATEZO MIKILU contacted Katerina Seda because they liked her work and were trying to understand and address problems in their small town of Zastavka.
Zastavka was an old coal-mining town that, as the group put it, ‘nobody ever expected to last’.
“This is not our town”, they wrote. Nobody in Zastavka behaved as if they lived in town with each other—nobody greeted anybody, everyone just passed through. Seda came to Zastavka and they decided together that the problem was that there was no city center, so everybody behaved like outsiders. The town was defined by its surroundings, as Seda puts it.
(Zastavka City Center), (City Center? City Center? City Center? Zastavka Map)
(Batezo Mikilu’s website)
When Katerina Seda was asked by Esther Lu to do something for the Taiwanese showing in Venice, BATEZO MIKILU and Seda saw a similarity between Zastavka and Taiwan in that they’re both defined by their surroundings. ((Taiwan as a non-state thanks to the complex geo-political situation regarding its recognition and conflict with China, Zastavka as a town that really only has its surroundings))
Seda decided to work with the group of students in Venice in a similar way to the things they had been doing together in Zastavka over the past year and a half, as documented on their website, which is a place they’ve collected all of the records of their projects and process leading up to the biennale.
Batezo: “we asked people from Zastavka if they could show us the town center on a map”
Seda: “we asked over 500 people and they showed us over 50 different centers”
BATEZO: We drew up a corrected version of the map of Zastávka – we labeled all the unused spaces and traffic islands as the center of town.
They eventually distributed these maps all over town.
(This is Not a Taiwan Pavilion – Venice Map)
BATEZO KA MIKILU made a map of Venice, depicting all 88 international pavilions as the Taiwan Pavilion, with the Palazzo delle Prigioni labeled as “This is Not a Taiwan Pavilion”. They walked around the Biennale wearing blue shoe covers and taking them off and leaving them outside each pavilion, indicating themselves as visitors or strangers.
Once inside they would ask people to direct them to the Taiwan pavilion, showing them the map that they had made.
(International Pavilion, Luxembourg Pavilion, Central Asian Pavilion, Egyptian Pavilion, Bahamas Pavilion and all corresponding videos)
By giving the people they talk to a position of authority regarding the Taiwan Pavilion, which is not allowed to exist, Batezo “re-orients the way the audience can see the other and the self”. Many countries whose pavilions were used for this performance do not officially recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state, and by bringing this acknowledgement of and familiarity with Taiwan to the entire biennale, they are bringing Taiwan from the outskirts of Venice to the center, much like they sought to do in Zastavka.
(This is Not a Taiwan Pavilion)
The group documented much of this, and the photos of the blue shoe covers outside of each pavilion served as a visualization of the idea behind “This is Not a Czech Pavilion”, locating, even if temporarily, the Taiwanese Pavilion throughout the entire center of the biennale.
(Batezo Ka Mikilu video, beginning at 2:24)