Venice Biennial: An open letter by Javier Tellez
I write this letter to communicate my resignation to the official invitation to represent Venezuela in the national pavilion of the 50th Venice Biennial. This decision is a fundamentally ethical one and I have taken it as a Venezuelan and as an artist responsible and aware of our reality.
It is true that my proposal 'La Colmena' was presented last year to the committee that would designate the Venezuelan representation in the Biennial. But, since then, the critical situation of the country has dramatically accelerated, urging us a gesture that can represent something more than the artwork itself now; the absence-presence as the only answer.
Having been presented in several international exhibitions of this nature (including the last Venice Biennial) I know through my own experience the importance that is put upon any artistic career by being included in these events. But I consider that my main duty is to foreground my ethical responsibility over any personal interest. "I must forget myself to have access to the other" was for the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas one of the best definitions of an ethical conduct, creating a paradigmatic concept for all artists or cultural producers. This model of commitment can describe the foundations of an ethic based on respect of difference and the intention to incorporate "the other" within artistic discourse. This position was the one that led me, in its moment, to take the decision to participate in Venice Biennale with a work produced in collaboration with the communities of the "23 de Enero" and it is the same one that led me to resign today from the Venezuelan representation.
To participate in the official selection in this situation, under the patronage of the state, would be in some way a betrayal of the principles on which I have built my body of work for over a decade, principles that have always placed me side by side with the excluded ones of our society, those 'invisible' subjects within the social fabric: the mentally ill confined in psychiatric hospitals, prisoners or the populations of shanty towns. I have never believed in the autonomy of the work of art over the social context and believe that the Venezuelan pavilion today embodies a toxic environment that would inevitably contaminate the reading of any work of art that deals with social inequality, especially in moments in which the manipulation of information, violence, populism, intolerance, and nationalisms constitute the political discourses shared by the state and the 'official' opposition. The terrible polarization that literally has divided the country in two makes it impossible to articulate a critical position that can operate "in-between" these irreconcilable dichotomies.
As intellectuals we must maintain a critical position in relation to any authoritative and anti-democratic discourse come where it may, because these positions cover up the corruption and struggle for power that are choking the country. The cultural sector reflects this crisis in a specific way. This is another reason that makes it unthinkable for me to be part of an enterprise that without a doubt will generate a considerable cost to the nation in a moment when museums and theatres lack electrical services, to cite only one example that illustrates the pathetic situation that our institutions are going through.
When the vice-minister of culture suggests to the museums that they reduce their electrical consumption, I can't help reading this in a very symbolic way, recalling ironically Simon Bolivar's motto that supposedly is the motor of the 'cultural revolution'. ''Morals and Enlightenment are our first needs." Without Morals and Light it is impossible to imagine cultural endeavours.
Do you sleep well Mr. Vice-Minister?