The German Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale breaks with tradition by exhibiting the work of British-born artist Liam Gillick.
When I approached the pavilion, I saw Liam Gillick and my former professor Hans Haake discuss the history of the pavilion. Haake addressed the Biennale’s roots in the politics of fascist Italy with his installation Germania, when he was chosen to represent his country in 1993.
“If you talk to a young journalist now… it’s so clear that there was a consensus that what Hans did is ‘the’ post-war pavilion” said Liam Gillick.
When Haake was starting to work on his treatment of the pavilion he was asked if he would like to get rid of it altogether.
“I said: No. This is part of the history and that is not how you deal with history, “ recalls Haake
As an invited “guest” Gillick makes a parody of the German pavilion and re-tells its monumental construction. Built in 1938 under the Third Reich, the building is an ideologically loaded site.
Part of the artist’s research for the project was looking for the “good German.” He found this figure in Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, the creator of the Frankfurt kitchen, a modernist milestone in domestic architecture. From there, Gillick uses kitchen design in an attempt to save the German pavilion from its fascist origins.
Gillick scaled down the proportions of the pavilion into basic pine constructions that occupy the interior. This installation, appropriating the structure’s logic, closely resembles an extended modernist kitchen.
Unlike most of the Biennale’s pavilions, Gillick keeps the German building completely open. No rooms are blocked off for storage or other purposes. Visitors to the site can wander through it.
Gillick uses the applied modernism of the kitchen itself to resist the grandeur of the pavilion which was designed without utilitarian spaces such as lavatories or places for rest.
“It’s a way of fighting the building without hiding the building,” Gillick says.
The second element of Gillick’s piece, an animatronic cat, perched atop one of the cabinets that speaks in the artist’s voice.
“I wanted to find someone who could carry a narrative,” says Gillick “that would allow me to speak without it being a voice of God.”
The cat tells a fable in the future tense of a cat that has witnessed everything and can speak.
“But they will all stop touching the cat,” begins the cat:
There will have been a point when it had been touched and loved and played with.
But now all people will want to know is its position on the history of totalitarian architecture or the restriction of credit within the
context of failed models of globalization.”
The story doubles back on itself, looping on forever.
For Gillick “it becomes this circular narrative that tries to evade the idea of the perfect didactic voice, or the perfect way to account for these situations.”
The kitchen and the cat work together to create a space of disembodied protest that denies the viewer footing in an alternate ideology or
narrative. For Gillick its a statement of “an anti-fascist work.”
To listen to the talking cat’s full story click here.