Venice Biennial: An open letter by Javier Tellez

Venice Biennial: An open letter by Javier Tellez

Venice Biennale

March 2, 2003

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

It is true that my proposal “La Colmena” was presented last
year to the committee that would designate de 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

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 vise-minister of culture suggests to the museums that they
reduce their electrical consumption, I can’t help reading this in a very
symbolic way and 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 endeavors.

Do you sleep well Mr. Vise-Minister?

Javier Tellez

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March 2, 2003

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