With My Eyes

With My Eyes

Holy See Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Maurizio Cattelan, Father, 2024. Timelapse video: Daniel Graf Brohawn.

April 21, 2024
With My Eyes
April 20–November 24, 2024
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Togetherness: April 21, 11am–1pm, public meeting
Palazzo Grassi, Venice, Campo San Samuele, 3231
Holy See Pavilion at the Venice Biennale
Giudecca Women's Detention Home
S. Eufemia, 712
30133 Venice

The Holy See intends to regularly participate in the Venice Biennale in the coming years, although it is well known that it is a unique state, lacking a national art scene and its own exhibition space. Given these premises, how should the concept and tradition of “national pavilion” be interpreted? The decision to involve the Giudecca Women’s prison in Venice-one of the few exclusively female jailhouses in Italy-in this project, was a response to this context.

We took seriously both the title of the biennial art show (Foreigners Everywhere) and the Pope’s invitation to take care of the peripheries, the marginalized, those who society has pushed away. By choosing a still operating prison, we wanted to go beyond an artistic proposal which, in reality, would only reach the international public of contemporary art. Instead, our goal was to engage in a rich and complex human experience, with those who are excluded from society, who get the role of protagonists. The choice of the place becomes itself a manifesto, a statement.

In short, we intended to effectively demonstrate that art can modify life, change the way visitors look at this usually impenetrable universe, as well as the way inmates look at themselves. The proposed title, With my eyes, evokes such reflection, a conversion of the gaze, to which art invites us and to which it provides its full dimension.

Artists were invited for their sensitivity and affinity to this theme, regardless of their profession of faith or personal religious belonging. Holding on to the reality of the prison, their artistic approach testifies to the universal value of this message. Those so different personalities, women and men who, by their origins, are connected to all continents and are often themselves expatriates or exiled, make up a constellation united by their spontaneous and generous support for the project, which each one expresses in his or her own way.

The fresco by Maurizio Cattelan recalls Mantegna’s Dead Christ and Caravaggio’s humble barefoot pilgrims; Simone Fattal’s slabs of lava stone present the inmates’ poetries; Corita Kent, the only historical artist, who had been a member of a religious congregation, uses pop culture as a vehicle for her deeply engaged approach to art ; the Claire Fontaine collective, a work of whom gave the Biennial Art Show its title, shines discreet lights of solidarity on the nights of detention; Marco Perego & Zoe Saldana work together with the inmates on a short film that will also be screened at the Venice International Film Festival; Claire Tabouret is inspired by family photos sent by the prisoners who are separated from their beloved ones; Sonia Gomes changes the old disused chapel into a large visual and sound installation. Moreover, the choreographer Bintou Dembélé designs a performance especially for the inmates, in September.

The artists are not only present through their installed works but have also carried out an in-depth work relation together with the inmates, including the realization of a special issue of L’Osservatore di Strada under the supervision of Maurizio Cattelan, and workshops conducted by Simone Fattal, Claire Fontaine and Claire Tabouret, as well as the participation in a film by Marco Perego & Zoe Saldana.

The nature of the project implied the participation of all the inhabitants of the jailhouse. It is certainly not the first time that an art event has taken place in a prison facility, but this project probably has an unprecedented reach that will be demonstrated in its own way by the visit of Pope Francis.

We thought of a visitor’s experience on different levels. As a stranger to the prison world, he or she will have to carry out all the access formalities before entering and leave the mobile phone that has become a kind of extension of ourselves, and he or she will be accompanied to the pavilion by agents and some inmates trained as guides. This is an essential element to avoid the pitfall of both idealism-the inmates are serving long sentences-and voyeurism.

It is an authentic encounter that the visitor will experience in their company, along a pathway that will take him or her through the different areas of the prison.

Even if it is forbidden to take photographs, we are confident that this artistic and human experience will remain in his or her memory “with his eyes.”

Curators Chiara Parisi and Bruno Racine

The online platform for booking guided tours is operated by CoopCulture. The viewings are scheduled every day, except Wednesdays, and reservations are required at least 48 hours in advance at this link

In addition, on Sunday, April 21, 2024 at 11am, the Teatrino of Palazzo Grassi will host a public meeting, titled Togetherness, as part of the Holy See Pavilion, aimed at exploring the exhibition project. The meeting, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and in the presence of His Eminence Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça, will feature talks by artists Claire Fontaine (Fulvia Carnevale and James Thornhill), Claire Tabouret, Sonia Gomes, and artist and writer Simone Fattal (remotely connected), Corita Kent Centrecurators, and Pavilion curators Bruno Racine and Chiara Parisi. Free admission subject to availability.

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Holy See Pavilion at the Venice Biennale
April 21, 2024

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