Personne et les autres: Vincent Meessen and Guests, Belgian Pavilion, International Art Exhibition, Biennale di Venezia, Venice

This year, the Belgian Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale will present the work of Vincent Meessen together with a series of carefully selected international guest artists. Inspiration for the exhibition has been taken from the history of the Belgian Pavilion in combination with the international flavour of the Biennale. The Pavilion itself was founded by King Leopold II, who is better remembered for his founding and exploitation of the Congo Free State. Drawing on this colonial history, Meesen’s work has consistently explored the legacy of colonialism and its lingering influence in the form of colonial modernity.

Moving away from the traditional format of a solo show, the artist’s project opens up the exhibition space to incorporate multiple perspectives and voices. Meessen has been working in close collaboration with Brussels-based curator Katerina Gregos to develop a thematic exhibition with a number of invited international artists. Personne et les autres brings together the practices of research-based artists from across the world to challenge traditional notions of national representation at this year’s Venice Biennale. Participating artists include American Adam Pendleton, Zimbabwe born James Beckett and Congolese photographer Sammy Baloji.

The title of the show itself is taken from a lost play by Belgian art critic André Franklin, who was affiliated with the Lettrist and Situationist Internationals. This exhibition intends to reflect upon the legacy of Internationalism, the 20th century labour-movement theory which advocated international solidarity as a global emancipatory project. Central to this concept is a new work by Meessen filmed in Kinshasa, a piece which explores the largely unknown participation of Congolese intellectuals within the Situationist International, whose final conference took place in Venice in 1969. In exploring the Situationist International Meesen uncovers hidden episodes of history in a trans-cultural context.

Personne et les autres is an examination of a shared heritage which has been marked by intellectual and artistic exchange between Europe and Africa and challenges existing ideas of modernity. Rather than focus on the colonial history of Congo and Belgium, the exhibition examines colonial modernity and its ongoing relation to artistic and intellectual radicalism.

Personne et les autres: Vincent Meessen and Guests, Belgian Pavilion, 9 May – 22 November, International Art Exhibition, Biennale di Venezia, Venice.

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1. James Beckett, Dowsing Schools: Preliminary Findings and Corresponding Survey Kit, 2013. Courtesy the artist. Photography by Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk.