Vacationers invade the 56th Venice Biennale

on vacation

Vacationers at the Venice Biennale

We love being on vacation. This is the time when you can finally forget about the downsides of everyday life and fully enjoy the sunny side. But before having fun, one tough decision has to be taken: where do we go? We want to pick an ideal destination, a place everybody dreams to be: let’s go to Venice! As so often, a closer look on the chosen destination shows us that dream and reality is rarely the same: loads of tourists, heavy prices and selfie sticks wherever you look.

selfie stick

Selfie sticks – a must for tourists in Venice

However, we stick to our initial plan, mainly because of two reasons: the 56th Venice Biennale has taken place under the theme “All the World’s Futures” and even better, Clemens Poole, a good old friend from the USA, invites us to participate in an art project.[1] It is carried by a bunch of international people and its main idea is to be on vacation, as well as to redefine the notion of vacation. Furthermore, it is about pushing exhibition’s visitors to enter a competition for winning a free vacation! How? By putting a military jacket on, taking a selfie in a pavilion of a country that is currently occupying another country and sharing it on Twitter or Instagram, with the #onvacation hashtag or on the website of the project.[2]

There we are, in Giardini, Arsenale and pavilions outside the main areas, moving around and talking to people to make them enlist. The reactions we get are very different. From “No! No! No! That’s a scam for sure.” and “Can I get a tote bag[3] from you?” and “Of course, where should I start, in Russia, Israel or the USA?” to “I’m so sorry that I was so rude to you the other day, I’ve read about the project and I absolutely want to participate.” or even “I know it’s for free but I still want to give you a couple of Euro for the bag, how much is it?”.

Israeli pavilion

In front of the Israeli pavilion: will he or won’t he…?

We also organise some payback invasions of the most aggressive countries, during which we are all together occupying the same pavilion, focusing the attention of the visitors much more than the art installations do. In between, we always find the time to gather our team at the cafeteria to drink some Spritz. It remembers us what vacation is really about.

Spritz in Giardini

On vacation with some Spritz in Giardini

Spritz in Arsenale

And some more Spritz in Arsenale

Are you asking yourself where the lucky winner will go? Then you are one out of few. Most of the people didn’t ask, but to the curious visitors we had to tell the truth: Balaklava, Crimea. Well, some of them refused to participate after they heard that. Not their ideal destination, as they remarked.

#onvacation is questioning the definition of vacation in our times of heavy militarisation. The war is over, they said, but military expenses is still on the top of many countries’ budgets and bullets are for many a part of everyday’s life. What about the soldiers who are sent in foreign countries but without receiving any order? Are they soldiers or vacationers? Well, if they’re not working, they are probably on vacation!

Nobody has claimed the autorship of the project yet, but we know that the jackets and tote bags are funded by an Ukrainian cultural foundation called Izolyatsia. Last year, a few Kalaschnikov rifles seized its headquarters in Donetsk, which is now used as a detention camp by the separatists. They found refuge in Kiev and for them, the #onvacation project is of course focused on Russia. But Clemens told us that the project goes beyond that. The pavilions to occupy are really left to the visitors’ choice, it could be Russia but also USA, Israel, China, Turkey, Belgium… in the end, it’s interesting to see where the people decide to take their vacation. We, as vacationers and vacation givers, don’t want to blame one country more than another, we are just pointing out something that deserves attention. Our stay there is not artistic nor political! It is all about vacation and no more.

All the world’s futures? Hopefully #nooccupation. (Anna und Adrien, dieKulturvermittlung, 03.06.2015)


[1] An art project that was not officially selected by the Venice Biennale committee.

[2] Free military jackets will be distributed in tote bags until the 8th of June. Do you also want to win a vacation? Then hurry up and go to Venice Biennale to take your #onvacation selfie. On the 9th of June you will know if you are the lucky one.

[3] Probably the hippest and cheapest tote bags at the 56th Biennale, made in Ukraine.

(Picture credits: dieKulturvermittlung)

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