German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2019: an Interview with Curator Franciska Zólyom

by Mara Sartore
November 14, 2018
Mara Sartore
Zólyom Franciska

We interviewed Franciska Zólyom, curator of the German Pavilion 2019, following the press conference in which the artist to represent Germany at the upcoming Venice Biennale was announced.  The curator has provided us with first hand insight into the project she’s working on with artist Natascha Süder Happelmann.

Mara Sartore: How do you feel about being chosen to curate the German Pavilion?

Franciska Zólyom: It is an exciting project indeed. I could feel this soon after I was informed that I was selected as curator of the German Pavillon. It was an extremely inspiring process to figure out what kind of artistic realisation I’d like to propose for the audience of the Venice Biennial. As a visitor I have attended the biennial several times and I like the ambience of the Giardini as well as all the discoveries in the pavilions spread throughout the city of Venice.

Mara Sartore: During the recent press conference the artist was announced by Helene Duldung, the artist’s own spokeswoman who said: ‘The artist chosen for the presentation at the German Pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia 2019 is …. Natascha Süder Happelmann.’ A new name in the art world actually, no one had heard of the artist and she herself didn’t say a word, her head was hidden under a stone made of papier-maché. That was an intentional misspelling of Natascha Sadr Haghighian. Tell us a bit about this issue…

Franciska Zólyom: Names are powerful. They not only designate beings and things they also constitute, determine and identify them. By doing so they also distinguish, separate them from each other and ascribe meaning and value to them. In art there are again and again „names“ that you supposedly shouldn’t miss. However in my understanding art is a continuous search for forms of expression for ways to depict and to imagine the world in ways we don’t know yet. In this sense it is important to look for alliances, connections and affinities between forms of being. To overcome demarcations and the effects of discrimination that they entail.

Mara Sartore: Could you tell us something about the way yourself and the artist will respond to theme of this year’s biennale, “May You Live in Interesting Times“?

Franciska Zólyom: We didn’t know about Ralph Rugoff’s concept when we started to conceptualise the project. His statement is inspiring in that it asks for the imaginative potential and critical agency of art. I think that visitors will gain awareness of the specific context in which the main exhibition is embedded.

Mara Sartore: What’s it like working with Natascha Süder Happelmann like? (and with Helene Duldung)…

Franciska Zólyom: It is an extraordinarily rich and joyful experience to work with Natascha. Rich both in intellectual and interpersonal respect. Step by step we built a project team and the more complete and diverse it grew the more privileged I feel to work within this team. It is a huge amount of work that we face. Facing it together definitely helps!

Mara Sartore: From your experience of the Venice Biennale, which German Pavilion has had the greatest impact on you? Did you enjoy Anne Imhof’s Golden Lion-winning presentation at the 2017 biennale, curated by Susanne Pfeffer?

Franciska Zólyom: Last year’s Faust was a powerful project and it had a strong effect on me to step on the glass floor to attend the performance.

Mara Sartore: On another note, which pavilion you are looking forward to see at this upcoming biennale?

Franciska Zólyom: I couldn’t point out one individual presentation, but I sure watch from time to time the list of contributions that are being published successively. What I like about Giardini is the way you move from one pavilion to the next, carrying impressions and thoughts from one place to the other. It can easily happen that you talk or think about the Brazilian presentation while standing in the South Korean pavilion.

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