The Icelandic Art Center (IAC) wishes to correct some of the information provided by others to and reported by the press about THE MOSQUE, the Icelandic Pavilion of the 56th Biennale di Venezia, that IAC considers incorrect. The Icelandic Art Center will pursue actively the re-opening of the Icelandic Pavilion of the Biennale di Venezia, and report its findings and recommendations to the Icelandic Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.
The Icelandic Art Center (IAC) wishes to correct some of the information provided by others to and reported by the press about THE MOSQUE, the Icelandic Pavilion of the 56th Biennale di Venezia, that IAC considers incorrect:
1. Representatives of La Biennale di Venezia have provided information on the Biennale’s advocacy on behalf of the Icelandic Pavilion and THE MOSQUE project with officials of the City of Venice. A member of the Biennale’s communications staff claimed in a written statement to press that Biennale officials attended “countless meetings between the local authorities and the representatives of the Icelandic pavilion, actively working towards finding a solution that would make it possible to activate the Icelandic pavilion.”
One Biennale official (accompanied by the lawyer of the Biennale) participated in only two meetings between representatives of the Icelandic Pavilion project and officials of the City; one of these meetings was held in the Venice Prefettura on the 21st of April 2015 and the second in the Venice Commune headquarters on the 6th May 2015, two days before the opening of the Pavilion.
- During those meetings the Biennale representative agreed with City officials’ demands to censor design elements proposed for the exterior of the Pavilion, including Arabic or Italian inscriptions (i.e., “Mercy” and “Misericordia”) that the officials insisted would constitute a public threat. The Biennale official likewise supported officials’ opinion that the Muslim Community should cease its active involvement in this work of art in favor of creating a conventional visual art exhibition.
2. In recent weeks, Venice City officials have in public statements alleged that the Church of Santa Maria della Misericordia is a consecrated site.
Documents provided by the IAC to City officials clearly show that the Church is privately owned and was officially deconsecrated for “profane use” in 1973 by then-Patriarch of Venice Albino Luciani (later Pope John Paul I). The Church was rented from its current owner by the IAC specifically to house the Icelandic Pavilion during the full course of the Biennale for presenting our exhibition THE MOSQUE.
3. Claims have been made that zoning laws prohibit the activities of THE MOSQUE at this venue, the Church of Santa Maria della Misericordia.
According to information appearing on the website of the City of Venice (http://sit.comune.venezia.it/cartanet/), the Church of Santa Maria della Misericordia is classified as “Unità edilizia speciale preottocentesca a struttura unitaria” (type SU). According to zoning regulations of the Old City of Venice, buildings designated as SU can be used as “Museums; exhibition venues; libraries; archives; association facilities; theaters; community places; religious facilities, provided that the entire building unit is used as one of the aforementioned uses exclusively or overwhelmingly, with one or more other uses occurring as auxiliary and/or complementary use.”
- It is evident from this information provided by the City of Venice that the Church building being rented by IAC is compatible with the SU designation for an exhibition venue and community use, and even for activities of worship. In spite of claims made by the City and others to the press, the IAC has fully adhered to the letter of the law in the way the Church of Santa Maria della Misericordia is being used as the Icelandic Pavilion to present the exhibition THE MOSQUE.
4. Although the IAC has produced proof of the legitimacy of its project in response to each previous claim made by the City, new claims from officials are focused upon a new issue: the number of visitors inside the Icelandic Pavilion. In the last several days, the City has announced – and used as justification for closing the Pavilion – that the number of visitors at the Icelandic Pavilion at given times has exceeded legal limits.
While public attention to art events is laudable, the IAC agrees that there must be occupancy regulations for reasons of safety. However, occupancy of the Pavilion has been tracked consistently by staff and has, after the opening day, never gone above 100 people at one time.
- During the opening dedication celebration and inauguration events there were certainly more than 100 people allowed inside the building – an exception that was in full compliance with the law. During official inaugurations, exceptions are made for occupancy, and indeed such exceptions have been made for inaugural events at many of the other national pavilions of the Biennale this year.
5. City of Venice officials’ have made claims to press that the IAC and the Pavilion’s artist failed to provide advance information about THE MOSQUE project to them and/or officials of the Biennale.
In January and February the IAC explained the project in personal meetings and submitted a detailed description of THE MOSQUE project to officials of La Biennale, and in January 2015 also to Don Gianmatteo Caputo, the cultural representative of the Patriarch of Venice. The same description was submitted in January 2015 to the official representative of acting Venice Mayor Commissario Vittorio Zappalorto. The nature and details of THE MOSQUE project were thus not concealed in any way and were fully known to City, Biennale, and Church officials, and the IAC was transparent throughout the process.
- In fact, on the 26th of February 2015, the IAC received an advisory from La Biennale informing IAC that the artist’s concept for a temporary outdoor mosque as an element of the overall project needed to be refined, stating that “public authorities have not accept[sic] the project for safety reasons. They suggested to find a private and close[sic] space.”
- With this advisory in mind, the IAC sought out and secured just such a space – the Church of Santa Maria della Misericordia in Cannaregio.
Regarding other statements made to and reported widely by the press the IAC would like to point out the following:
6. Visitors to THE MOSQUE project are NOT required to remove their shoes nor cover their heads with veils. Inside the exhibition in the Pavilion there is a sign SUGGESTING that visitors remove shoes as a part of the exhibition and the installation, and as a way to respect the cleanliness of the site. Veils are provided for OPTIONAL use by anyone wishing to use them. It is entirely left up to visitors to choose whether to remove or wear their shoes, and whether to try wearing a veil.
7. THE MOSQUE is an art project initiated by Iceland-based artist Christoph Büchel, who was commissioned by the Icelandic Art Center to take part in the 56th Biennale di Venezia. The installation is a work of art and claims to the contrary are misleading. Opinions about the art are invited and encouraged, and indeed their expression is part and parcel of THE MOSQUE project concept. But opinions are not facts.
8. The closing of THE MOSQUE, the Icelandic Pavilion of the 56th Biennale di Venezia, was a decision of Venetian officials that seem to continue to claim that the Mosque is not an art exhibition but a place of worship and that the IAC should consequently apply for a permission to open a place of worship.
- The IAC must reject this definition, and reiterate that the installation is a temporary work of art as it is the contribution of Iceland in the international exhibition in the Icelandic Pavilion.
The Icelandic Art Center will pursue actively the re-opening of the Icelandic Pavilion of the Biennale di Venezia, and report its findings and recommendations to the Icelandic Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.
Image above: Bjarni Grímsson
Source: Icelandic Art Center
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