Tamiko Thiel @ Venice Biennial 2011
“Shades of Absence”
In these pavilions of absence images of contemporary artists whose works have been censored are reduced to gold silhouettes and placed in the midst of terms of transgression. Each erased silhouette stands for countless unknown or lesser known artists who face censorship or persecution with no public support.
These works were created as a response to Biennale curator Bice Curiger’s question: “If art was a nation what would be written in its constitution?” as part of her theme on nationalism and internationalism at the Biennale.
There are three artworks in the series:
“Shades of Absence: Public Voids”
This work brings artists of censored public artworks into the public space of Piazza San Marco. Touching the screen while viewing the artwork brings a link to a website on censorship of artists’ works in public space – including several cases at the Venice Biennial itself.
“Shades of Absence: Schlingensief Gilded”
This is an intervention in the German Pavilion, which just won the Golden Lion Award for Best National Pavilion. In the spirit of Schlingensief, “Shades of Absence: Schlingensief Gilded” intervenes in this memorial to the deceased artist, manifesting his ironic absent presence surrounded by a halo of terms of censorship often used to describe his works. As difficult to pin down as Schlingensief himself, this gilded ghost floats in and out and around the pavilion. Touching the screen brings a link to a website with information on several cases in which Schlingensief’s works had been censored.
“Shades of Absence: Outside Inside”
This work creates a virtual pavilion on the Giardini concourse for censored artists who, whether considered art world insiders or outsiders, have faced threats of violence or arrest. Touching the screen while viewing the artwork brings a link to a website with information on the artists depicted, and many others such cases.
- Website with cases of censorship: With each artwork, touching the silhouettes in the display of the smartphone brings up a list of censored artists corresponding to the respective type of censorship, including but not limited to the artists depicted.
- Post cases of censorship in the visual arts to a Facebook group “Shades of Absence”, or email them to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The page will be archived regularly in case of censorship by Facebook – itself a notorious censor – and will be brought into a more secure database under development.
- Viewing locations and instructions:
Please see the Venice Biennial 2011 Intervention Index
These works pose the question: What is the real value of an artwork for society? Is it the price it receives from the highest bidder at auction? Or is it the discussion that it provokes in the public sphere? There are multiple shades of absence for censored works, with some artworks and artists becoming even more prominent due to censorship, and others – the vast majority – disappearing without a trace. At a time when well-known artworks are being destroyed and famous artists arrested, we need to be aware that most artists who are censored do not enjoy world-wide visibility and support.
Censorship of art and artists happens in all nations in many forms and for many reasons. Some artists may deliberately seek provocation, but others are stunned that their work is seen as controversial. Especially works in public places can be censored for unclear or unspoken reasons. The Venice Biennial has provided a protected space for artworks that have been censored elsewhere, but also censors artworks itself, especially in the public space of Venice. Facebook too is on the one hand a powerful grassroots tool for people to share information and media, but is a pitiless censor in order to serve its commercial interests.
Tamiko Thiel (US,JP,DE) is a media artist developing the dramatic and poetic capabilities of various forms of reality. She has degrees in engineering from Stanford and MIT and a fine arts degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. She exhibits internationally in venues such as the International Center for Photography in New York, the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, the ZKM in Karlsruhe, the ICA in Boston and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, and at festivals such as Siggraph, ISEA and Ars Electronica.
She designed the visual form of the Connection Machine CM-1/CM-2 (1986/’87), the fastest supercomputer in the 1980s and now preserved in the Smithsonian Institution. She was creative director and producer of Starbright World, an award-winning multi-user 3D online virtual playspace for seriously ill children done in collaboration with film director and Starbright Foundation chairman Steven Spielberg. Her virtual reality installation Beyond Manzanar (2000) is in the permanent collection of the San Jose Museum of Art in Silicon Valley.
She has won prizes such as the IBM Innovation Award and grants from WIRED Magazine and the Berlin Capital City Cultural Fund (Hauptstadtkulturfonds), and fellowships from institutions such as MIT and the Japan Foundation. She has taught and lectured at institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University, the MIT Media Lab, the Bauhaus-University in Weimar/Germany, University of California/San Diego, the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television and the School of Film and Television in Babelsberg, Germany.