Questioning the World as Image: The 55th Venice Biennale and The Whole Earth

Excerpt / The central theme for this year’s Venice Biennale exhibition, curated by Massimiliano Gioni, comes from an obscure patented design for an encyclopedic palace by the self-taught Italian-American artist Marino Auriti. Envisioned as a 136-story building that would take over sixteen blocks of Washington, D.C., Auriti’s palace was to house all the available knowledge in the world. Titling the show “Il Palazzo Enciclopedico” after Auriti’s unrealized model, Gioni and his team selected an eclectic group of artists, psychologists, mystics and more whose work resonates with Auriti’s desire to create a total image of the world. In many ways, the exhibition can be seen as a response to the exhaustive overabundance of information available on the internet. As Gioni pointedly asks in his essay, “…what is the point of creating an image of the world when the world itself has become increasingly like an image?”

My experience of the Biennale was still fresh a week later when I visited “The Whole Earth: California and the Disappearance of the Outside” at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin. Curated by Diedrich Diedrichsen and Anselm Franke, the show investigated the influence of NASA’s first image of Earth from space, which appeared on the cover of the inaugural issue of the groundbreaking publication The Whole Earth Catalog. Organized as an experimental essay-as-exhibition divided into small vignettes, the show was a meditation on the elimination of boundaries and the sense of a universally shared, planetary human experience encapsulated by NASA’s image of the earth, which became a catalyst for a vast array of social, cultural and political movements and output beginning in the 1960s, especially in California.

After viewing both of these powerful and insightful exhibitions back to back, I’ve pondered the following: How can we represent the world in an image, and how can that image, in turn, inspire action? If Auriti’s fantasy of an encyclopedic palace is now a reality, where all knowledge is a click away, then what methods or strategies can we use to address the very networks that enable that exchange?

— “Questioning the World as Image: The 55th Venice Biennale and The Whole EarthRhizome, June 20th, 2013