[-empyre-] letter from Javier Tellez

I'm copying a letter from Javier Tellez I just received concerning his
refusal of an invitation to represent Venezuela in the Venice Biennial.  I
do so in anticipating of subjects that may come up this month.


 I write this letter to communicate my resignation to the official
invitation to represent Venezuela in the national pavilion of the 50th
Venice Biennial.  This decision is a fundamentally ethical one and I have
taken it as a Venezuelan and as an artist responsible and aware of our

 It is true that my proposal ?La Colmena? was presented last year to the
committee that would designate de Venezuelan representation in the
Biennial. But, since then, the critical situation of the country has
dramatically accelerated, urging us a gesture that can represent something
more than the artwork itself now: the absence-presence as the only answer.

 Having been presented in several international exhibitions of this nature
(including the last Venice Biennial) I know through my own experience the
importance that is put upon any artistic career by being included in these
events. But I consider that my main duty is to foreground my ethical
responsibility over any personal interest. ?I must forget myself to have
access to the other? was for the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas one of the
best definitions of an ethical conduct, creating a paradigmatic concept for
all artists or cultural producers. This model of commitment can describe
the foundations of an ethic based on respect of difference and the
intention to incorporate ?the other? within artistic discourse. This
position was the one that led me, in its moment, to take the decision to
participate in Venice Biennale with a work produced in collaboration with
the communities of the ?23 de Enero?* and it is the same one that led me to
resign today from the Venezuelan representation.

 To participate in the official selection in this situation, under the
patronage of the state, would be in some way a betrayal of the principles
on which I have built my body of work for over a decade, principles that
have always placed me side by side with the excluded ones of our society,
those ?invisible? subjects within the social fabric: the mentally ill
confined in psychiatric hospitals, prisoners or the populations of shanty
towns. I have never believed in the autonomy of the work of art over the
social context and believe that the Venezuelan pavilion today embodies a
toxic environment that would inevitably contaminate the reading of any work
of art that deals with social inequality. Especially in moments in which
the manipulation of information, violence, populism, intolerance, and
nationalisms constitute the political discourses shared by the state and
the ?official? opposition. The terrible polarization that literally has
divided the country in two makes it impossible to articulate a critical
position that can operate ?in-between?  these irreconcilable dichotomies.

 As intellectuals we must maintain a critical position in relation to any
authoritative and anti-democratic discourse come where it may, because
these positions cover up the  corruption and struggle for power that are
choking the country. The cultural sector reflects this crisis in a specific
way. This is another reason that makes it unthinkable for me to be part of
an enterprise that without a doubt will generate a considerable cost to the
nation in a moment when museums and theatres lack electrical services, to
cite only one example that illustrates the pathetic situation that our
institutions are going through.

 When the vise-minister of culture suggests to the museums that they reduce
their electrical consumption, I can?t help reading this in a very symbolic
way and recalling ironically Simon Bolivar?s motto that supposedly is the
motor of the ?cultural revolution?.(??Morals and Enlightenment are our
first needs??)
 Without Morals and Light it is impossible to imagine cultural endeavors.

 Do you sleep well Mr. Vise-Minister?

 Javier Tellez

Timothy Murray
Professor of Comparative Literature and English
Director of Graduate Studies in Film and Video
Curator, The Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, Cornell Library
Co-Curator, CTHEORY Multimedia: http://ctheorymultimedia.cornell.edu
285 Goldwin Smith Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York  14853

office: 607-255-4012
e-mail: tcm1@cornell.edu

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