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Cosmopolitanism in Europe and the Venice Biennale

Monica Sassatelli introduces the notion of cosmopolitanism and applies it to the Venice biennial that creates a dialogue between different national cu
I think cosmopolitanism is a very complex , multisemic, plurisemic concept that is one that has several meanings. So perhaps the best way is to think of it as a kind of spectrum from more political, ethical, normative notions of cosmopolitanism to more cultural, everyday, really existing cosmopolitanism. And as far as I’m concerned, I think that in terms of Europe, culture, and identity, it’s certainly the most important one cultural notions of cosmopolitanism. And when we think in terms of cultural cosmopolitanism, what we are referring to is a disposition or a set of dispositions that signify an openness to diversity, to cultural diversity.
So an ability– a willingness and an ability to experience different cultures, to be able to live in different cultures perhaps, and that is really very relevant for Europe. Because Europe is a multicultural, pluricultural, intercultural society that needs this kind of disposition, this ability to communicate with others and not to feel strangers in a way that makes communication impossible.
The Venice Biennale, I think, is a very interesting case because it’s such a longstanding cultural event. There aren’t many festivals that have 120 years of history. The Venice Biennale was created in 1895, so I’ve seen a lot of changes. It’s seen– is a good thermometer in a way of public culture. And it started as an art exhibition, and it has become much more than that. But even if we concentrate just on the visual arts section of the Venice Biennale, we could say that we can see notions of cosmopolitanism being played out implicitly or explicitly, willingly or by default in a way.
And already in the 60s, when the Venice Biennale and several international representations within its exhibition, some critics described it as preliminary cosmopolitanism art world. Because of the Venice Biennale, so many countries with exhibits, their own artists, and would present this national pavilions in a way as visiting cards, we could say, or as representative of what was happening in their national art world.
Now this has come under a lot of criticism more recently, and at some point in the 90s, there was even talk of getting rid of the system of national representation of the Venice Biennale, and instead, what we have seen is that now national pavilions have multiplied, and every year there’s more, and currently, there’s more than 80 national representation at the Venice Biennale. And even if the system is often criticised as anachronistic, as something that really comes out of the 19th century origin of the Venice Biennale, at the same time, more and more countries want to be represented.
And artists often use the national pavilion as a way to criticise and to question and interrogate national identities and division of cultures along national borders. And in that sense, it really becomes a space to explore cosmopolitanism possibilities, a space that says we need something more than just an international system. We need to find ways of perhaps being cosmopolitan.

Monica Sassatelli, from the University of London, introduces the notion of cosmopolitanism as a spectrum ranging from political norms to cultural practices.

She defines cosmopolitanism as a disposition to cultural diversity, the ability and willingness to experience diverse cultures. She argues that Europe needs to develop this disposition.

Then she takes the example of the Venice Biennale, created in 1895, to analyse how cosmopolitanism plays out. The Venice Biennale displays national pavilions representing the art worlds of a variety of nations and puts them in dialogue. Despite the criticisms against this model of national pavilion, it has prevailed and expanded to even more countries. Thereby, the biennial has become a space of cosmopolitan possibilities, questioning the nation and the international system.

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Cultures and Identities in Europe

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