These new forms of exhibition, particularly world expos and the Olympics, served in various ways to demonstrate the economic and political power of the nations that participated in them. The games are, to a certain extent, a substitute for war. World’s fairs, on the other hand, draw attention to a nation’s distinguishing characteristics: A nation powerful in terms of science and technology demonstrates its scientific and technological advancements, while a relatively weaker nation demonstrates how happily its people live even without advanced technology.
The purpose of an art biennale, in my view, is completely different from that of the Olympics or world expos, however. Exhibitions like the Venice Biennale offer nations, along with their intellectuals and artists, the chance to face and resolve their own difficulties and embarrassments, and the risks that stand before them. In doing so, the people of the participating nations can foster mutual understanding and inspiration. The Venice Biennale is a place where people don’t exclaim, “Oh, your country seems very interesting!” but respond with, “Wow, your method is effective and I’d like to implement it somehow.” The Venice Biennale is not the place to showcase how powerful or interesting a country is, but instead its capacity to be self-aware and to problem-solve.
In recent years, visitors to the Venice Biennale have come to realize that the exhibition’s framework based on nation states is problematic. With the advent of globalization, it has become common for a person with a Chinese passport to reside in New York for 30 years. It is difficult to put such a person’s works in either the Chinese or U.S. Pavilion. Therefore, each national pavilion at the Venice Biennale should not aim to display a complete and authoritative national image. Countries should be expounded from the angle of individuals, since there is no single official, classical, or formal explanation of a nation’s image. Pavilions in Venice should also not be pressured to present the country comprehensively, but instead to renew our understanding of the country, its culture, and its traditions through a more personal lens, that of an artist or curator situated at a given moment.