Adrian Ghenie, Lóránd Hegyi, Juerg Judin, Alexandru Polgár, Mihai Pop, Venice, 2015.
Softcover, 96 pp., 60 color illustrations, , 9.5 x 11.25 inches.
At the 2015 Venice Biennale, the Romanian Pavilion showcases Darwin's Room, an exhibition of paintings by Adrian Ghenie (born 1977). The title refers not only to a recent series of portraits of (and self-portraits as) the great British naturalist, but also to Ghenie's exploration of 20th-century history as an "evolutionary laboratory."
The Romanian Pavilion, curated by Mihai Pop, showcases Darwin’s Room, a selection of paintings organized across three rooms – according to the initial interior architecture of the Pavilion (from 1938) – and comprises a specific theme for each of these rooms: The Tempest, The Portrait Gallery (Self-portrait as Charles Darwin), and The Dissonances of History.
Expanding upon Darwin’s ‘laboratory’, Ghenie proposes an interpretive path into the notion of survival. He reads into the theory of biological evolutionism and the ways it has been skewed to transform societies. He also draws upon other historical sources in his updating of this image (fundamental to our self-perception), ‘contaminating’ it with a keen reflection on neoliberal competitiveness, extending across all areas and folds of social and affective life. Darwin’s studio broadens its scope and becomes an incubator where future ideas grow and develop. It is an interweaving of past and future histories that does not hold proof or speculation on species evolution, which neither distorts nor idealizes, but opens a path towards a reformulation of the social values that structure contemporary existence. To equal extents, this returns to an essential moment, when epistemological tables were turned, and uses Darwin’s scientific tabula rasa to project or inscribe a new image of our future.
Gazing into the future is premised on revisiting the past with a lucid eye, parsing through myths that accreted as foundation for the writing of history, of the fictions that define nations, of the fabricated narratives that fragment history into centres and peripheries, occupied respectively by winners and losers.