Venice Biennale Highlight #4: United Dead Nations

Appropriately for a building that still bears the name of a country that no longer exists, carved in stone above the entrance, the Serbian Pavilion (formerly that of Yugoslavia) at the 2015 Venice Biennale hosts a powerful comment on the fluidity and vulnerability of nationhood. Artist Ivan Grubanov collected the flags of countries that have ceased to exist to create United Dead Nations. In the foyer, a video explains his process, piling high the flags and pouring over them paint in the same bright colours from which they are constructed. Upon entering the main room of the pavilion visitors see the results of that process – pathetic heaps of dirty material that has lost its lustre, and underfoot a thin layer of dry paint, which has drained from the flags like a waning life source.

On the white walls, embossed in bold white letters, arise like ghosts the names and dates of these former nations, including Czechoslovakia, the GDR, and the USSR, which like Yugoslavia fell after the end of the Cold War. In a world struggling to adapt to the rapidly changing ideas of nationhood resulting from the challenges of globalisation and religious fundamentalism, the Serbian Pavilion offers a quiet moment for reflection among the dazzle of the Giardini.

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