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Politics and pop culture are combined in a refreshingly ironic way in Filip Markiewicz‘s multi-media show at the Ca’ del Duca near Camp San Stefano in Venice. The title, “Paradiso Lussemburgo“ evokes Dante’s Paradiso, the third act of the Divine Comedy, Giuseppe Tornatore‘s movie Cinema Paradiso (1988), and Luxembourg’s tax havens. A sequence of rooms takes you through a disco, videos of immigrants discussing their lives, bank notes printed with the word “sorry,” a karaoke setup of 1980s songs, and a corridor of political drawings. One drawing depicts Madonna and Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front party; another portrays Steve Jobs and Vladimir Putin. In a third, young men are scaling a ladder and sitting on the edge of what could be a boat, the caption reading “From Europe With Love.” A neon spelling out “Nature Morte” (a pun on the French for “still-life” that also translates as dead nature) arches over a map of the world. Markiewicz’s body of work is punchy and poignant, an artistic snapshot of headlining issues.
Whitewall spoke to Markiewicz, a 35-year-old artist, author, and musician born to Polish parents in Luxembourg and now based in Hamburg, Germany, at the pavilion’s opening.
WHITEWALL: What inspired you to organize the pavilion in a sequential way with separated spaces?
FILIP MARKIEWICZ: I wanted to create a theater-like mise-en-scène, going from one act to another. In theatre, you’re watching the stage moving. Here you’re moving between different stages. The quote from Oscar Wilde at the entrance resumes this and is my working title: “The world is a stage but the play is badly cast.” It’s an aspect of theater but it’s also about political injustice.
WW: The references to migration feel very timely, given how the Biennale is opening just weeks after 900 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean.
FM: It’s a coincidence. I started the project in February 2014, gave it to the jury last June and finished the whole work in February. So maybe it’s a zeitgeist feeling of what’s happening.
WW: The mood in the pavilion switches from one room to the next. What effect were you after?
FM: My work is always a play between something dramatic and something absurd and comedic. I wanted to do something in the mood of The Great Dictator by Charlie Chaplin but with a kind of satire. Maybe it’s the better way to talk about politics because it’s always strange when artists try to be dogmatic. I try to mostly ask questions rather than give answers. The problem is way beyond what is happening now. The modern world is still in reminiscence of World War II. There are still survivors from Auschwitz, the Nazi swastika symbol is still dangerous, and you still have rightwing parties in nearly every country.
WW: What can you tell us about this going back-and-forth between politics and pop culture approach?
FM: The drawing of Marine Le Pen and Madonna is about Marine Le Pen going to TIME’s famous persons event [the 2015 TIME 100 Gala] in New York last month and Madonna always having political content in her concerts. But in the karaoke, I chose songs that were mostly made when the Iron Curtain came down, like the Scorpions’ Wind of Change and Madonna’s La Isla Bonita. If you put the lyrics in the context of the installation with political iconography, these pop songs become political because of the time line.
WW: Your practice incorporates sculpture, installations, video, music, and drawings. What do they all represent to you?
FM: Although I work across different media, the subjects are always the same. It’s like changing colors, going from black to green, but the message is always the same.
WW: The karaoke character on the TV screen is actually yourself disguised with sunglasses.
FM: I have a character called Raftside, a songwriter and fake rockstar. I do performances and concerts [as this alter-ego] and I’ve always written music. I think there’s a connection between writing songs and making sketches. I still write songs to have a break from visual art and I make art to have a break from music.
WW: The word ‘Sorry’ is printed on the bank notes. Are you apologizing on behalf of the banks or is there another message?
FM: Sorry people for coming from a rich country like Luxembourg!
“Paradiso Lussemburgo” is on view through November 22 in Venice and is curated by Paul Ardenne.