About the 2022 Croatian Pavilion

Tomo Savić-Gecan’s representation of Croatia at the 59th Venice Biennale of Art is a stealth project that both extends the artist’s uncompromising, several-decades long conceptual practice and acutely reflects our contemporary moment. Untitled (Croatian Pavilion), 2022, reconceives the notion of a pavilion as a fixed location, instead dispersing Croatian representation throughout the whole of the Biennale, while creating a discreet performative project that will stand out for its engagement with one of the most pertinent issues facing our time: what it means to be human at a moment when digital technologies are revolutionizing our lives. The piece triangulates its key tenets—the news, which is to say, the selective, subjective reporting on the events of the world; artificial intelligence, meaning the complex of algorithmic systems that play an invisible and yet dominantly insidious role in our present; and the flesh-and-blood bodies of humans, the baseline of human existence and experience.

The practical functioning of the project could be broken down as follows: five performers, from a trained cast of twenty-five, stand by during the seven months of the Venice Biennale of Art, waiting for their instructions. They receive these at eight o’clock in the morning Central European time each day on their smartphones, wirelessly transmitted from an artificial intelligence that analyzes textual data from that day’s lead article from a randomly selected major news source, for instance the Arab News, Corriere della Sera, El Tiempo, Le Monde, the Bangkok Post, The Namibian, or the New York Times. This AI has been “trained” using prediction algorithms to recognize and classify a defined set of topics, spanning from climate change to violations of human rights, from developments in technology to military activities. The result produces the performers’ algorithmically derived instructions: which of the various national pavilions inside and outside the Giardini the performers will infiltrate at any time, the parameters of their minimal movements, and even what they should relate to and thus concentrate on (audience or self, floor or wall) while performing. These instructions change, as the news changes, every day for the seven months of the Biennale.

Who controls whom? Who or what decides? And what does a news item or the technologies that circulate it tell us about perception, power, and the interests of the corporations or nation-states behind them? Whether it is new viral infection rates, a war in Ukraine, supposed election manipulations, a Kardashian divorce, ecological catastrophes, the rise of cryptocurrencies, or one more political corruption scandal, global networked information flows penetrate practically every aspect of our daily lives. And yet, as we know all too well, there is no such thing as “neutral” news, no such thing as unbiased reporting. Algorithmically driven systems effectively guarantee the burial of objective facts under an avalanche of rumor, emotion, and disinformation, even as our response to these is mined and monetized. In the context of this total condition, Untitled (Croatian Pavilion) is an artwork conceived in and for a “post-truth” era.

Here, global events are galvanized to become the very medium of this nomadic Croatian Pavilion. And just as lives are transformed into data in the “real world,” generating new forms of social control, so, too, does this artwork transform the news into directives—a disciplining machine. The result is devastatingly topical, pointing to our complex relationship with the media, control, technology, and power in what scholar Shoshana Zuboff has provocatively called “the age of surveillance capitalism.”