In response to:
Italy: The Politics of Culture from the July 14, 1977 issue
To the Editors:
I read Furio Colombo’s article “Italy: The Politics of Culture” (NYR, July 14) with great interest. I am happy to inform your readers that the Venice Biennale will take place from November 15 to December 15, 1977, and will be entirely devoted to the problem of “dissent” in the art and culture of those European countries currently defined as socialist.
Because the theme of the 1977 Biennale has led to much discussion it must be clarified. Art inevitably creates a tension between itself and society, its conventions, accepted ideas, established ideologies, prejudices, and conventional morality. How a society absorbs these tensions, how it deals with the defiance posed both by art and ideas—these are questions that have been of concern to the Venice Biennale.
In recent years the Biennale has presented many works of art and sponsored many discussions that were implicitly or explicitly critical of official and conventional Italian attitudes to cultural and social life. It has called attention to the suppression of art, and the control of culture, by dictatorial regimes in the West. Following this tradition, we propose this year to explore similar phenomena in the countries of Eastern Europe.
We neither want to meddle in the affairs of these countries nor to ignore their cultural accomplishments, whether in the work of the Soviet avant-garde or in the Brecht Theatre in Berlin or in the Czech cinema of the 1960s, to mention only a few examples. But the world of culture cannot remain indifferent to, for example, the growing emigration of artists and intellectuals from the Eastern countries; to the difficulties (including imprisonment) that well-known international artists and intellectuals often encounter; to the suppression of numerous works; to the circumstances in which samizdat editions become necessary to circulate poetry and fiction. Obviously such phenomena are not restricted to the Eastern countries alone. But precisely because we have examined similar situations in other countries, we cannot ignore these.
For one month, therefore, we intend to exhibit the work of artists who are citizens of the Eastern countries, whether or not the artists or authors now live in one of them or have created their recent work in them. We will organize conferences, debates, and meeting places, to which we will invite artists, intellectuals, and specialists from around the world. We hope to bring together in Venice, for one month, artists and intellectuals living in Eastern countries, as well as those who now live elsewhere. We feel sure that a useful dialogue can take place and that, in this way, we will successfully contribute to a better understanding of problems whose complexity we acknowledge.
We hope that in this way we will not only contribute significantly to the general spirit of détente, but that we will be in a position—the Biennale coinciding with the final stages of the Belgrade talks—to put forward concrete measures to reduce excessive hardship and to improve the general atmosphere in which relations among the different European countries take place. I refer especially to relations among human beings—the creators of works of art and their audience—and not States.
The Biennale will be organized around three main exhibitions. The cinema program will attempt to demonstrate the vitality of the best state-sponsored cinema in the Eastern countries. It will examine the many ways in which movies challenge the status quo, demystify contemporary experience, and combat inertia. We will organize screenings in honor of major filmmakers such as Jancso of Hungary, Parajanov of the USSR, Wajda of Poland, and Vojtech and Jasny of Czechoslovakia, among others. Along with the film exhibitions there will be an international symposium on “Nationalized Cinema, Its Advantages and Problems.”
The book exhibition will primarily focus on samizdat editions from different countries, as well as on those specialized books, magazines, and newspapers which are published abroad in their original language, or in translation, by people who still consider themselves a part of the culture of a country where, for one reason or another, they do not live. Translations of books from Eastern European countries that are commercially published throughout the world will be on sale at this exhibition. We hope that the American publishers of these translations will take part, along with those in the United States and Europe who publish the works of Eastern European authors in their original language.
We are planning to organize an international symposium on the theme: “What is literature in the Eastern European countries?” as well as debates on a range of subjects (e.g., Franz Kafka’s influence on the literature of Eastern Europe), discussions with authors, etc.
Other symposiums being planned will consider the freedom of scientific research. They will discuss problems of independent art and culture; of historiography and the interpretation of historic facts; of religious belief and thought. We hope that we will be able to welcome a good number of American intellectuals to these symposiums.
The third exhibition will be of works of art. Here, above all, we will need the assistance of connoisseurs and collectors of the works of artists from the Eastern countries. An international symposium will deal with the relationship between avant-garde movements of the past and the art of today; with national traditions; with socialist realism. Here again, we strongly hope that meetings will take place among the artists themselves. We are entirely open to their suggestions for the kinds of exhibitions and discussion they would welcome.
As for theater and music, we hope to be able to present audiovisual and other materials, and to organize discussions and debates.
We will need active and widespread international support if such a program is to succeed in so short a time. (The reasons for this urgency were explained in your article of July 14.) Your paper is identified in Europe as well as in the US as being opposed to conformity and oppression of all kinds, wherever they may exist. May I take this opportunity to emphasize to your readers how much we will appreciate assistance, interest, and support from the US? We will need much help to make the 1977 Biennale a success.
Carlo Ripa di Meana
President, La Biennale di Venezia
30100 Venice, Italy
September 15, 1977