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Venice Biennale 2011: Orientale

At this year's prestigious Venice Biennale, curator and art practitioner Shwetal Patel will present this new exhibition featuring artists such as Maria Cano, Ali Kazma and Robert Montgomery

The historical Venice Biennale has promoted new artistic trends and remained at the cutting edge of contemporary arts since its inception. At this year's 54th International Art Exhibition, Venice Now - the art initiative co-founded by curators Shwetal Patel and Maurizio Bortolotti - will present a new group exhibition called 'Orientale'. Through the initiative, Venice Now, Patel wants to tackle the lack of consistent cultural activity throughout the year in Venice and present on a worldwide platform. We get the scoop on how Patel came up with the concept and why it is important to show at the festival.

Dazed Digital: How did your involvement with Venice Biennale come about?
Shwetal Patel:
It all started after I visited for the first time in 2006 for the architecture Biennale that year, the following year in 2007 in went to the visual arts edition for the first time. I realised there was immense potential for this kind of coordinated large scale festival in places far away from the traditional art centres. Also because Venice is so beautiful, I felt it could be a fertile and sublime platform.

DD: What's the story behind 'Orientale'?
Shwetal Patel:
The idea for Orientale stemmed from discussions between Maurizio Bortolotti and myself after we met in Gwangju in September last year. The aim was to start a series of ongoing exhibitions came out of this, also the desire to create a curatorial framework that could evolve and grow beyond the confines of Venice and the Biennale festival. The name Orientale was suggested by friend and artist Robert Montgomery, based on the old Venetian use of the word.

DD: Who and why is exhibiting in it?
Shwetal Patel: The artists chosen all have worked with themes relating to the East in their own ways. We wanted to have a pan European artistic response to different aspects of Asia. It was also a gathering of energies and spirits as much as a gathering of curated artists. The next show will look at questions of east and west from another perspective, perhaps female artists from Asia looking at the West... We will begin discussing this after the current show has taken root.

DD: What is Venice Now?
Shwetal Patel:
Venice Now is a collective that we have formed to address the lack of contemporary culture in Venice throughout the year, not just during biennale and film festival periods. Together with David Dorrell, Alex Possati, Robert Montgomery and Maurizio Bortolotti, we all came together to produce two shows (Whitenoice/John Giorno and Orientale) this year. We intend to do much more in the future, this summer marks our beginning but I hope we can develop the project further in unexpected ways.

DD: Is the relationship between East and West traditionally portrayed in art?
Shwetal Patel:
Well in recent times its been the Western art world/market that has anointed the 'next big scene' as happened with Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern art. Now its happening with South American and contemporary art from Africa, but that market driven understanding of art from around the world is slowly changing now. There is much more integration in the global art network and new and surprising work is emerging from the most unlikely of places. Artists are being talked about less in terms of their nationalities and more about their individual practises. Of course there will also be market and curatorial trends that emerge, but I think the relationship is getting much more complex and layered and the art world is responding to this new era.

DD: Have you exhibited in Venice before? What role does this Biennale play on the worldwide art stage?
Shwetal Patel:
The Venice Biennale is a sort of Olympics of Art! Everyone gathers and contributes to this festival and the result is perhaps the greatest art event in the world. In a sense the Venice Biennale has also inspired much of my new work and current pre occupations.

DD: Tell us about the Indian Biennale you are staging next year...
Shwetal Patel:
The Kochi - Muziris Biennale is a landmark project for India and the art scene there. I moved to Mumbai late last year to begin working with Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu, two artists, who instigated this project with the Government of Kerala. The Biennale will bring diverse art practises from around the world to India for the first time. The core aims in brief are education, urban regeneration, social cohesion and mass access to contemporary art, culture and new ideas. Its an ambitious agenda and programme but much needed in India right now for several reasons.

DD: What's next for you?
Shwetal Patel:
Apart from my work on the Kochi - Muziris Biennale and personal projects such as Orientale, I am quite excited about exhibiting a new film for a project (Commercial Break) Neville Wakefield is curating at the Venice Biennale. As for what's next, I can't really say...