As in the previous editions, the Venice Design Biennial 2021 will present a Main Group Exhibition, a series of Collateral Projects in independent venues across the city, and a programme of Talks.
The theme for the 2021's edition of the Main Group Exhibition is Design As Self Portrait.
The self-portrait has not always existed in the history of art. Absent in antiquity and with first examples traceable back to the Middle Ages, it was only during the Renaissance that self-portraiture became a genre of art in its own right. It was then that artists began to express an awareness of their own value, placing themselves at the centre of the representation with a gaze that would evolve over the following centuries, allowing us a glimpse at artists such as Albrecht Durer, Titian, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Goya, Van Gogh, Schiele, Frieda Kahlo, Andy Warhol and Cindy Sherman.
In recent decades, the self-portrait has ceased to belong exclusively to artists. Everyone is invited to portray themselves even from early school years, and there is no lack of tools or spaces with which a self-portrait can be achieved. The categories of political, religious, sexual and cultural belonging, that in the past defined a secure perimeter for a person’s notion of identity, have now faded. Moreover, the Internet has created a universally accessible and free space for self-expression. Everyone creates a representation of one’s self in a space of free fluctuation, a space in which identity becomes a design object. And this concept of identity as design is reiterated through the choices everyone makes, when it comes to what they link to their bodies and the spaces to inhabit, through objects, devices, clothes, physical locations, and virtual spaces. We are all ‘curators’ of ourselves, self-designers expressing ourselves through the consumption of products or experiences of our choosing and through the ways in which we communicate these choices to others.
As it often happens, the transformations within social practices manifest alongside the advancement of available instruments. About 500 years ago in the 16th century, the production of a flat, non-convex glass mirror was perfected in Venice, creating a mirror image of whatever was in front of it with a level of precision that was previously unattainable. And thus, the self-portrait was born. In 2010, a decade ago, the iPhone 4 was released with a front facing camera. The self-portrait was revolutionised.
The exhibition Design As Self Portrait looks at the increasingly important role of design in how we choose to communicate our identity, exploring the continuous play between use and representation, between reality and virtuality. The chair I choose to purchase for my kitchen, the interior design of the space where I choose to take a selfie. Importantly, the exhibition embarks on this investigation starting with the observation that forms of self-representation are assimilating to the practice of design itself. Design no longer only characterises what the specific object is, but also how we choose to define ourselves.
Our self is the latest design product that we have begun to navigate.