The upcoming edition of the Venice Design Biennial will open from May 19 to June 18, 2023. We are glad to announce that this year's theme is Auto-Exotic.

Ph. Giacomo Gandola

The exotic is dead - long live the exotic. They stole from us elsewhere! What is to be done? There will be a self-elsewhere somewhere else. Designers from all over the world unite, self-colonize, self-appropriate! 

In his seminal essay Orientalism (1978), Edward Said showed how since the eighteenth century the cultural investigation of the East, understood as the physical and mental space of exoticism, revealed conceptual connections with colonialist practices. Elsewhere, populated by odalisques and caliphs, full of mysteries and sensuality, exercised a fascination in Europe that was intertwined with the practices of political, military and commercial hegemony. Exciting passivity, femininity, indolent sensuality-sexuality, immobility, traditionalism, irrationality: all distinctive traits projected on the East to obtain in negative the mold where to pour the incandescent material - virile, progressive, rational - of Western identity.

In recent years, two interrelated phenomena have emerged, which have radically altered this scenario. On the one hand, "exotic" cultures and civilizations have spectacularly reversed the cliché of immobile traditionalism. The great emerging powers are located outside the West. It is the West that shows signs of declining immobility. Elsewhere has found its voice - and it is different from what we expected.

The other phenomenon is the correlative decline of globalization as we have known it, that is, as a perpetual expansive motion of Western capitalism. In all likelihood, capitalist dominance remains, what is wavering is its Western declination, with the corollary of social and political aspects, whose export value has turned out to be modest to say the least. In the meantime, globalization has done its job, and everything that in the past manifested itself in an aura of unattainable distance now appears to be at hand anytime, anywhere, without delay.

The consequence is that the search for the exotic, for the exciting and mysterious elsewhere, slides towards a horizon that no longer extends geographically, but rather collects itself in the more or less hidden folds of our own culture of belonging, and in its own offshoots both in the sense of marginality and avant-garde. 

There is a temporal auto-exoticism: it focuses on the forms of relationship, production, work and consumption of the past - even recent ones - with all the spaces, objects and aesthetics that follow. The easy online accessibility of archival materials, previously the subject of painstaking research, fuels this trend and some of its drifts towards syncretism.

Then there is an auto-exoticism oriented to the technological dimension, in which the metaverse becomes the paradigm of the new elsewhere to be explored and fascinated by. The metaverse and online environments offer themselves as the space without operational and physical limits (no gravity, no temporal decay, no scarcity of space or material, etc.) in which creative thought can with its bare hands dig the future expressive possibilities that are still unpredictable.

There is also a more distinctly social dimension of auto-exoticism, in which a certain social group, perhaps underrepresented, becomes a source of curiosity and aesthetic inspiration. In various ways workers, fishermen, farmers or artisans, LGBT + community or migrants, writers, skaters or rappers, criminal groups or religious communities, can trigger the excitement towards the “other” with which the social body feeds its need for exoticism.

They are all types of “porous” exoticism, less marked than in the past by a conceptual (and pre-conceptual) contrast with the other. This also means that the longing for an unknown elsewhere bends towards the familiar - and this is where auto-exoticism can rhyme with auto-eroticism.


The challenge for designers today is how to investigate this otherness, near and far, in a way purified of stale prejudices, but not devoid of radicalism. The Venice Design Biennial wants to invite them to present their vision in a city that is the cradle of the concept of the exotic, a hinge between West and East, where the account of Marco Polo's legendary journey for the first time opened new horizons to the gaze and to the imagination applied to an elsewhere beyond the limits of known experience.

Be part of it!

Applications for exhibiting at the Venice Design Biennial 2023 as Collateral Project or part of the Main Group Exhibition are now open. Read more.

Applications for the second edition of VDB Residency closed on September 19th. We will announce the winner in the next weeks. Please stay up-to-date and visit the dedicated page for more information.




We are excited to be supported by McArthurGlen - Noventa di Piave Designer Outlet as Main Partner of the 2023 edition.