Forward to the Past. Image Politics of Transgenerational Transmission in the China Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2017

Aurora Online Lecture with Prof Dr Birgit Mersmann

Wednesday, 10th May 2023 | Webinar

On May 10th, Prof Dr Birgit Mersmann, University of Bonn, gave an online lecture on Image Politics of Transgenerational Transmission in the China Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2017.

Image-political art institutions, such as the national pavilions at the Venice Biennale, have a high share in the symbolic construction of the national imaginary. Serving as symbolic agencies, they reflect the zeitgeist of geopolitical power shifts in the cultural arena. In times of global migration and transnationalisation, the national configuration of the art pavilions at the Venice Biennale was increasingly seen as untenable. In fact, at the Venice Biennale of 2017, curator Christine Macel introduced so-called trans-pavilions, which were shaped by a transcultural and transgenerational group of artists. Despite this transnational chief-curatorial approach, critics noticed the brewing of a new nationalism at the 2017 Venice Biennale, not least with a view to the Chinese Pavilion. By contrast, the chief-curator of the Chinese Pavilion, the internationally renowned Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie, strongly rejected the nationalist interpretation of the pavilion. This dispute over the nationalist reading or misreading of the Chinese Pavilion calls for an in-depth analysis of its main curatorial concept, exhibition structure and content. By analysing the image politics of transgenerational transmission performed in the China Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2017, the lecture will explore how China’s path into the future is defined by reimagining and reworking its millennium-old history and imperial legacy.  

The online lecture took place in the framework of the Aurora project Global pasts, cultural heritage and the rise of populist storytelling.


    Birgit Mersmann is Professor of Contemporary Art and Digital Image Cultures at the University of Bonn, Germany. Her interdisciplinary research covers modern and contemporary Western and East Asian art, global art history, migratory aesthetics, museum and exhibition studies, image and media theory, visual cultures and visual translation, interrelations between script and image, documentary photography and photobooks.


    Recent book publications include: Über die Grenzen des Bildes. Kulturelle Differenz und transkulturelle Dynamik im globalen Feld der Kunst (Bielefeld 2021); Bildagenten. Historische und zeitgenössische Bildpraxen in globalen Kulturen (ed. with Christiane Kruse; Paderborn 2021); Handbook of Art and Global Migration. Theories, Practices, and Challenges (ed. with Burcu Dogramaci; Berlin/Boston 2019).