The Human Rights Pavilion, a worldwide project by Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen, was initiated in Murano, Venice."It explores the complexities of human nature, the possibility of a universal concept of human rights and the role of art in its development."
Are human rights culturally relative? Does the human rights project have limits? Is the existing Declaration on human rights outdated and Western-centered, as some claim?
To answer these questions Koen Vanmechelen, together with the international partners of the Human RIghts Pavilion, has created free spaces all over the world, the so-called Cosmocafes, to involve in real conversations people who are expert or interested in human rights, people with very different backgrounds that the artist manages to involve in the discussion. ”We invite thinkers and dreamers, visionaries and realists to sit at the same table and share their vision of the future, of human rights, and of the responsibilities at stake."
A Cosmocafe took place in Venice on the 30th of September, on a boat. The guests took part in the conversation, the so called SoTO Dialogues (SoTO is short for Survival of the Other), while the boat was moving along the Grand Canal, until Murano, Burano, Sant’Erasmo and Certosa islands.
Dialogues were facilitated thanks to the support of the non profit organisation C.A.N. Pavilion Foundation International. Tiziano Inguanotto, secretary general of the foundation and architect, invited the participants to the meeting on the boat , and introduced the conversation, whose topic was the relationship between nature and culture, and between city and mobility.
The Cosmocafe was attended by: Koen Vanmechelen, artist, Luca Battistella, counselor of the Venice Council for smart city and innovation, Alberto Sonino, entrepreneur, Bruno Bernardi, president of the Bevilacqua La Masa Foundation , Dirk Draulans, Belgian biologist and journalist, Tiziano Inguanotto, architect, secretary general C.A.N., and Cristina Barbetta, journalist.
Koen Vanmechelen, he explained, has made the symbol of the Human Rights Pavilion project, which is in the courtyard of the Global Campus of Human Rights, at Venice Lido: it is the statue of a child sitting on the volumes of the Encyclopedia of human rights. It is called: "Collective Memory".
In the Cosmocafes, conversations on art and human rights, “you can have a direct dialogue between the speakers, differently to what happens for instance on the internet, where we can easily hide or get fake news,'' explained Koen Vanmechelen. It was right in a café in Murano, Venice, that the artist and his partners started speaking about human rights, and from that dialogue the idea of the symbol of the project was born.
"This Cosmocafe is already the 6th that has been organised all over the world. We have already been to Chile, to Vienna, to Finland, and Belgium, and this month alone we will go to Mexico, to Tokyo and Pretoria. In every meeting we develop and speak about a different topic,"explained Koen Vanmechelen.
Cosmocafes are therefore the backbone of the Human Rights Pavilion, a project developed together with the Global Campus of Human Rights, Berengo Foundation and the Mouth Foundation. The first stop of the world tour, that will last in total 18 months and will come to an end in May 2020, coincided with the launch of the Human Rights Pavilion and was held in Murano, Venice, in May 2019 in the context of the 58th Biennial of Venice, at the Berengo Art Space Foundation.
What is the final goal of the project? Every Cosmocafe is recorded to create an artwork that includes inputs from all over the world. The final project will be presented to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Commission and the President and Curator of the 59th Biennial of Venice, with a call to establish a permanent and supranational Human Rights Pavilion as part of the Venice Biennial.
At the Venice Cosmocafe different subjects were dealt with. Speaking about human rights Alberto Sonino, manager of the company Vento di Venezia, that is in charge of the regeneration of Certosa island, north-est of Venice, dealt with “the right to live and work in a city like Venice." Sonino has been an important sailor at international level for 15 years: “I have had the privilege of sailing for work around the world,'' he said. As for the relationship between development and environment, he continued, “I am in favour of sustainable development, with a great attention to people and nature."
“What place is better than Venice to discuss city and mobility, sustainability and art, in the middle of nature and culture?”, reflected Koen Vanmechelen. He posed different questions, such as: “How can we find a balance to live in this global world that is becoming increasingly difficult? As a matter of fact a multicultural world is a world where you have to respect diversity, and if you don’t respect it, how can we go on? How do you see the future of mobility in the world?"
Luca Battistella, counselor of the Venice Council for smart city and innovation, who is an architect, pointed out: “There has always been a debate on mobility in Venice, there is also a debate on underwater mobility, but there is a problem of knowledge. Venice could be a great model. This is not happening because there is a lack of knowledge of the places in Venice."
According to Dirk Draulans, biologist and journalist, people move because this is in the DNA of humanity. “People move because they think that a certain place is better than the one they come from. Then they have to confront people who want to prevent them from moving because there is not enough space, and this starts to become a political issue. I think this phenomenon is unstoppable: you can’t prevent people from moving."
"There is a conflict, though, "observes Koen Vanmechelen: “If moving is a right because it belongs to our nature, how can we find a balance between biological and natural rights?”
The topic of tourism was then dealt with. According to Bruno Bernardi, President of the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa, that supports generations of young artists through one of the most ancient residence programmes in the world: “We have to make tourists aware of the fact that Venice is a unique life experience. It is not about showing things or monuments, but making tourists live a unique city."
“I think that tourism has a big responsibility,"concludes Koen Vanmechelen: “I see tourism like migration that only goes in one direction: people who can afford to migrate are well welcomed, the others, that cannot afford it, are not well welcomed. Tourism is a different kind of migration, but it is still a migration, and I think we have to take our own responsibilities. There must be more commitment from tourism and I think this can be an interesting topic in Venice where we can start thinking about tourism and responsibility.
Cover photo: Henrique Ferreira/Unsplash
Foto Cosmocafe Venice: Facebook page Studio Koen Vanmechelen - Labiomista