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Shubigi Rao’s Pulp III – A Short Biography of the Banished Book to be presented at Venice Biennale 2022

Film still, 16th century edition of Petrarch’s work, censored in 4 different ways. Courtesy of the artist.

The National Arts Council Singapore (NAC) has announced the presentation of  Pulp III: A Short Biography of the Banished Book at the Singapore Pavilion at the 59th  International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia (Biennale Arte 2022). The exhibition  is conceived by Shubigi Rao, in collaboration with curator Ute Meta Bauer, who together  form the first-ever women-led team to represent Singapore at Biennale Arte 2022.

A glorious tribute and haunting elegy to shared humanity and communities of print, Pulp III: A Short Biography of the Banished Book marks the midpoint of  Shubigi Rao’s evocative 10-year project, Pulp, which explores the history of book destruction and its impact on the futures of knowledge. 

Taking the form of a book, film and paper maze, this milestone exhibition created for the  Singapore Pavilion explores the precarity and persistence of endangered languages, the futures of public and alternative libraries, and the cosmopolitanism of regional print communities that  have blossomed and waned in historic centres of print, including Venice and Singapore. Rooted in the literary movements raised and rewritten by humankind through legendary libraries, halftruths, hearsay, and contested narratives, the presentation is a valuable lyrical manuscript that charts the breadth of human cultural endeavour.

Artist Shubigi Rao comments on the underlying ethos of Pulp III: “The stories in the Pulp project point to different forms of courage, in action, speech, in documenting and in sharing. These stories also make visible the nuanced forms of resistance in print, and of lives lived surrounded by books, of breathing air heavy with the weight of unread but priceless knowledge, of risking everything to save texts that aren’t theirs, and may never be read, but are also more than mere symbolic representations of their civilizations, or some idealistic notion of humanness. These stories embody the most powerful conviction of value beyond narrow tribalism and pecuniary pettifoggery. And every story here speaks also of the millions still unheard and unrecorded. There is redemption in the courage of others, of those who make, write, and save, and so this presentation is an acknowledgment of all the people and texts that shape while they inform, that force us to defend or relinquish positions, or envelop, enclose, and enlighten us.” 

Pulp III goes beyond the documentary to formulate new strategies of resilient thought across the globe. It represents Shubigi Rao’s long-term aim to explore the moments of convergence between readers, artists, writers, printers, academics, bibliophiles, shadow library activists, librarians and other cultural custodians, as well as various defenders and supporters of print, speech, and open access to knowledge. The resulting presentation is a powerful encapsulation of the many interconnected threads that weave together the artist’s understanding of knowledge generation, ownership, dissemination, and its ecologies that are rapidly emerging in global consciousness.

The Pavilion’s curator, Ute Meta Bauer explains: “At the kernel of this Pavilion is the question of what a history of the banished book actually means. Shubigi Rao employs the book and the moving image as formats of communication which tend to the parts in the story that have often been deliberately obscured by those in power and by the expediencies of capital. The artistic research is deeply interested in the ‘keepers’ of culture, of histories, of herstories, of identity, wherein language becomes a home and a place of retreat to protect and yet lament that which is lost. At a time where the world is experiencing great loss – not just in terms of the human lives lost to the pandemic but also the forms and ways of life lost to the climate crisis – the exhibition at the Pavilion fosters an appreciation for what it means to persist, to productively and meaningfully live together.”

Pulp III continues to connect individuals and communities across disparate regions, each navigating differing obstacles to accessing knowledge, various forms of control over media, both print and online, and issues concerning privacy, data, and access.

Rosa Daniel, Chief Executive of the NAC Singapore, said: “The return of the International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia serves as a reminder of how the arts continue to be important. Shubigi Rao’s Pulp III takes visitors on a journey through accounts from diverse communities, drawn into the kinship of those who recognise the robustness of the book as a medium, as well as its fragility. We invite people to the exhibition to engage in wholehearted conversations and explore the human stories and perspectives that connect us in meaningful and sustained ways. We also look forward to the return show in 2023 for our local community to experience and immerse in the art work.”

This year marks Singapore’s 10th participation at the Biennale Arte. It is the first time the nation has selected a solo presentation by a woman artist, and the first ever women-led artist-curator team. The official opening of the Singapore Pavilion will be on Thursday, 21 April 2022 at the Arsenale’s Sale d’Armi.

Pulp: A Short Biography of the Banished Book will be displayed as part of Venice Biennale 2022 at the Pavilion of Singapore, Arsenale’s Sale d’Armi, Venice. The multi-disciplinary installation will be on display on the second floor of the building from 23rd April to 27th November 2022. More information available here

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