Salon Suisse: ATARAXIA

Palazzo Trevisan degli Ulivi, Venice, Italy
11 May 2017 - 25 Nov 2017

Koyo Kouoh. Photo: Antoine Tempé.

Koyo Kouoh. Photo: Antoine Tempé.

ATARAXIA: As a word Ataraxia is equivocal, but never neutral. From the Greek a- “not” and tarássein “to disturb,” twist it further and it spits back apathy.

Salon Suisse presents ATARAXIA, this year’s talks and events programme running in parallel with the exhibition at the Pavilion of Switzerland at the 57th Venice Biennale. Organised by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia in collaboration with Dakar-based RAW Material Company, the collateral talks programme offers a platform for exchange on contemporary art and thought in a stimulating atmosphere. The programme will take place over the course of the opening event and three subsequent long weekends.

Directed by curator Koyo Kouoh, ATARAXIA aims to understand the paradoxical position Switzerland occupies within the current economic, political, scientific and cultural landscape of Europe and further afield, as well as reflect on its (post)colonial narratives. An important engine and geographical centre of Europe, but outside of the Union, Switzerland’s position demonstrates the European paradoxes and dissonances of current political standards.

Kouoh states: “As current political regimes in the West do their best to squeeze social and cultural production into remission, we must listen to those around us and to those that neighbour us. We must deploy a politics of care to bridge connections across the very political, cultural and social disparities that divide us. The programme will investigate how best to reconcile such feelings of disenchantment with the aim of mobilising these conditions into generative and spirited forms of response.

The discursive framework of ATARAXIA is inspired by Roland Barthes’s collection of essays Mythologies (1957) to consider the mythologisation of “Switzerland as a country without problems” and the disparity between the representation and the realities of this construct. Thought to have the largest concentration of cultural capital in the world, yet largely side-stepping confrontation on the subject of its imperial histories and complicities, Switzerland is facing increasing political and moral backlash in relation to its statecraft. Its media representation as a sovereign powerhouse boasts prime living standards in a “green” economy; yet its truer image is intrinsically linked to its bordering European neighbours and their involvement in colonial histories past and present.

The location of Venice further contextualises ATARAXIA. During the biennale, Venice hosts a maelstrom of capital and collectors with on average 3,000 visitors per day, but it is also home to a vanishing population of some 55,000 inhabitants. A city caught between ecology and economy—a city with a double image. In transposing Switzerland in to Venice, the programme asks: how do we act as parts within a larger whole (bearing in mind a “whole” could mean the Biennale just as it could Europe)?

Kouoh’s assertion, and the premise for ATARAXIA, is that how Switzerland and Swiss cultural institutions reflect on its complex heritage and positionality is key to moving forward responsibly: “Unpacking these ‘mythologies’ is to stand against this overarching narrative and to confront their common parlance. What is needed—at the risk of sounding utopian—is a new set of relations and resonances, understanding that ‘they’ or ‘them’ smack of exceptionalism. Only then can we foster a language that is multilingual: a language, which communicates our commonalities along with our differences. A language which reaches beyond the screen of viral activism to shake us by the shoulders and urges us to stand shoulder to shoulder.”

“We are quick to exclaim words such as compassion and empathy to ratify our political or social engagements, but all too often the enactment of that gesture forms a proxy for meaningful action. Recognising that so-called ‘neutrality’ might better diagnose a certain condition of apathy, ATARAXIA aims to rattle and awaken the dormancy of our body’s dwindling energies. ATARAXIA is a call to mobilise and to organise around a politics of care and respect. In this we celebrate the diversity of our collective experiences as global citizens.”


Salonnière: Koyo Kouoh

Co-Salonniers: Samuel Leuenberger (independent curator), Lívia Páldi (curator), Rasha Salti (curator, writer and researcher) and farid rakun (researcher and artist)


«Salon Suisse»: ATARAXIA is a collateral event of the 57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia taking place from May 11–November 25, 2017 and consists of a series of talks and events. The events are taking place at the Palazzo Trevisan degli Ulivi, Venice during the opening event and over the course of 3 subsequent long weekends:

Salon Suisse One (opening event): May 11, 6:30pm
Salon Suisse Two: August 31–September 2
Salon Suisse Three: October 19–21
Salon Suisse Four: November 23–25

Palazzo Trevisan degli Ulivi
Dorsoduro 810
30123 Venice
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