Christoph Büchel, the irrepressible, inexhaustible Swiss provocateur, whose projects have ranged from staging a sex club at Secession in Vienna to allegedly showing the belongings of homeless people at the Frieze New York fair as sculptures to turning his London gallery into a community center, will represent Iceland at the Venice Biennale with a project called THE MOSQUE: The First Mosque in the Historic City of Venice at the Santa Maria della Misericordia church in the city. The Icelandic Art Center and the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of Iceland made the announcement today, with a press rep emphasizing that, despite the project’s seemingly straightforward name, it will not be a functioning mosque.
So what is it exactly? THE MOSQUE, as the work is being styled, will “serve as a place of activity for the Venice Muslim Community and will offer an ongoing schedule of educational and cultural programs available to the general public,” according to the organizations’ news release, and will include “the physical attributes of Muslim worship—the qibla wall, the mihrab, the minbar, and the large prayer carpet oriented in direction of Mecca—juxtaposed with the existing Catholic architecture of the Church of Santa Maria della Misericordia in a visual analog.” The church dates back to the 10th century, but has been disused for the past four decades.
Büchel is collaborating with Muslim groups in Venice and Iceland to realize the project, which will include classes in Icelandic and information about how to immigrate to the Iceland, where Muslims are currently at work on a campaign to build the country’s first-ever mosque. Organizers noted that Venice’s city center has also never had a functioning mosque.
“We are proud to support THE MOSQUE, Iceland’s contribution to the Biennale,” Sverrir Agnarsson, the president of the Muslim Community of Iceland, said in a statement released to press. “It is particularly fitting that this project coincides with the campaign to construct the first mosque in Reykjavik. In the past, prejudice and political pressures in both Iceland and Italy made it impossible to imagine mosques in either place.”
Agnarsson added, “It is our hope that—InshaAllah—projects such as these will lead to flourishing activities among Muslims internationally, and to greater, more fulfilling, peace-loving interaction between all of us in Venice, Reykjavik, and cities everywhere.”
As with all things Büchel, one will have to wait for the opening, on May 9, to begin to make sense of what he has created.