2017 Venice Biennale

Tunisia Returns to the Biennale Bearing Passports

A kiosk near the water on Via Garibaldi.ARTNEWS

A kiosk near the water on Via Garibaldi.

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There is no artist representing Tunisia at the 2017 Venice Biennale, but the country does have a pavilion—its first one in 50 years—and a curator, Lina Lazaar, who has put together a project called “The Absence of Paths.” At three locations around the Arsenale, kiosks are issuing universal passports to all comers that, in theory, at least, make one a citizen of the world, with the ability to cross all borders.

The application.ARTNEWS

The application.

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This morning I happened upon one of the kiosks and filled out the simple paperwork (which vaguely resembles a U.S. Customs from, interestingly enough). One part requires applicants to “CIRCLE HOME” on a map, and so naturally I attempted to circle New York and handed the form to a gentleman behind the counter, who took a look and let out a warm laugh. (Not something that typically happens when I deal with passport and visa issues.) “No, no, here!” he said, and proceeded to circle the entire world.

The passport.ARTNEWS

The passport.

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The “freesa,” as Tunisia is terming the documents, is an impressive little booklet, complete with all sorts of intense-looking security features—the organizers worked with Verdios GmbH, which claims to create 65 percent of the world’s identity documents—and two pages of rather remarkable facts about passports, some fascinating (“Queen Elizabeth II is the only person in the world who does need to carry a passport”) and some bitterly painful (Germany’s passport allows visa-free visits to 176 countries, Afghanistan’s only 24).

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After completing the paperwork, the gentleman had me stamp my fingerprint on it and handing over the documents. “Congratulations,” he said. For maybe half a second, the dream of a world with free movement—one devoid of asylum camps and racist travel bans, among other things—seemed possible. But only for half a second. In a way acknowledging the absurdity of a project that involves issuing universal passports in a city filled with tourists (and right now with some of the most entitled, moneyed world travelers on the planet), the official document carries an extra suggestion:

“Should recipients decide to amplify their protest, and so further publicize their protest, they may choose to do so by presenting this Universal Travel Document as and when they feel appropriate, and in forums and institutions where documents such as these are given credibility.”

I am going to go out on a limb here, and say that I do not think that most border-patrol officials are going to be amused by this piece. (On a related note, some may recall that Oscar Murillo ran into trouble when he destroyed his British passport en route to Australia last year.) So let me extend my greatest respect and sympathy to you if you give this a try. Please let me know how it goes.

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