60th VENICE BIENNALE | Nika Špan: Garden Secret For You
20 April 2024 — 24 November 2024

Pavilion of the Republic of Slovenia at the 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia

Serra dei Giardini, viale Garibaldi, Castello 1254, Venice


Opening: 17 April, 17:00


At the 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, Slovenia is presenting Garden Secret for You, a project by the conceptual artist Nika Špan, curated by Vladimir Vidmar. This is the first time that the Slovenian pavilion has taken the form of a project in public space, thus addressing two underlying preoccupations: the lack of a permanent national pavilion and the title theme of the Biennale exhibition – Foreigners Everywhere. Both a sculpture and a piece of architecture, the strange nomadic structure thus serves both as a country’s pavilion and as a paradigmatic foreigner, oddly out of place in the historic cityscape of Venice.


Garden Secret for You is ushered into the historical context of Venice as a foreign body, an alien and unexpected element. An enigmatic entity of a highly specific exterior, recognizable as something unnamable, it speaks about itself, recounting the story of its entry into the sphere of art, while at the same time (indirectly) addressing something else. Garden Secret for You is both an object of sculptural quality and a functional one, a piece of architecture acting as a sort of clandestine Slovenian national pavilion. Both an abstract, aesthetic entity and a usable one, the object is a paradigmatic nomad, switching from one register to another, simultaneously functioning in different systems and resisting its reduction to one particular context or meaning. In this way it synchronously represents an unusual parallel with what is at the center of the paradigm of art: it is an object alien to itself, alienating as a consequence the experience of everyone who encounters it. Garden Secret for You speaks of the constitutive foreignness that is at the heart of the practice of art, both in its creation and experience. For this reason, the experience of its interior formally repeats the impression of its exterior, that is, the interior of the object alienates and confounds the visitor. By experiencing it, the visitor must become something or someone else, the same as the object in question, a stranger to him- or herself, able to withstand the tantalizing task of ambivalence.


The entire experience of the Slovenian Pavilion at the Biennale Arte 2024 echoes the experience of the artwork. It is an artwork that speaks about experiencing an artwork. About the journey that an object takes to become art, and about the path we must take ourselves in order to “enter” a work of art. What we find inside, however, is ourselves. The experience of the interior of this object evokes Wajcman’s idea of emptiness as a bare vessel of our interest as viewers, intended to be filled with our desire-to-see. In this empty interior we therefore find nothing but ourselves, our interest, our reflection, our desire-to-see, which opens up the space of the work beyond the limits of its immediate materiality. What was inside now becomes outside, while the outside is drawn into the inside. In Freudian terms: in the spatial loop that is the work of art, the exterior is what is the most intimate. In the familiarity of the interior we find what is the most foreign, the exterior. In fact, the whole experience of Garden Secret for You is about a paradox, a loop that is the artwork: an experience that lifts us up only to bring us down, an artwork that can only be experienced through our recreating it, and whose foreignness is its most constitutive element. All this is brought together by Garden Secret for You, an impossible object, a cellar in the middle of a city where cellars are not possible.


The Pavilion of the Republic of Slovenia is commissioned by Martina Vovk, Acting Director of the Moderna galerija, Ljubljana as the organizer, and supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia.



Nika Špan graduated in painting and took a postgraduate degree in sculpture, both from the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana. Between 1994 and 1997 she studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. She has shown her work in numerous exhibitions in Slovenia and abroad. Her most prominent presentations in Slovenia include her participation in the U3 Triennial of Contemporary Art at the Moderna galerija with Retrospective (1997), her solo show Sold Works at Moderna galerijas project space Mala galerija (1999), her participation in Manifesta 3 (2000) with Ljubljana by Heart and in the exhibitions Was it a car or a cat I saw (Škuc Gallery, 2015) and U (Škuc Gallery, 2018). She lives and works in Düsseldorf and Ljubljana.  


Vladimir Vidmar is a freelance curator and the Artistic Director of the Mala Galerija Banke Slovenije art space. Between 2014 and 2018 he worked as the Artistic Director of the Škuc Gallery in Ljubljana. He holds degrees in philosophy and art history from the Faculty of Arts, and in journalism from the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Ljubljana. His curatorial projects include many solo exhibitions of, among others, Tadej Pogačar, Lala Raščić, Fokus grupa, Mladen Stropnik, Becky Beasley, Nika Špan, Nikita Kadan, Katalin Ladik, Rossella Biscotii, and Kevin van Braak, and numerous international group shows. He co-curated the overview exhibition Crises and New Beginnings: Art in Slovenia 2005–2015 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova in Ljubljana. He participated in the research project into the history of institutional critique in Central and Southeast Europe entitled Inside Out, and in the international exhibition project The Kids Want Communism at the Museum of Bat Ya in Tel Aviv. He regularly writes and publishes texts on contemporary artistic practices and also works as a lecturer.