The multimedia artist transforms the Swiss Pavilion into a dark and glitzy critique of Switzerland’s self-conjured mythology

When the Swiss Pavilion was erected in the Biennale Park in 1952, its architect, Bruno Giacometti—brother of the famous sculptor Alberto—conceived of a deceptively simplistic design. Contrasting the neoclassical fever that overtook many of the other Western nationalist soft-power flexing exercises in the Giardini, the Swiss Pavilion channels a mini modern art museum: blanched, pure, airy, and open. Nothing to hide in a superior civilization, right?

Seven decades later, the Swiss-Brazilian artist Guerreiro do Divino Amor drags the subtle superiority complex of the Swiss vernacular into a maximalistic limelight for the 60th Venice Biennale. In the courtyard of Super Superior Civilizations, the title of Guerreiro’s Swiss Pavilion presentation curated by Andrea Bellini, sea-green marble-textured fabric obscures the building’s sober brick walls. Broken classical columns are strewn about the base of a massive severed tree, atop which an anthropomorphic sculpture embodying the Capitoline she-wolf, one of Ancient Rome’s many self-aggrandizing icons, poses defiantly.

In Guerreiro’s parafictional universe, this lupine Capitoline has been yaasified into Calvina: a fabulous stiletto-wearing, selfie-stick-wielding goddess of Swiss super-meritocracy. Named in ironic tribute to Pro Helvetia—the Swiss Arts Council that has footed the tab for Switzerland’s participation in la Biennale since 2012—this Helvetian Olympus welcomes visitors into two new installments of Guerreiro’s two-decade-long project, the Superfictional World Atlas. Melding stage design and narrative worldbuilding with the architect-turned-artist’s multinational identity (Guerreiro was born in Switzerland but lives in Brazil), the work is a glittery dig at the imperial project known as Western civilization.

“Guerreiro eclipses one fantasy with another, revealing the self-styled artifice of empire.”

Installation view of Super Superior Civilizations by Guerreiro do Divino Amor at the Pavilion of Switzerland at the Biennale Arte 2024.

Channeling a blinged-out Vegas casino floor blended with a micro-planetarium cut with a post-internet collage party and deep-fried in Vaporwave, the installation in Venice is split into two main zones, each housing a new chapter in the artist’s fictional universe. Up front is a blacklight colonnade complete with a classical fountain, inside of which dayglo fog swirls around a rotating two-faced mother goddess, lasers beaming from her eyes. Follow the path to a marble-encrusted dome, a portal to the Mount Olympus of Switzerland, where The Miracle of Helvetia—a trippy projection-mapped film featuring Guerreiro’s goddess gang, 12 members strong, all watched over under the loving grace of their mother Helvetia—plays on loop in the heavenly dome above sauna-like wooden seating.

With a few minutes each to strut their superpower, the goddesses are bookended by cutouts of Swiss mountains that rise and fall like a screensaver to the film’s rumbling beat. Ranging from the sweet and kind Friedena, graceful blue-cloaked arbiter of world peace, to Venuma, a chain-smoking coke addict and mommy Helvetia’s favorite, these characters each take aim at a different aspect of Switzerland’s self-conjured mythology: from political neutrality to finance capitalism, seamless infrastructure to unspoiled natural utopia.

Kulma, goddess of education, delivers a quick tour of a Swiss boarding school in the Alps known for breeding the world’s top dictators. Diewiesa Æterna, a biotechnical deity who appears like a cyborg supercomputer and spins some transhumanist Swiss agenda. The classical catwalk is momentarily interrupted by a real-world fintech takeover: a promo video for MOUNT10, an underground data center drilled into the Swiss mountains, provocatively blurs the line between fact and fiction. Venuma watches on approvingly while snorting a line off a floating Economiesuisse-branded cloud. Within this delirious, irony-soaked presentation, Guerreiro digs at the paradox of Swiss branding: Switzerland fashions itself as a civilization at its most evolved stage, simple yet highly developed, rustic yet technologically advanced. Transforming the light-soaked modernist pavilion into a neon-washed classical darkroom, Guerreiro eclipses one fantasy with another, revealing the self-styled artifice of empire.

Installation view of Super Superior Civilizations by Guerreiro do Divino Amor at the Pavilion of Switzerland at the Biennale Arte 2024.

There is a darkness to the glitz; a feeling of impending ruin is around the corner of every marble-lined passageway and glistening casino-style colonnade. This affect of apocalyptic pregame comes from the impression that the capitalist and materialist mantra this nation has hyped itself on will inevitably fall apart. But there’s also the unavoidable truism that in other places—and in no small part due to Swiss and other global “superpower” activity—it already has. “From a distance, Switzerland can seem like the anti-apocalypse, a promised land that cannot be shaken,” shares Guerreiro. “Switzerland also plays an active role in producing the apocalypse; many of the environmental crimes being committed in Brazil, for instance, are directly linked to decisions made in Switzerland.”

Aesthetically, Guerreiro cites Brazilian carnival culture as a driving reference point (alongside video games). But he also clocks the imperial universalism of the Swisspill: wherein Brazil’s most idyllic mountain villages are branding themselves as “Brazilian Switzerland.” In the goddesses’ collective show-and-tell, scenes of recorded footage from carnivals show Brazilians dragging Switzerland as well as emulating it. Simultaneously, The Miracle of Helvetia also registers the link between Brazil and a fantasy of the classical West through colonialism. When Brasília, the capital of Brazil, was first founded, one of the first things installed was a copy of the Capitolene Wolf—Rome’s aforementioned idol—in front of the Buriti Palace, an aggressively corporate-looking home base for the district governor. The structure gives more office building: a relentless grid buttressed by burly concrete arms in the tropical modernist style. By drawing a line between Brazil, Switzerland, and Rome—and classical architecture and the modernist project—Guerreiro’s dazzling worldbuilding takes viewers all the way back to the roots of the superfiction of Brazil’s colonial formation, to the very myth of the classical empire it was molded on.

Head spinning, I step out from the superfictional planetarium and make my way down a marble wallpapered corridor to the second big feature of Super Superior Civilizations. Here, the pattern on the walls turns an unsettling shade of red. In the middle of the space, a cluster of fifteen whirring LED fans conjure a giddy sequence of founding goddess Calvina seemingly out of thin air. Collaborating with close friends Ventura Profana, who plays Calvina, the reimagined “she-wolf” of Helvetia, and Beà Ayòóla, a Brazilian composer who grew up in Italy and so like Guerreiro, is best poised to critique the Eurozone imperial imaginary from inside it—Guerreiro presents an incredible operatic sequence of Roma Talismano, a operatic hologram video. Seemingly levitating inside her plexiglass enclosure, Calvina delivers an impressive libretto written by Guerreiro. “Roma Talismano—eternal volcano of spiritual and visual bleach!” Calvina chants, as the world around her seems to melt into lava beneath a track that sounds like a baile funk religious hymn combined with a pop song.

“As Guerreiro’s presentation makes abundantly clear, Rome and Switzerland are both concepts that serve the “superfiction” of the West’s cultural superiority”

Installation view of Super Superior Civilizations by Guerreiro do Divino Amor at the Pavilion of Switzerland at the Biennale Arte 2024. Photography by Samuele Cherubini.

Enshrining the hologram is a curving, Vegas-coded backdrop with two video channels embedded into the glittering golden and rainbow-LED collage. In the videos, three goddesses—Calvina and her two backup girlies, decked out in razor-sharp metallic golden garb like sci-fi gladiators—pose with selfie sticks around popular Roman architectural wonders, much to the chagrin of tourists who stumble into the frame.

As Guerreiro’s presentation makes abundantly clear, Rome and Switzerland are both concepts that serve the “superfiction” of the West’s cultural superiority; Switzerland is also contemporary capitalism’s poster child, and this has knock-on effects elsewhere in the world, not least in Brazil. But the myth of enduring cultural expression, freedom and openness as it was stoked by Giacometti’s building and La Biennale at large is proving difficult to maintain even in the Super Superior Civilizations’ own backyard. Foreigners Everywhere, the title of the 60th Venice Art Biennale, was overseen by outgoing Biennale president Roberto Cicutto; last autumn, citing the “leftist stronghold” on the oldest and largest global cultural exhibition, members of Italy’s ruling coalition appointed Pietrangelo Buttafuoco, an alt-right journalist who formerly led the youth wing of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI), as the incumbent president. While the impact of such a move remains to be seen on the political position of biennales to come, it proves the gilded enclave of this global cultural hub to be a fully permeable fantasy (the same may be said for the performative “closure” of the Israeli Pavilion). When the vinyl marble peels off, and the spray-painted gold finishings start to chip, what remains of the soft power project of La Biennale may be no less prone to decay.