58th Venice Biennale of Art

Be sensitive to the spirit of the times

The title of the Venice Biennale of Art 2019, curated by Ralph Rugoff, is “May you live in interesting times”. Coming from a fictitious Chinese proverb, it needs to be read like an invitation always to see and consider the course of human events in their complexity. In a time when oversimplification seems to prevail; the purpose is to be sensitive to the spirit of the times.

The ninety participating countries dialogue with each other to let the public become a visitor using artworks as a guide for how to navigate the complexity of “ interesting times”. Contemporary matters of concern are addressed in many of the works in this exhibition, and several common threads can be found: from the pervasive impact of social media to the disparity of wealth, climate change, biology and nature, diversity, race and sexuality issues.

Venice Biennale is not reducible to being about a particular theme since art is not a message easy to decipher and comprehend. If a work is too complicated, the relation with it may never be resolved. The purpose is to open people’s eyes to previously unconsidered ways of being in the world so that they might change their view of that world and their place in it. Every piece of art hides a thought behind it and a lesson, a lucid analysis of the contemporary world, able to make the observer think twice or at least leave the room with a feeling of positive doubt caused by the many provocations found during the visit.

The bubble worlds in which humans choose to live and which separate one from another, are predicated on denial. The exhibitions feature a range of artworks that breach this wall of denial, dealing with doubles, parallel identities and realities.

Malta Pavilion

Maleth / Haven / Port- Heterotopias of Evocation

The artists invite the audience to participate in an intuitive dialogue with the artworks, seeking a journey of self-discovery. By compressing a multitude of stories, built layer upon layer as sediment in our very fabric of existence, the work will resonate within our collective psyches, reflecting tension in each person.

With the Odyssey as a central theme, two multimedia installations surprise the visitor with visions, lights, sounds and video art, while a site-specific one reminds about long lost civilisation, fossils and ancient creatures.

Photo by David Levene

Photo by David Levene

French Pavilion

Deep See Blue Surrounding You

An impressive pavilion inside the Giardini area was the French pavilion, curated by Laure Prouvost. The exhibit refers to a journey towards an ideal elsewhere, starting with the fact that the entrance consists of the usual exit of the building. The setting looks like it was underwater, as the idea of the octopus is a metaphor for the origins of the planet, a metaphorical immersion into the stomach of an unknown tentacular animal. The main themes are liquid modernity, utopia and surrealism, generations and identities, disconnection and the quest for an escapist journey.

Photo by Giacomo Cosua

Photo by Giacomo Cosua

Taiwan Pavilion

Shu Lea Cheang 

The Taiwan pavilion might be the most futuristic exhibition in Venice: with the main focus on 3D facial recognition, the transformation of surveillance techniques and AI, Taiwanese artist Shu Lea Cheang has conducted in-depth studies on ten historical and contemporary cases of people incarcerated because of gender or sexual dissent.

Their fictionalized portraits become part of the exhibition’s system. This exhibition touches important nowadays subjects challenging the aesthetics of internet capitalism as well as gender, sexual and race norms and the failures of electronic disciplines.

As you enter the exhibition at Palazzo delle Prigioni (which was a prison until 1922), you consent the cameras installed to record your images, entering a surveillance system which will process them for the artwork purposes.

Photo by Shu Lea Cheang

Photo by Shu Lea Cheang

Punta della Dogana

Luogo e segni

Natural elements, environmental transformations, light and darkness are the leitmotivs of this collateral exhibition shown at Punta della Dogana, with poetry as a common thread. The affinity that binds the artists is almost visible through the artworks, making the space harmonious. Hicham Berrada combines poetry with science, nature with artifice by presenting the changes and metamorphoses of a chemically activated nature. He turns day into light, inverting the life of the flowers in botanical theaters, altering the circadian rhythm of the plants.

Photo by Delfino Sisto Legnani e Marco Cappelletti

Photo by Delfino Sisto Legnani e Marco Cappelletti

Lithuanian Pavilion

Sun & Sea

With the durational opera performance “Sun & Sea”, Lithuanian artists Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė and Lina Lapelytė won the Golden Lion for the best national participation.

From a mezzanine gallery above the stage, the audience can look down at a beach scene populated by a range of individuals, different in outfits and features. One by one, they present themselves by singing about environmental catastrophes or trivial matters like sunburns and vacations.

The aim is showing how a microscale environment like this exhibition’s crowded beach, can address to higher problems and planetary scale issues, put together by this fictional human choir. The artists care to make everybody conscious about the most pressing ecological issues of our time. During the week it is only possible to see the empty beach from above, desert but with all the stuff people left. It’s even more scenic, like all of a sudden everybody was forced to go in a rush because of an impending calamity, leaving everything behind.

Philippines Pavilion

Island weather

The project is an immersive environment that simulates a voyage. Soon after entering the pavilion, the visitor is invited to remove the shoes and walk on three different platforms, configured as an archipelago. Their objects appear through a heightened perception and continuous replication, encouraging a reflection about ways of seeing.

Philippines Pavilion Island weather.jpg

Anna Maroncelli visited Venice Biennale of Art 2019 for Oltmans van Niekerk

Top image: Shu Lea Cheang, CASANOVA X (still), from 3x3x6. 4K video, 10 minutes

Venice Art Biennale