Peeks at the 57th Venice Biennale
By Giulia Damiani.
In the hot, steamy location of the Arsenale and Giardini, the current art Biennale in Venice hosts 86 National Pavilions and 23 collateral events with the curation of Christine Macel, director of the Pompidou Centre. Viva Arte Viva, the title chosen for the Biennale, reflects the miscellaneous media and subjects offered by the National Pavilions.
At the Giardini art fluctuates between hyper modernity, entrainment and intimacy with objects. Countries such as Russia and Denmark show how similar concerns are invested in idiosyncratic ways. The two Pavilions bring the visitors back to the beginning of life in the tension between darkness and light, yet their approach to this concept is notably different. This review looks at some of the most outstanding exhibitions through the lens of (in)visibility. It emerges that obscure zones are still to be considered by the aesthetics promoted by the Biennale. Clarity and sight are the privileged media, evading fears of untranslatability and possibly renewal.
A play of mirrors and lasers accompany the show in the dark by Danish artist Kirstine Roepstorff. During the half-hour spoken performance visitors are invited to sit in a black cube space and listen to a story on the potential of darkness over light, as promising a moment of new creation. The gloomy narration is illuminated by occasional flash lights and calls for hope. The direction of the show appears to be far too clear and obvious. The unlit theatre space doesn’t do enough to stimulate the audience’s supposedly uncomfortable visit or their imagination.
Tel Aviv-based artist Gal Weinstein sees a different relation with time in his site-specific installation for the Israeli Pavilion. Entitled Sun Stand Still, the show refers to creation and destruction in the biblical miracle of Joshua Ben Nun, an ancient Israelite leader who commanded the sun to stop its course. While the composition on the wall visualises this biblical account, on the lower floor puzzle-shaped agricultural plots were filled with coffee dregs that have brought mould on the walls and an ever-present smell. The action of neglect by the artist has provoked the deterioration of the space. Signs of man-made decline are combined with human glory in sculptural pieces such as the one of a missile launch, made in Acrilan fibre. Here darkness takes a different shape and colour, alluring the visitors into it.
Gaze and glass are keywords in the description of Anne Imhof’s choreographed piece for the German Pavilion. The work entitled Faust is the winner of the Biennale’s Golden Lion. Dancers crawl under a glass floor in an ongoing show for the crowds of visitors with phones and cameras. The audience can walk on the performers above the glass. Two dobermans patrol the outer precinct of the space, strengthening the feeling of partaking in an animal and human zoo. At times the dancers stare back but the overall piece seems to lack their agency. The title Faust may as well indicate the extreme sell-out of the body in favour of watching and owning through the eyes.
The Russian Pavilion concerns distinguishability and the body in a more nuanced manner. In a black space a million white sculptures of tiny workers create a spectacular effect and visions between the Soviet’s past and Putin’s present. The exhibition ends with bodies stuck in stone, both literally and metaphorically, by the act of hacking.
Moving into one of the Biennale’s collateral events, the show The Boat is Leaking, the Captain Has Lied. at Fondazione Prada starts from the complexities of our time to generate a dialogue of polyphonic references. Writer and filmmaker Alexander Kluge, artist Thomas Demand, stage and costume designer Anna Viebrock and curator Udo Kittelman have collaborated on a show that overwhelms the three floors of the 18th century building of Fondazione Prada. The exhibition does not only offer a powerful insight into the individual artist’s practice, but it allows the public to construct their own narrative about contemporary society. Whole set designs were built in the space to suit the purpose of this show. Enchantment and thoughtful considerations overlap in the encounter between these four artists. In the first room extracts from videos by Alexander Kluge question the boundary between everyday gestures and their representation. In The Soft Makeup of Lighting (2007) the close-up figure of a man who blows on a set of candles alludes to the image of darkness itself; it doesn’t satisfy the search for what comes after it. This simple evocation tells more than the made-up experiences of being in the absence of light.
Considering the Biennale’s location in Venice one is reminded of the traditional 18th century paintings of the city’s colours and reflections on water, making it perhaps a little more poignant to spend time reflecting in shadows and light.
View of the exhibition The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied. Photo: Delfino Sisto Legnani e Marco Cappelletti.
El Al, 2017, Acrilan, styrofoam, graphite, felt and steel wool. Image by Claudio Franzini, Courtesy of Gal Weinstein.