"The problem is not to free ourselves from illusions. The problem is to free ourselves from situations which demand illusions." -Karl Marx
two very full days wandering venice's ghostly canals, among beautiful buildings past vendors hawking masks and hats and other tourist wares brought me to The World Of Art, enshrined in the pavilions of the Venice Biennale. Overly political, All the World's Futures (this year's theme) aims to be "a Parliament of Forms", exposing the "contemporary global reality"- "a stage where historical and counter-historical projects will be explored".
I think Okwui Enwezor, curator, succeeded. The compilation showcased in All the World's Futures (the international pavilions were a separate affair) had me mulling over the following:
-What does it mean to insert the Real in a public space?
-Is the function of art to puncture the bubble of consumerist gluttony/ heteronormative society? To inform? To shock? To uplift? or to inflict wounds, express anger, perhaps even heal?
-What are the functions of international expositions, and what does it mean to view art about torture and oppression among Venice's sunny canals, most of us tourist- spectators?
-How about the art railing against capitalism/consumerism while being housed in a corporate/capitalist endeavor- the official setting of biennale? Does hypocrisy make it wrong? Negate the meaning?
Marx was highly present; there were video pieces presenting lectures and analyses of his works and throughout the event Das Kapital was enacted in live readings. Contemporary global issues were revealed and hit home; human suffering, poverty, oppression, disease, injustice, corruption were prevalent themes. The exhibits at the Giardini and Arsenale forums were certainly intellectually provocative, but I couldn't help wondering where the feeling was? The whole effect was of a college periodical, in fact, a radical newspaper with each individual having his or her say, but generally agreeing upon the basic principles. It felt a little dated.
pieces featuring video/ sound/ physical immersion in a space/ color/ humor/ irony/ poetry/ excess appealed most to me.
Standouts from All the World's Futures included:
Walead Beshty's wonderfully messy sculptures
Mika Rottenberg's bizarre video installation taking on factory workers, bodies, pearls...and sneezing spaghetti...
Lavar Munroe's paint/ collages
Lili Reynaud Dewar's take on the AIDS epidemic has stuck in my head until now, the repetitive mantra-like opera haunting my mind....
Natalia Pershina Yakimanskaya Gluklya's pretest clothings ('Clothes for the demonstration against false election of Vladimir Putin') I have always liked costumes and theatrics...
Sonia Gomes's hanging fabric sculptures (inspiring use of materials)
and, perhaps most influential- life changing even- the film shot by Im Heung-soon depicting the plights of factory workers in Cambodia.
I don't know if it counts as art technically (the excerpt i saw was straight documentary) but being exposed to that much REALITY definitely made me grateful for the privileged life I lead.
In such a large space, the pieces that took time were swallowed up by the immensity of the whole thing. Generally I felt more connected to works in the individual national pavilions, where each country presented some grand spectacle, some of which stood out. Most memorable for me:
Japan's highly photographable red string & key installation felt like a dream, a set, a story. It was a bold artistic statement that, while not shocking or revolutionary, did manage to make every viewer say Wow. The iphones were snapping pictures right and left- definitely a crowd favorite.
Amidst the constant stream of information, France's tranquil pavilion provided an effective respite: a simple, graceful installation evoking the beauty of nature. A tree that moved, cushiony benches like foam, celestial tones. A room like poetry.
The Republic of Korea presented a cinematic futuristic sci-fi experience, which is great if you like movies (I do.)
From Venezuela: women in pussy riot-type balaclavas, nursing babies, fighting for the rights of weeds, revolutionizing about the yucca- ecofeminisim with a humor & strength. women's art. i liked that.
Canada created a bizarre scenario: a convenience store, through which was a room with makeshift cots (i expected something political there and was almost disappointed not to find it), behind was the 'studio', the pictured room full of things covered in dripping paint, and beyond was a sort of treefort type scaffolding with a broken (i think it was not intentional) coin game machine. It was whimsical and childlike, which i appreciated, but confusing as well- what was the point? I came away bemused and puzzled- what was that all doing here?
Israel was one of my favorite exhibition spaces of the whole event. Tsibi Geva's expressive paintings and thoughtful installations felt lyrical and familiar- probably because i have lived in israel, i could relate to the tensions inherent in his chosen objects, and his color choices.
I loved Great Britain's comedic, ironic, postmodern type offering: Sarah Lucas's huge sexual yellow sculptures, many of which are partial casts of her friends' bodies, spouting cigarettes from unusual orifices (the artist notes they are there "for titillation mostly. That is, gentle stimulation of a sexual kind."). Her sense of humor is contagious, the bright yellow walls are uplifting and perverse, the titles of the pieces ('Washing Machine Fried Egg', 'Black Tit Cat Down') harmonize the one exhibit that doesn't take itself too seriously. (What other nation would present its pavilion with a collection, entitled I Scream Daddio, meant to evoke a dessert? Floating islands, specifically)
Bravo UK, bravo.
And then the installation I wanted to be part of:
After much disturbing, depressing, provocative imput, the Republic of Slovenia included a process-based, performative installation. Utter: The violent necessity for the embodied presence of hope included a structure spouting slogans, written in chalk and broadcast on a megaphone by live performers, and painted by a woman on a ladder... an opera discussing the vitality of poetry, the role of art, the importance of community and people... it was playful and just a bit mysterious; watching the performers move in and out around the space i had the feeling of witnessing street magic, sans trickery.
amidst ambient music, a giant mechanical clock encircled itself with pencil markings, beautifully capturing the feeling of passing time in a slightly hopeless world, hoping to make truth a little better, hoping for something to make sense...
"we are children of unlikely parents... we were born and then we got old. in this world, everything is young..."
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