The ‘Viva Arte Viva’ theme of the 2017 Art Biennale in Venice puts the artists and their creative process at the forefront of the exhibition. This implies that also their inspiration sources are part of the show. Hence, several artists take the opportunity to raise their concerns, including on political and social topics, through their work of art. Even though curator Christine Macel didn’t want this edition to be political, this is impossible to avoid. It is also nothing new, and has always existed. Many paintings from old masters, such as Tintoretto and Rubens, were commissioned by political and clerical leaders. These paintings may not have been protests, but they were clear messages to the world.
As mentioned in my post ‘8 pavilions you cannot miss at the Art Biennale 2017’, I couldn’t limit my selection of tips to 8. Hence, in this post, I will share with you another set of 8 pavilions. Each of these exhibitions has a powerful message hidden underneath a beautiful work of art. The underlying messages vary a lot. Some are focused on politics (Kosovo, Tunesia), others on the environment (Support, Grenada), on local culture (Venice, New Zealand) or on social elements (Catalonia, Scotland).
Kosovo – Lost and Found
The ‘Lost and Found’ installation is an exhibition which hit me hard. From the large space in Arsenale dedicated to the Kosovo pavilion, only a small part is used for a box-office made from pallets and a phone. This phone never rings. It symbolizes the families who are still waiting for news on their relatives who are missing since the Kosovo war ended in 1999. Almost 20 years later, there are still 1,664 families in this situation. Thousands of people from other, even current, conflicts are in a similar situation. Reflecting about this sensitive topic makes you question the rationale behind wars. In fact, all these families are war victims. With his serene and unforgettable concept, Sislej Xhafa makes a very strong statement on the often forgotten consequences of a war. (More details, pictures and a review are available on the page of the Kosovo pavilion.)
Tunesia – Absence of Paths
With the customs offices of ‘Absence of Paths’, curator Lina Lazaar raises the difficult situation of refugees. Before entering a country, and often after traveling a long distance in tough circumstances, refugees have to follow a thorough procedure to get a visa. The performance in Venice is a silent protest about the challenges of human migration. At the kiosks, you can apply for a ‘freesa’, a visa to travel the whole world. But first, you have to fill in a form, answer questions from the officer and leave your fingerprint. The officers are real migrants who tried to escape their country several times, without success. They are in Venice with a temporary tourist visa for one month. I do wonder however if some of them will run away on the last day, similar to what Russian athletes did in the past after Olympic Games. Participating in this installation makes you think about how you would act in reality if your life, and certainly your quality of life, depends on whether you are accepted or not.
In only a few weeks’ time, the white hands supporting Ca’ Segrado along Canal Grande have become a new landmark in Venice. The installation is a design of Lorenzo Quinn, an Italian contemporary artist and figurative sculptor. It is a wake-up call on climate change and the need to protect cultural heritage, across the world and more specifically in Venice. Here, the beautiful palazzos are gradually damaged by the continuous flow of the water and the increasing sea level. The hands refer to the role people must play in fighting the climate change and supporting Venice’s unique world heritage. They are modeled to those of his son and symbolize the innocent hands of a child. (More information on cultural heritage in Venice can be read in my post ‘Discover how Venice finances its cultural heritage’.) The installation is supposed to be temporary, but who knows, maybe it will guard over the palazzos along Canal Grande much longer. The best place to admire them is from the Rialto fish market and the bridge at the Fondamente Riva Olio. You can also find a beautiful video of the installation on the website of Lorenzo Quinn.
Grenada – The Bridge
Grenada is a tiny Caribbean island, where locals still rely very much on the sea for their food. The climate change and the pollution of the ocean have therefore a big impact on their daily lives. Hence, the Grenadian projects gathered by Omar Donia have a common link to the sea. When you enter the pavilion at the Fondamente Zattere, you immediately notice the tins of fish cans collected by Milton Williams and the stunning sealungs of Asher Mains. If you’re lucky, a wind will blow through the door of the pavilion. You will wish you were in Grenada. Finally, you will see the beautiful underwater museums of Jason deCaires Taylor. These life-size installations do not only create new corals and hence food for the fish. They also offer divers an alternative for the already damaged coral which will then be able to recuperate. This example shows that protests do not always have to be negative. It also works with a positive and beautiful action such as this one. (More details, pictures and a review are available on the page of the Grenada pavilion.)
Venice – Luxus
The pavilion of Venice is an outsider in Giardini. First, it’s not a national pavilion. Second, it’s rarely linked to the theme of the Biennale. This time, it hosts the marvelous exhibition ‘Luxus’, curated by Prof. Stefano Zecchi. Outside the pavilion, you find a 4 meter high golden tower covered in glass mosaics, created by Orsoni. This Venetian company, based in Cannaregio, even made the mosaics for the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, on the request of Gaudi. Inside, the exhibition shows the most beautiful works of art created by Venetian artisans. These companies apply the traditional methods with a modern twist to it. Besides mosaics, you will also see elegant fabrics and the newly designed Pila-47 chair of Rubelli, a handloom and silk velvets of Luigi Bevilacqua, perfumes of The Merchant of Venice (more info in my post ‘How important was Venice in the history of perfumery’), shoes, costumes, jewelry and glass ornaments. This exhibition truly shows the importance of Venice, related to design and beauty, in the past and now. It really deserves a permanent place in the city, where it’s accessible for everyone and not only for the visitors of La Biennale.
New Zealand – Emissaries
New Zealand is for many people synonym for lots of nature and beautiful landscapes. Not so many people, and I plead guilty as well, know the history and culture of the country. Luckily, Lisa Reihana created a beautiful panoramic video on this topic for the Art Biennale, which can be seen at the Tese dell’Isolotto in Arsenale. It is not a typical documentary, but kind of an animated fairytale. It is based on French scenic wallpaper (Captain Cook’s Voyages) with characters which seem to be drawn on it instead of real actors. The video is populated with characters from across Aotearoa New Zealand, the Pacific and Europe. It shows local performances, cultural ceremonies and encounters with British navigators and astronomers. Over a screen of 26 meter, the different stories float by in standstill. Some of these stories are real, others are derived from her own imagination. When they reach a certain point, the actors start moving and the sound of that specific section is turned on. It’s really phenomenal and a digital tour de force. The video is now even used in history classes in New Zealand.
Catalonia – La Venezia che non si vede
Antoni Abad and Institut Roman Llull want to increase the awareness around blind and visually impaired people. All the things which we consider normal, such as walking, meeting people or going shopping, aren’t for blind people. Their boat tour on the small canals of Castello is the perfect immersion in how it feels to be blind. They don’t intend to shock you with this experience, but focus on the more positive effects of a better hearing and sensitivity. Visually impaired people notice changes in the vicinity much faster, so the guide makes you aware of the sounds of the water, birds or people. This allows you to experience Venice in a totally different way. I always realized Venice is much more quiet than a city with cars, but I could only hear all these in-depth sounds with my eyes covered. (More details, pictures and a review are available on the page of the Catalonia pavilion.)
Scotland – Spite Your Face
This last pavilion is actually a wild card in this list, as I haven’t seen the installation yet. However, I’m a big fan of Pinocchio and Rachel MacLean received a lot of positive reviews, so I decided to add it here. Her video ‘Spite Your Face’ is shown in the Santa Caterina church, which is already a first statement against the establishment. Her video questions the use of the truth and of fake news in politics. It doesn’t refer explicitly to the Brexit and the Trump election, but she did use these events as inspiration. Her combination of a children’s tale and politics really intrigues me. I hope I won’t be disappointed after my visit next week.
There are several other pavilions which bring a strong message to Venice such as Georgia (Living Dog among Dead Lions), Kiribati (Ars Longa, Vita Brevis – more info on the page of the Kiribati pavilion), South Africa (Candice Breitz, Mohau Modisakeng – more info on the page of the South Africa pavilion) or Yesterday/Today/Tomorrow (Fondazione Cini – more info in my post ‘Why San Giorgio Maggiore is worth your visit’). Feel free to add your feedback on these or on other interesting pavilions in the comments below.
If you want to know more about the theme Arte Viva Arte and the different initiatives of curator Christine Macel, you can read my post ‘What to expect from the Art Biennale 2017’. More practical information is available in the post ‘How to prepare your visit to the Art Biennale 2017’. You can also find reviews of the other pavilions via the Biennale page on my site.
(Picture in banner: Proper Time – Lee Wan – Korean Pavilion – Biennale Arte 2017)
Enjoy your visit!
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