57. La Biennale di Venezia (Arsenale)

And here are my insights into the second part of the Biennale: introducing Arsenale.

When closing in on the entrance, I realized there are 3 more biennials (Music, Dance and Theatre) going on at the same time. Maybe someday I will actually have time to pay attention to them, too. But I ask myself: do they advertise them enough or are they meant only for the people from the sector? I have never ever heard anyone talking about those three, I only hear about the visual arts one..

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When I entered the Arsenale, I was really happy to see groups of small school children actively participating in a discussion about the artworks. This is how education should look like everywhere.

In the Arsenale, you definitely know that you are entering a new pavilion, as it is visibly written at every new entrance and makes the experiencing of the themes much easier in a way.

Pavilion of the Common

This pavilion is researching the preconceptions about the world. And one of the most prominent artworks being Lee Mingwei’s ‘The Mending Project’, where an artist himself or his assistant repair your clothing while concentrating for an engaged discussion about the world and the art itself with the visitors. The whole concept is a nice metaphor of exchange and integration, continuing the participatory act.

Another artwork that is engaging visitors is David Medalla’s ‘A Stitch in Time’, started in 1968. The audience is invited to work on a large cloth, thus transforming into artists. And I could not resist this. Yes, I left my mark with incorporating my student card into the artwork. When I did it, it was actually the first time I realized I am finished with my studies and that the real life is beginning. I showed the world (and myself) that I am done. In a good way..

Overall, I was surprised by all the big installations filling up the space. It is a complete opposite of ‘chichi’ last years. I felt that even though the artworks are mostly quite complex, they were easier to grasp.

Pavilion of the Earth

This theme feels pretty straightforward and self-explanatory; maybe even a bit worn out. It is a topic that you hear about every single day (however, isn’t the whole ‘concept’ made for continuing a contemporary discussion on life?). The artworks are commenting consumerism with nature and thinking about the legacy of humanity.

It was so nice to see Slovenia be represented so many times in this year’s Biennale (I was sad I missed the NSK Pavilion). Of course, Marko Pogačnik and a conceptual group OHO are in this pavilion, with their works, engaging with nature. I admit I am not that much of a fan of environmental art; however, theirs is so simple, yet powerful and crawls under your skin. Or, ok, I might be a little biased.

Pavilion of Traditions

What does tradition mean to Christine Macel? When walking through the artworks, I found the definition: reinventing art through exploring the old eras (which is definitely not visible on first glance). However, you definitely notice the use of ‘old’, ‘traditional’ materials and motives in the works. I was not taken aback as much.

But what did impress me, was Guan Xiao’s video ‘David’ (I guess now you already figured out that I am a bit obsessed by Michelangelo’s ‘David’). It looks fun; however, it has a much deeper meaning of showing the disappearing traditions and values through hyper materialistic culture.

Pavilion of Shamans

This concept is, for me, not as clear as the others, therefore I expected some nice surprises. And what I took from it is that art is sacred. When walking through, I got a really mixed sacral-pagan feeling, connecting with lives of indigenous cultures. Like, whatever that is, it felt meditative. It is quite peaceful, even though the environment is very loud. Actually, magical. ‘Alice in Wonderland’-ish. The atmospheric effect with different lights and subtle music conjures this up.

Dionysian Pavilion

We all know who Dionysus is and the idea of the pavilion was described as ‘a female body as an art form and not the object of desire’. Hmmm, ok? Isn’t that the opposite? One would expect some more ‘pornographic’ and ‘out there’ themes, considering the title. Predominantly female artists are exhibiting here, researching the complexity of female roles. I feel the title is not the most appropriate one, or is it the description that has it wrong? All in all, I did not get what I imagined, which were more indulgent themes and not so feministic ones (well, the human body is in focus, so maybe I read it wrong?).

But I do have to point out Pauline Curnier Jardin’s ‘Grotta Profunda, Approfundita’. 2 videos with installations have a very ‘artsy’ imagery and the story, cherishing the female body. Maybe it does not sound as interesting as it was in real life, where the whole construction reeks of the theme and completely sucks you in.

Pavilion of Colors

This is sort of a collection of all the chapters, the discourse of which is answered through a phenomenological approach to colours. The artists are playing with the visitors’ senses, occasionally offering an immediate visual enjoyment, often blurring the borders between arts and crafts. How nice, isn’t it?

Pavilion of Time and Infinity

Here, the artists are exploring the notion of time and questioning reality. They also do this through the use of various materials, giving them a new meaning.

NATIONAL PAVILIONS

And when the main chapters are over, one steps into the continuation of country’s pavilions.

PHILIPPINES

Considering what Philippines are going through, their visual representation of nationalism through the loss of political innocence is spot on.

INDONESIA

This is another participatory pavilion, where the artwork does not exist without the visitor’s involvement (here in Venice and as well as in Jakarta, where an identical counterpart installation stands).

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MALTA

This pavilion really stands out, as it is a historical exhibition in itself, exploring the Maltese history through supposed objects from private and national collections.

SLOVENIA

Aaaah and finally, our pavilion. I’ve read a lot about Nika Autor’s artwork and I was a bit scared that I won’t enjoy it as much as I should. In the media, it was mostly described as the footage and the story of the refugees riding under the train. Connecting the artwork to the refuge crisis can be really powerful, yet also a bit well-worn? Please, don’t crucify me, I was actually expecting more works with this topic..

Ok, here it goes. The description of ‘Newsreel 63’ does not do the artwork justice. When you are actually watching the video, loads of other matters come up. And I felt that the position of the screening gives it even more meaning through an atmospheric effect. It is questioning the history of video works through cinematography of the motive of trains, which is skilfully mixed in the final product. I spent a lot of time admiring our work (yes, it completely sucked me in), yet I noticed that the majority of people didn’t even acknowledge it, even though the projection is very prominent and in the middle of the room, therefore everyone has to pass it. Or maybe I was there at the unflattering time.. It is one of those video works that you really have to take time to watch from the beginning until the end (which I am not particularly keen on, I admit, but it was worth it). Yes, I admire the artist’s hidden tension of uncovering various stories to bring her point across. Also, it is amazing to hear a Slovenian voice narrating the movie, echoing through Arsenale.

GEORGIA

They actually built a wooden house with a leaking roof. It is pretty fascinating, even with the sound of the rain forcing me to look for the toilet.

IRELAND

An example of a beautiful mix of a video work and performance art, powerfully worked into the space. Jesse Jone’s ‘Tremble Tremble’ is a must-see artwork.

ITALY

They describe themselves as ‘producing magic through art practice to reconstruct reality’. Quite big words, one could say. They definitely ‘went all out’ with the huge ominous installations that took over the whole halls. And force you to face yourself in the dark through playing with symbolism. Not bad Italy, really not bad.

 

If I look back at my experience in Arsenale, it was interesting how some halls ‘hallowed’ only one artwork, giving it space to really dominate and sink in the minds of the visitors. At the same time, the whole Arsenale feels more like a unified gallery space and not that much as just big halls (a feeling I got with the previous editions. And I am still not sure which version I prefer..). I enjoyed how some artworks were cunningly positioned on the ceiling or behind the walls, almost hiding them from the audience’s sight. Therefore, one has to be really engaged in looking around, not to miss anything. A stimulating way to bring participatory action even further.

And I can’t get over the descriptions of the artworks. Who wrote the captions? They are really captivating and understandable at the same time. Amazing work. However, I am fascinated again and again, that they still have to put ‘Please, do not touch’ signs all over the place. Like, really, people??

 

LIST OF PHOTOGRAPHS:

  1. featured image: personal archive
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