I have just returned from the 59th Venice Biennale, which was thrown off course by a year due to the pandemic. It has finally opened to the public, running until November, although some collateral shows will close earlier.
This has been a good year for Team GB as the British Pavilion has just won the Golden Lion honouring Sonia Boyce OBE RA for Best National Participation at La Biennale di Venezia 2022. This year the Biennale was curated by Cecilia Alemani. The main exhibitions were succinct and pay tribute to women artists, old and new, and often overlooked people of colour providing them a relevant international platform and context. In fact, of the six Biennales I’ve attended, this is the best and most inclusive. Without compromising the quality of the art, Alemani has put together an engaging and alchemistic experience for all enlightened art worshipers.
Sonia Boyce “Feeling Her Way” GB
I will begin with GB as I loved the vibe of Sonia Boyce’s entry “Feeling Her Way,” which pays homage to Black Female Musicians. It is an intensely personal look into the music that has inspired the artist. Visually the installation utilises several individual screens mounted on collages while geometric objects mimic Pyrite or ‘Fool’s Gold’. The central display shows the singers merging in Abbey Road studios for the first time culminating in a fantasy jam session.
Simone Leigh Sovereignty and Brick House USA
It follows well to include Simone Leigh, the US Pavilion artist, in my round-up. Simone has transformed the usually austere 1930s concrete building into a traditional thatched house. A gigantic bronze depicting a woman with a satellite dish head greets visitors as they make their way around the monumental ceramics inside. Simone also has an exceptional display of her work in the opening section of the Arsenale. Simone Leigh, represented by Hauser & Wirth, was selected for the Golden Lion for the best participant in ‘The Milk of Dreams’ exhibition.
Katharina Fritsch Lifetime Achievement Golden Lion Winner
We all remember Katharina Fritsch’s giant blue cockerel on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. Her work has gained a lot of attention since the 1999 edition of the Venice Biennale curated by Harald Szeemann where Fritsch’s massive piece filled the main room at the Central Pavilion. Titled Rattenkönig, the Rat King, It was an uneasy sculpture in which a group of giant rodents were crouched in a circle with their tails knotted together. Fritsch’s sculptures over the years have the same sense of awe and dizzying attraction. Her contribution to the field of contemporary art, especially sculpture, has been incomparable. She creates figurative works that are both hyper realistic and fanciful: copies of objects, animals, and people, faithfully rendered in every detail but transformed into uncanny apparitions. Moreover, Fritsch often alters the scale of her subjects, shrinking them down or vastly enlarging them and coating them in disorienting solid colours: it feels like one is looking at monuments from an alien civilisation or artefacts on display. In a strange posthuman museum. “I feel very honoured and thankful about this prize.” – Katharina Fritsch.
Adina Pintili You Are Another Me: A Cathedral of the Body Romania
‘You Are Another Me’: A Cathedral of the Body by Romanian filmmaker and researcher Adina Pintili is one of the most challenging videos I watched. It is so intimate that you feel you shouldn’t be privy to the ongoing multi-screen content, which takes you through a gay couple, a trans activist and a sex worker’s lives and relationships.
Stan Douglas Canada 2011 ≠ 1848
The Vancouver-based artist Stan Douglas is recognised as one of Canada’s most acclaimed contemporary artists whose multidisciplinary works, including films, photographs, and, more recently, theatre productions, often reflect on the dynamic potential embedded in pivotal historical moments.
The exhibition unfolds across two venues in Venice. Four large-scale photographs are on display in the Giardini’s Canada Pavilion. In addition, a major new two-channel video installation will be presented in the Magazzini del Sale No. 5, a sixteenth-century salt warehouse on Dorsoduro.
Stan Douglas: 2011 ≠ 1848 is inspired by the tenth anniversary of 2011, a year that saw significant social and political unrest around the globe, including the Arab Spring in North Africa and the Middle East, the Occupy protests that began in New York, the widespread unrest in the UK in response to austerity measures, as well as a riot in the artist’s hometown of Vancouver following a hockey final. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
‘Black Star’ Ghana
Ghana is presenting the exhibition Black Star – The Museum as Freedom. It is entitled after the Black Star that symbolises Ghana through its flag. It also is a symbol of the connection of Africa with its diasporas through Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line and his Back-to-Africa movement revived now in Ghana as Beyond the Return, as well as for Pan-Africanism and anti-colonialism with the symbol described as the ‘Lodestar of African Freedom’. The pavilion exhibition examines new constellations of this freedom across time, technology and borders. It includes large-scale installations by Na Chainkua Reindorf, Afroscope and Diego Araúja in an exhibition designed by architect DK Osseo Asare and curated by Nana Oforiatta Ayim, Director of ANO Institute of Arts & Knowledge in Accra and Director at Large of Ghana’s Museums and Cultural Heritage.
The Ghana Pavilion at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, under the patronage of Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, will be on show to the public from Saturday 23 April and run until Sunday 27 November 2022. Featured Artists: NA CHAINKUA REINDORF, AFROSCOPE, DIEGO ARAÚJA COMMISSIONER: AKWASI AGYEMAN, CEO, GHANA TOURISM AUTHORITY MINISTRY OF TOURISM, ARTS AND CULTURE CURATOR: NANA OFORIATTA AYIM ARCHITECT: DK OSSEO ASARE
Zineb Sedira ‘Dreams Have No Titles’ France
Zineb Sedira is the first artist of Algerian heritage artist to represent France at the Venice Biennale. Her film installation investigates the drive to make militant films in the 1960s and ’70s, a testament to the cultural partnerships forged in the past between the two sides of the Mediterranean. Zineb Sedira has transformed the French Pavilion into a film studio, blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality, between personal and collective memory. The artist employs cinematic processes such as the remake and the mise en abyme and finds inspiration in numerous film genres. In the background, she shines the spotlight on the film Les Mains Libres, realised by the Italian director Ennio Lorenzini in 1964; for this project, she found and restored the reels of this first Italian–Algerian co-production. A French artist with a plural identity, Zineb Sedira has constructed her work on a personal journey spanning France, the United Kingdom, and Algeria. For this new project, she has teamed up with a curatorial team of Yasmina Reggad and the duo Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath. Commissioner: Institut Francais Curators: Yasmina Reggad, Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath
Vladimir Nikolić ‘Walking with Water’ – The Pavilion of the Republic of Serbia
Vladimir Nikolić was born in 1974 in Belgrade (Serbia), where he lives and works. He graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade in 1999 and received a MA from the same faculty in 2005. He attended School for History and Theory of Image at the Centre for Contemporary Art Belgrade in 2001. His work was featured in several exhibitions at key galleries and museums, including the Whitechapel Art Gallery and project 88. His installation piece consists of two screens, the first an expansive span of the sea. The second is an aerial shot of a swimming pool with a loan swimmer. This seemingly represents the artificial environment of a swimming pool as opposed to nature.
Diplomazija Astuta – Malta
Diplomazija Astuta – including artists Arcangelo Sassolino, Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci, and Brian Schembri – reimagines Caravaggio’s seminal Maltese altarpiece The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist as a kinetic, sculptural installation. Through induction technology, molten steel droplets fall from the sky into seven rectangular basins of water, each representing a subject in The Beheading. By transposing the Oratory of the Decollato’s Zeitgeist onto the Malta Pavilion, Diplomazija Astuta resituates Caravaggio’s immanent themes within modern life, prompting viewers to negotiate an immersive space where the tragedy and brutality of Saint John’s execution are experienced in the present day, injustices of the past are reconciled, and shared humanist principles are upheld in the future.
Commissioner: Arts Council Malta Curators: Keith Sciberras, Jeffrey Uslip Exhibitors: Arcangelo Sassolino, Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci, Brian Schembr
Francis Alÿs ‘The Nature of the Game’- Belgium
This was the most joyful of all of the exhibits. Playing is something natural, something that we discover and learn instinctively in our childhood. It is an essential human need. It is necessary to spend time and “waste” time playing. Children’s play is to be understood as a creative relationship with the world. Since 1999, Francis Alÿs’s camera has filmed children playing in the public space. It started with the video.
Children’s Game #1: Caracoles, showing a young boy kicking a bottle up a steep street, only to let it roll back to him and then kicking it up again. Observing, investigating, and documenting human behaviour in urban life is a constant in Alÿs’s work. In an ethnographical way, his films record both the power of cultural tradition and the autonomous attitudes of children, even in the most conflicted of situations. Commissioner: Jan Jambon, Minister-president of the Government of Flanders and Flemish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Culture, ICT and Facility Management Curator: Hilde Teerlinck
Marco Fusinato DESASTRES – AUSTRALIA
DESASTRES is an experimental noise project that synchronises sound with an image. The work takes the form of a durational solo performance as an installation. Marco Fusinato will be performing during the opening hours of the Biennale – two hundred days. Fusinato will perform live in the pavilion using an electric guitar as a signal generator for mass amplification to improvise slabs of noise, saturated feedback, and discordant intensities that trigger a deluge of images onto a freestanding floor-to-ceiling LED wall. The images are sourced via a stream of words that have been put into an open search across multiple online platforms. Unfortunately, the mass indexing is a mess – a morass of disparate and disconnected randomly generated images.
Pavlo Makov Water Shut-Off Ukraine
The National Participation of Ukraine in the 59th Venice Biennale has ensured the presence of artists with work which is strongly committed to completing despite the tragic situation in Ukraine. Artist Pavlo Makov says his work is a metaphor for “the exhaustion of humanity, the exhaustion of democracy.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky opened the Ukraine exhibition with talk of defending his country’s freedom via a live feed. He said, “art can tell the world things that cannot be shared otherwise”.
As long as this situation persists, La Biennale has rejected any form of collaboration with those who, on the contrary, have carried out or supported such a grievous act of aggression and will therefore not accept the presence at any of its events of official delegations, institutions or persons tied in any capacity to the Russian government.
We are all following the events of the war as it unfolds in Ukraine with apprehension, in the hope that international diplomacy will quickly negotiate a mutually agreed solution that will put an end to the death and suffering of an entire people and restore total freedom of action and movement to the world of culture.
All Photos: Paul Carter Robinson except for Stan Douglas courtesy the artist