“All the world’s futures” – Venice Biennale 2015

by Katia Ceccarelli

 

It is actually true that there isn’t just one future! There are many different “futures” depending on who’s imagining them.
In other words, future strictly depends on the present and even more on the past to such an extent that it seems almost impossible to have a realistic view of where we expect to be in five years’ time.
And yet, when visiting the 56th Venice Biennale, I noticed a common thread, maybe more than one, that runs not only through all the most culturally similar countries but also through the apparently most diverse ones.
This year’s edition, entitled “All the World’s Futures”, has a common cultural background including all kinds of forecasts and is characterized by heat, aridity, dying trees and burnt wood, old beached boats, spaceships without a route.
Scant attention has been given to joy and trust in mankind, there are only some passing references that take us back to sweet moments from our childhood.
The Russian Pavilion presents its “future” that actually remains so in name only. The mission of the huge “cosmonaut” by Irina Nachova, a future dating back to some decades ago, and the disappointment at something which should have been great; It is very charming, as children like its jovial tenderness, too. A sense of nostalgia (“taskà” in Russian) for something which could have been pervades all European countries.
Norway’s contribution has been developed by Camille Norment. Her artistic project, which takes place in the Nordic Pavilion, includes windows opened to the outside by broken glass walls, imploded, through which we can see trunks of mighty trees, and we can hear a celestial melody calming us down, the calm after the storm: this is the sonic experience, the “glass harmonica” by Camille Norment.
The uprooted trees in the French Pavilion, moving around on their root balls, or the old newspapers in the German Pavilion: very minimal, almost empty, to tell the truth.
And burnt wood for Finland and Denmark, and ears of wheat for Holland, and then there is the Belgian Pavilion, evoking memories of the colonial era by showing its “Belgian Congo”.
Artist Sarah Lucas represents Britain with her major solo exhibition “I scream daddio”. Her works are aggressive and powerfully irreverent, showing cigarettes stuck into orifices which are not usually meant for smoking. There is egg yolk color everywhere, which is supposed to boost morale but, it is well known that the colour yellow can be anxiety producing and that it can cause us to feel agitated.
Captivating: this is the best adjective to describe the art installation by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota which takes place in the Japanese Pavilion. Here viewers will find old wooden boats (boats have become an iconic image these days) and the space above filled with red yarn. Attached to the end of each piece of yarn, suspended from the ceiling, there is a key, often a rusty one. It looks like rain or magma flows. But these keys won’t open any other door if not that of hope. This installation comes as a breath of fresh air! Yes, the air that you breath in the central Pavilion is heavy, except for the Korean Pavilion, where the Korean artistic duo Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho presents their film installation whose “leading star” is a female astronaut engaged in her daily training sessions.
Gardens are the main theme in the Central Pavilion: here collapse, flooding, ruins, bitumen, accumulation give us the idea of a future similar to a rubbish heap, which is actually our present. The United States evoke the beauty of a bucolic past with the art installation by artist Joan Jonas.
What will remain in our future — even though rusty and worn out – will tell us about what we used to be.

At the Arsenale the post-disaster epic goes on, even if the tone is apparently cleaner and more impersonal. The works hosted here focus on keeping the memory alive and on what we will be able to read in the future.
The art installations in the Corderie building recreate the atmosphere of a “kunstkammer”, showing a renewed interest in the cataloguing: and so we have the objects in the cases by Ricardo Brey, or Boris Achour whit his “Games whose rules I ignore”, or Marco Fusinato with his ”archivio Moroni” and finally Christian Boltanski with his video installation featuring shamanic wind chimes. The lamps in the “Flickering Lights” installation by Philippe Parreno stud the walls along the route while Adrian Piper (Golden Lion for Best Artist) wants to include personal subjectivity of her audience as her interactive piece in show asks visitors to sign written contracts with themselves and to engage in a lifelong performance of personal responsibility.

 

Italian Pavilion —Italian Code

Peter Greenaway’s tribute to Italy is a collage of all the images which the British film director and artist considers the most iconic ones representing the greatness of Italian art. But the comments of some visitors next to me were: “Is this the opening sequence of the Da Vinci Code?”. Well, as a matter of fact, foreign visitors are better than us at recognizing what’s good and bad — and at speaking it out! – as we Italian are sometimes too quite unjustifiably shy about praising Italians for becoming extremely successful worldwide, and this is demonstrated by the fact that even Leonardo da Vinci’s works today have become trivial kitsch.
At a glance the artists seem to be shut into huge recesses as if the whole Pavilion were an aristocratic family funeral chapel.
I am heartened by the acknowledgment of the works by Gioli and Samorì, who still express the mystery of the bodies, while Paladino joins the global trend: all black, all burnt.
The two dragons of China, wonderful machines installed at the Gaggiandre basin at the Arsenale, stand there to demonstrate that the future must be pursued with open jaws.

Okwui Enwezor has undoubtedly done an excellent job, he managed to grasp the spirit of the time, the zeitgeist.

In his addendum “Vitality: or epic life, The Garden of Disorder and The Capital: a live reading” he speaks about three theoretical fulcrums, or even three overlapping filters. A part of the exposition is dedicated to the live reading of the four books of Marx which shaped the identity of the twentieth century. Even members of the public were invited to make contribution to the program of readings and I could witness the depressing audience’s desertion.
Probably this is no longer of interest, or we can’t perceive its modernity any more, or maybe we are not able to understand its necessity.
As far as I am concerned, I consider Joana Vasconcelos’ Garden of Eden installation sponsored by Swatch to be the marginal note of this Biennale.
It’s about a small labyrinth, studded with bright flowers, to be walked through in the dark.
Evocative and restful in the summer heat, but the flowers are fake, probably they are made in China. The only future which still retains colour is made of plastic.

 

Photo credits:
Katia Ceccarelli

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