Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Venice Biennale - Arsenale curated exhibition

I had bought a 2-day/2 venue ticket in advance of going to Venice, and the first day was spent at the Giardini venue (see here and here for my blog reactions to this!) and the second day was allocated to the Arsenale. As with the Giardini, there was a mix of national pavilions and individual artists as part of Ralph Rugoff's curated exhibition, May You Live in Interesting Times. According to Rugoff's fascinating catalogue essay, the exhibition was divided into two "propositions" - A & B - in the two main venues in order to present different aspects of the artists' work and method of working. Thus, even within two very large group shows (80 artists!) I recognised the names of creators at the Arsenale, whose work I had seen the day before at the Giardini.

Though I did not recall seeing Yin Xiuzhen's work the day before, I was drawn to the huge figure in an airplane crash position. The figure and airplane seat made from dyed clothing was compelling.

One could examine the sculpture from all sides and get a full, claustrophobic sense by entering it from a small opening at the back. The interior was most alarming as sleeves and pant legs from the clothing hung above and around one at a touchable distance. I had the feeling that these clothes were metonymic, representing actual people, possible victims of air incidents. And further, this could be taken to have the larger meaning, which Laurie Anderson expressed in "From the Air" nearly 40 years ago -- "we're all going down together". Certainly Rugoff, and many artists he has chosen to exhibit, express a great concern for the current state of the world.

Wandering into the room housing Shilpa Gupta's installation, For, in your tongue, I cannot fit, I was taken by the crowd of viewers/listeners examining each individual section; I quickly joined them. Above each spiked, text page was a microphone speaker. There was something chilling about the voices, the spiked pages and the overall imagery.

I found out later (I read the didactic before leaving the room) that the pages and the speakers represented the individual voices and words of 100 poets, from the 7th century to the present day, who have been imprisoned for their work or political thought.

Along with Gupta, as an artist whose work resonated with me and stood out in my memory, as I had remembered her work from the Giardini (the destructive gate), I was also delighted to see more work by Christine & Margaret Wertheim.

The craft of their crochet work was given a mathematical/philosophical explanation. Through the use of the old-fashioned teaching tool of chalk and blackboard, one started to have a learning experience (and to me this echoed the work of the likes of German avant-garde artist, philosopher, and political thinker, Joseph Beuys and American poetic physicist, Richard Feynman). The Wertheims are in venerable company with their working methods

and their work. The ropey spiral of crochet reaches up and up, to great heights of contemplation.

While some work seems to reach to the stars, other work has plumbed the depths. Quite literally. And emotionally. And controversially. Christoph Bȕchel's Barca Nostra is the actual migrant ship that sunk in the Mediterranean, after a botched rescue attempt, causing the deaths of possibly over a thousand people who were locked in the hold. The ghost ship is both a monument and memorial to the victims of human trafficking. It is a deadly reminder that in our world there is no freedom of movement for most.

While Barca Nostra most definitely is what it is, Alexandra Bircken's post-apocalyptic installation implies it's appearance: what appears to be hanging bodies or skins of hanging bodies, are latex dippings of cloth. Although the catalogue refers to an upward movement of the figures, their suspension from ladders indicates to me that the movement is downward. Birken's Eskalation provides an image of the end of humanity from a nightmare; Bȕchel's Barca Nostra, perhaps lacking the poetry of  Bircken, provides a fully awake image of the end of humanity.

There was so much amazing work in this exhibition, it is quite impossible to discuss in a short blog. This brief glimpse, however, serves to touch on the tip of iceberg and make one realise that there is much to discover at the Venice Biennale. I, for one, plan to return and see future exhibitions. The Biennale is an amazing showcase where one does not have to travel far to be amazed, exhilarated and challenged by current art and ideas.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Venice Biennale - Giardini curated exhibition

In addition to viewing nearly every national pavilion at the Giardini (one was closed and another had queues, so we didn't hang around!) the central pavilion contained Proposition B of the huge group exhibition May You Live in Interesting Times, curated by Ralph Rugoff. Before going to Venice, I had read a number of articles and reviews of the Biennale and one of them gave the information that there was an equal number of female artists included in the exhibition as male artists, and that "unusually" all 80 artists are still living. I kept this little nugget of information in a happy place, and wow! was I impressed by the work! 

As I have been very focused on printmaking of late, I took an especial interest in the giant manga-esque woodblocks by Christian Marclay. Marclay is an American living and working in the UK.

This large gallery also contained Mexican artist Teresa Margolles' wall, Ciudad Juarez, which is part of a real border wall containing bullet holes and its memory as a site for execution. It is a reminder of the reality of a wall amid absurd demands of the current American president to build a complete border wall between Mexico and the US.

The exhibition contained works in any and all media and within the spacious pavilion, divided into a multitude of galleries, each artwork held its own. There were a number of artists who were painters and it was great to see large and different approaches to painting. I was taken with Julia Mehretu's abstractions. Mehretu was born in Ethiopa but lives in the US.

Wandering into a semi-darkened gallery was like walking into a display in an aquarium. Indeed, the individually lit display cases had an aquatic feel about them until, taking a closer look, the "corals", sections of "reef"  revealed themselves as finely crafted, crocheted and beaded soft sculptures by Christine & Margaret Wertheim. In fact the Wertheims have spearheaded an international collaborative project to recreate the beauty of the reefs and highlight the fact of their destruction by pollution and global warming. They are from Australia but live and work in the US.

The popularity of destruction was very obvious, as I, along with a small crowd of adults and children alike, were mesmerised by Indian artist Shilpa Gupta's heavy gate slowly swinging back and forth and hitting the wall (fulcrum to the swing) with a noisy clang. The gallery wall shows the havoc caused by the gate and there is a measure of suspense as the viewers await further deterioration.

The exhibition was huge, varied, thoughtful and provocative. Rugoff curated an exciting and inclusive exhibition (and this was only half of it - Proposition A was at the Arsenale, which I would have the chance to view the next day and will take a peek at in next week's blog). There were many more artists whose works I found fascinating, but at some point I knew I could not keep taking pictures, rather, I examined and enjoyed without documentation in mind.