The first time I came across the Venice Biennale was as a teenager. I remember watching it on TV and a seed was planted. It looked like a glitzy affair with droves of people moving in and out of the Giardini, talking to different interviewers about the mind blowing creative pieces on display and how they enjoyed the cultural and historic richness of Venice. I was wowed and I knew I had to visit one day and that day finally came.
I made my way to Venice on a weekend trip from London to experience the 56th Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition titled All The World’s Futures curated by the Okwui Enwezor, the first African to curate the event in its history. Representatives from 53 Countries took part in this year’s Biennale event across multiple locations around Venice.
I felt two days was sufficient to explore what the Biennale had to offer, boy was I wrong! You definitely need more than two days. My first day was spent at the Arsenale, which I covered in a separate post(click here to read about it) and my second day was spent at the Giardini.
I arrived at the Giardini by river boat from the NH Collection Venezia Palazzo Barocci hotel early in the afternoon.
Here are some gorgeous sights along the way.
The Giardini is home to the main Venice Biennale event with a Central Pavilion where the exhibition started in 1905 with artists from different parts of the world exhibiting their works together.
Central Pavilion Tour
I booked an English guided tour online for 11 Euros before my trip, for both the Giardini and Arsenale. The guided tour covered the exhibitions and activities in only the Central Pavilion. There were three of us in the group, a couple from Singapore and me. Being a small group, we were able to ask questions and interact with each other as we went along.
The young lady who was our guide was so knowledgeable and remembered every detail and inspiration of each of the art works she talked about, which was impressive. I would definitely recommend a guided tour, as it brings the works alive and in some cases provides the rationale behind the pieces. It creates awareness on the political or sociological issues an artist might be trying to bring to the forefront of people’s minds, which you may not think of by just looking at the pieces. I will be sharing some insights from the tour and some of my experiences with you.
On arrival we were greeted by a huge blue neon sign with the words Blue Blood Bruise by American conceptual Artist Glenn Ligon, whose work is currently in the U.S White House. In the U.S, each president chooses a selection of works to be shown in the White House for their term. President Barack Obama chose the works titled ‘Black Lie Me No 2’, which is in the personal quarters of the White House. Glenn Ligon is said to be one of President Barack Obama’s favourite artist.
Here is another piece by the same artist inside the Central Pavilion is the monumental screen print painting titled Come Out, which people might think it is to do with the Artist’s sexuality, but it is based on ‘Come Out’ (1966), one of American composers Steve Reich’s, an early taped-speech works.
According to the Tour guide, when people ask the artist, why he uses a lot of text in his works? He said that one of his earliest memories was reading books, as his mum used to give him tonnes of books to read as a child. What a great source of inspiration I thought.
The works of Wangechi Mutu, a Kenyan artist and sculptor occupied an entire room showing her varied creativity. The show included a video installation, collage painting and a sculpture.
I watched a little bit of Mutu’s animated video titled ‘The End of Carrying All’, as the tour guide talked enthusiastically about Mutu’s work, which resonates with me, as one journey’s through life acquiring material objects and baggage, which may become too heavy to carry or might eventually start having a choking effect and become meaningless. How do we end this vicious circle of material acquisition? Towards the end of the animation the woman falls off the cliff. Can you relate to this feeling?
I made a mental note to come back and watch the rest of the video, but ran out of time. Maybe on another trip before the Biennale ends.
Here is another piece by Mutu titled Forbidden Fruit picker, a collage painting.
And the third piece below titled She’s got the whole world in her, shown from differen perspectives.
This was one of my favourite works of the exhibition.
Inji Efflatoun (1924-1989)
I was not particularly drawn to the works by Efflatoun, an Egyptian painter, but I was fascinated by her life story, which included being in prison for over four years and how she became an artist and her last name which is Plato in Arabic. Her work was shown in the 1968 Venice Biennale.
Throughout her life time she was an activist, communist, Marxist and feminist. For this, Efflatoun is often referred to as an activist and painter. Her works focused on portraits in the beginning and she eventually moved to landscape painting.
Adrian Piper is an American conceptual artist and philosopher. She is the first female African American philosophy professor to receive an academic tenure in the United States. She was awarded the Golden Lion for best artist at this year’s Venice Biennale. A number of her works was exhibited in the central Pavilion and Arsenale. Below is my favourite titled ‘Everything will be taken away’
In this sculptural series presented in two locations in the Central Pavilion shows the injustice and poor working conditions of the workers making ceramics in a factory in Jalisco in the region of Guadalajara in Mexico. To get an insight into the life and working conditions of the workers, Beshty went to Mexico and worked in the factory.
Another interesting point about Beshty’s work is when his works is being transported to museums, he allows for some pieces to be broken to provide visitors with an insight into the behind the scenes of the art world.
Below are works outside by the pond.
Below are Beshty’s work in a dedicated space within the Central Pavilion.
The newspaper clippings hanging on the rail, symbolises the female body being packaged, shaped into whatever form seen fit to meet the demands of capitalism.
Tetsuya Ishida (1975-1989)
I found these works aesthetically inviting and it was interesting to see what I am calling more traditional form of art amongst the conceptual art pieces. The works are by Japanese Surrealist artist. Tetsuya Ishida died at 31, when he was struck by a train at a level crossing. His powerful works is thought provoking and depicts the mood of the economic situation in Japan in the 1990s and early 2000s in surreal imagery.
Although, his work focuses on Japanese society, it gives food for thought for the political and economic conditions in the world at large and the future of society and human progression.
I like the collaborative utilisation of the skills of other artists shown in the themes of community and social action in Tiravanija’s work.
Tiravanija commissioned Thai artists to draw images from various newspapers depicting the poor, oppression and global capitalism.
Another piece that was captivating was the works of Teresa Burga, a multimedia artist from Peru. Burga shows a portrait of herself from a medical perspective, where the body has been reduced to graphs and numbers. In the exhibition she shows a depiction of the rhythm of her heart, medical reports and scans. As with most art, this work has to be seen and experience to be truly appreciated.
Teresa Burga is one of the pioneers of conceptual art in Latin America.
The success of the international exhibition in the Central Pavilion in the early days, led to the encouragement of countries to build their own pavilion to showcase the works of their national artist. The first country to take up this invitation was Belgium, in 1907. Sometimes you will find the Biennale described as the Olympics of the Contemporary art world, this is where the idea came from with each country showcasing their artistic talent to the world.
29 countries showcased their talent in the historic pavilion at the Giardini. Here is a rundown of some of the pavilions I visited.
Great Britain Pavilion
I was so glad to arrive at the Great Britain pavilion, not just because I was being patriotic, but it was one of the few pavilion’s that had air conditioning! It was over 30 degrees celsius, humid and sticky outside.
Inside the pavilion, It was refreshing and I could enjoy the art on display, which immediately brought a smile to my face. The colour yellow on the walls and on the sculptures and air conditioning made for a cool summer ambience. The cigarettes on the sculptures made me giggle like a school kid. I enjoyed the humour.
The washing machine made me ponder on its representation in the exhibition.
The entire works is by artist Sarah Lucas titled ‘I Scream Daddio’. In her latest works the body sexual, comedic, majestic remains a crucial point of return, while Lucas’s work continues to confront big themes with a distinctive wit. The exhibition was organised by the British Council.
In the piece below, Nakhova projects herself onto the futuristic image of a pilot in the form of a head. The oversized head’s impenetrability (achieved by means of a helmet, mask, and goggles), combined with the proposition that the viewer seek to control his perceptions, reveals the duality of the artist’s position in society. On the one hand, he is authoritative, while on the other he is too dependent on the external world from which he aims to escape and simultaneously wishes to control.
Artist: Irina Nakhova. Organised by Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation Stella Art Foundation, Moscow
The Nordic Pavilion is home to Sweden, Norway and Finland. This year, Norway is solely responsible for the Nordic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale for the first time in its history. The exhibition explores the relationship between the human body and sound, through visual, sonic, sculptural and architectural stimuli.
Artist: Camille Norment. Title: Rapture.
Curated by katya garcía-antón. Organised by Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA)
Boursier-Mougenot has rolled out the choreography of three mobile trees moving according to their metabolism, the varying flow of their sap and their sensitivity when going from shadow to light. By producing brand new connections between natural and technological elements, the artist experiments with unpredictable relations between nature and culture, freeing them from their determinism, bringing them to a new state of nature.
Artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot. Exhibition:Revolutions.
Curated by: Emma Lavigne
The exhibition passes on and links the memories of different people across time from our ancestors to those living in the present day and future generations.
Artist: Chinaru Shiora. Title: The Key in the Hand.
Curated by: Hitoshi Nakano. Organised by: The Japan Foundation.
On entry into the Danish Pavilion, my initial thoughts was what a minimalist use of space. The space reminded me of the design and contemporary architecture of the Danes. I took a few pictures and left to check what the Swiss had to offer, which was nothing as the Swiss Pavilion was closed until further notice. I need to find out why. Or do you know why? Please share.
I came back to the Denmark Pavilion, for some reason, perhaps because I could not decipher the exhibition presented before me. I started talking to the Exhibition Assistant.
I was not sure who he was at first, but I desperately needed to find out more about the works before me. The exhibition assistant informed me that the works by a Vietnamese artist Danh Vo. Alarm bells went off in my head, as I was thinking this is another situation like Kenya where all bar one of the artist put forward was actually Kenyan! The guide then explained how Danh Vo became a Danish Citizen as a child and has lived in Denmark since he was four.
The Exhibition Assistant started telling me about the works and what they represented. I made a mental note to focus more on the conceptual side of art and try not to look at an art work from only an aesthetic perspective as there is always more behind the works on display. As the saying goes, never judge a book by its cover.
The two elements of the pavilion that blew me away was this piece below. From afar, it looked like a crate or cartoon of salt. I was encouraged by the Exhibition Assistant to have a closer look and he asked me what I thought it was? Polystyrene I said. He smiled and said no, that most people said that.
He encouraged me to touch it and it was rock hard and smooth. He then informed me it was Greek marble that was over 2000 years old. I was gobsmacked!!
Lick Me Lick Me, 2015
White crystalline Greek-marble torso of Apollo, Roman workshop, c. first–second century AD
Photo Credit: Danish Arts Foundation
The next piece that I was shown was actually not a piece, but the red walls in the 2nd room in the pavilion. Once again I was encouraged to touch the walls and it was not what imagined at all. It was soft, cushioned and bouncy. I was later informed that it was silk. The same one used to make to make the red cardinal robes worn by the clergy in Catholic Churches.
Photo Credit: Danish Arts Foundation.
The Danish pavilion was packed with history, meaning and knowledge depicted by very few pieces’ I had a very informative session here, I had to dash, as this was my last stop before heading to the airport and the Mosquitos were having my right leg for dinner. Get me out of here! If you don’t know already, if you are visiting Venice in the summer go with insect repellent!! I didn’t and learnt the hard way. That’s it for now. Hope you have enjoyed the post. Click here to read about my experience of the Asenale.
Did you attend Venice Biennale? What were your favourite and worst bits? Please share in the comments section. If you have enjoyed this post, please share with others.
Artistic descriptions of the exhibition was sourced from the each of the National Pavilion website. Click on the respective Pavilions of the different countries to find out more.
The 2015 Venice Biennale runs through November 22 at different locations across Venice.