Art, bodies, dreams, metamorphosis – The official inauguration of the 59th International Art Exhibition is scheduled for Saturday, April 23, although it will be open for an advance viewing on the three days preceding the event.
How is our definition of human changing? What are the differences between animal, vegetable, human, and non-human? What are our responsibilities towards other people, other forms of life, and the planet we live on? And what would life be like without us? These are a few of the questions this year’s Biennale Arte will try to answer, an event that draws its inspiration – beginning with its title – from Leonora Carrington’s novel The Milk of Dreams, an investigation into the representation of bodies and their metamorphosis, the relationship between individuals and technology, and the links between bodies and the Earth.
At the time of her appointment as curator in early 2020, Cecilia Alemani spoke about her plans to travel the world to meet artists and find works to display at the exhibition. The challenges of the ensuing two years, however, stymied her plans.
“The best I managed was some time in Scandinavia, but even that was cut short,” she explains. “After that, everything else was via a computer screen. It was possibly because of this situation that the 59th Biennale Arte ended up being such a physical exhibition, involving direct contact between the works and visitors. That’s some compensation.”
The same thing happened in her dealings with the president of the Venice Biennale, Roberto Cicutto, who recalls:
“For almost two years, we met virtually, framed by a computer screen. And it’s through that same screen that Cecilia visited hundreds of artists’ workshops and studios around the world, poring over paintings, sculptures, videos, installations, and examples of performance art. It must have given her a very different view from the one she would have experienced in person. Whether that’s greatly influenced the spirit of her exhibition, I can’t say. But looking at so many imaginary worlds through the porthole of her computer, with the aim of physically bringing them to Venice to display them to the world, was most certainly a unique experience.”
And the time has now come for people to see these works for themselves.
The exhibition also features work by numerous female artists. This was a deliberate decision that Alemani describes as “not a choice but a process,” a path and a change that connects the past and present of the event.
Among over 200 artists from all over the world, it’s impossible not to mention Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña and Katharina Fritsch, former winner of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement.
“The first time I saw one of Katharina Fritsch’s works was at the 1999 Venice Biennale, curated by Harald Szeemann,” recalls Alemani. “Since then, each time I’ve encountered one of Fritsch’s sculptures, I’ve always felt the same sense of awe and dizzying attraction. Fritsch’s contribution to the field of contemporary art, especially sculpture, is unparalleled.”
A life-size elephant, created by Fritsch in dark green chromium oxide polyester and set atop a white pedestal, welcomes visitors to the Chini Room, at the entrance to the Central Pavilion in the Giardini area.
Fritsch often miniaturizes or enlarges her subjects and then wraps them in backgrounds painted in alienating colors. The effect is like finding yourself in the presence of monuments built by alien civilizations or artefacts displayed in some strange posthuman museum. And it’s precisely this idea of the posthuman that plays a major role in this exhibition.
The exhibition will occupy the Central Pavilion in the Giardini area, the Corderie, the Artiglierie, and outdoor spaces of the Gaggiandre and Giardino delle Vergini areas in the Arsenale complex. On show will be works by over 200 female artists, including more than 180 women who’ll be exhibiting for the first time at the event. This means that for the first time in its more than 127-year history, the Biennale Arte will mainly be featuring works by women and non-binary artists. This decision is an attempt to take a snapshot of an international scene that’s going through a time of enormous creative upheaval as well as a conscious choice to reduce the focus on the male role in art and culture today.
Set up along the exhibition pathway through the Central Pavilion and Corderie are five mini-exhibitions with historical themes. Each one brings together collections of artworks, found objects, artifacts, and documents that address some of the fundamental themes of the exhibition. Conceived as time capsules, these micro-exhibitions provide tools for in-depth analysis and introspection, creating cross references between historical works – including some major museum loans and a few very unusual exhibits – and the works of the contemporary artists exhibiting in the neighboring spaces. These themed time capsules bring a cross-sectional vision to the Biennale Arte, as they map out the commonalities and legacies of similar artistic practices – even ones that span generations – while creating new layers of meaning and interconnection between the past and present. Together, they represent a kind of art historiography based on symbiotic relationships, sympathies, and sisterhoods rather than consonance and dissonance. With their own particular architectural “choreography,” developed in collaboration with designer duo Formafantasma, these sections also offer a chance to reflect on the ways that the history of art is constructed, and how museums and exhibitions tend to establish hierarchies of taste and rules for inclusion and exclusion.
Away from the Central Pavilion, the Biennale Arte presented Piazza Ucraina, curated by Borys Filonenko, Lizaveta German, and Maria Lanko, curators of the Ukrainian Pavilion. Presented in collaboration with the Ukrainian Emergency Art Fund and the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, Piazza Ucraina is an installation designed by Ukrainian architect Dana Kosmina in the Spazio Esedra area of Giardini della Biennale. The project is intended to give a voice to artists in Ukraine and beyond so that they can express solidarity with the Ukrainian people and create a space for discussion, dialogue, and support for Ukrainian culture.
A site-specific pavilion designed by Stefano Boeri Architetti, Hanji House hosts Times Reimagined, an exhibition that features 40 large mulberry paper reliefs, sculptures, and installations by Korean artist Chun Kwang Young. It’s located in Palazzo Contarini Polignac, Venice.
Hanj is the name of a particular variety of traditional Korean paper made from the mulberry tree, also known as “thousand years paper” due to its great strength. It’s also Chun’s favorite medium, which he transforms into metamorphic creatures and spectacular scenes steeped in historical and cultural symbolism.
Set in gardens adjoining the Grand Canal, Hanji House is a wooden structure that exemplifies paper-tree architecture. From a distance, it turns in to a light box. Its design was inspired by the playful but meditative pastime of folding paper in an infinite number of ways. Its shape recalls the ancient eastern Asian practices of origami and tangram, as well as by traditional Korean and Japanese houses with their clearcut geometric modularity. The structure comprises a simple combination of volumes: four pyramids on top of a parallelepiped create a planar surface shaped like a regular rhombus in the center.
From outside, its envelope gives Hanji House the appearance of some kind of precious and unique object. At the same time, it’s a beacon that illuminates the magnificent Renaissance architecture and artworks that surround it.
The finalist projects in the first Biennale College Arte 2021–22 were announced to coincide with the 59th International Art Exhibition. Over 250 emerging artists under 30 from 58 countries around the world responded to the call for entries.
The finalists are Simnikiwe Buhlungu from Johannesburg (South Africa), Ambra Castagnetti from Genoa (Italy), Andro Eradze from Tbilisi (Georgia), and Kudzanai-Violet Hwami from Gutu (Zimbabwe).
Biennale College is a Venice Biennale project dedicated to training and supporting young artists working in every sector of art, including in their participation in the Biennale. Already operating in the areas of Cinema, Dance, Music, Theater, and Historical Archives, Biennale College was created with the aim of promoting young talent and offer them an opportunity to work alongside master artists to create works that will then become part of the event’s arts sector programs.
Location: Venezia, Italy
Date: 23 aprile 2022 - 27 novembre 2022
Photography courtesy of La Biennale Venezia
Please refer to the individual images in the gallery to look through the photo credits