Longitudes

(Part 3/3) The 55th Biennale di Venezia: National Pavilions and Collateral Events in pictures and as seen by the critics, 1 June–24 November 2013

Browsing 'The Ideological Guide' on iPad.

If you haven't been to this year's Venice Biennale and plan to go soon, download 'The Ideological Guide', a free app developed by the Dutch artist Jonas Staal. As reported in artinfo.com "the smartphone app offers information about each participating country’s 2013 pavilion, from its commissioner and curator to the sources of its funding, while also providing historical information about past pavilions, and charting that nation’s economic and political alliances with other participating countries. The app, according to its creators, shows that the Venice Biennale’s distribution of national pavilions around the city is in many ways a more accurate reflection of nations’ geopolitical position than any geographical map.

Allora. So. Let's begin with the Spanish Pavilion, not only as it's the country where Latitudes is based, but also as it's the first pavilion one encounters when entering the Biennale area, walking towards the Padiglione Centrale. Quinn Latimer
 in Art Agenda wrote: "In her discreetly powerful Spanish Pavilion, meanwhile, Lara Almarcegui also tread some familiar contemporary-art modes and ideas, though they were insistently material. And the pavilion was a natural: streaked with sunrays from the skylights above, the piles of stone, wood, glass, and dirt—the exact same amounts that were used in the building of the pavilion itself—were immediately comprehensible, inevitable, lucidly effective." [Press Release and more photos here, video interview here]

  
'Raw' mountains of the various materials that compose the very building where they were presented: the 1922 Spanish Pavilion.

Continuing with Latimer
: 

"Surrounded by Massimiliano Gioni’s larger show, the somewhat airless “Encyclopedic Palace,” with its Documenta hangover of late, and serious crush on cleanly framed taxonomies, the national pavilions’ representatives of culture and country felt antique and obvious and a mess—but also a relief. Gioni’s turning of private cosmos and personal struggle into a stylized interior design aesthetic was definitively lacking in the disordered, disparate pavilions, where taste was usually the least concern. Yet lack of taste does not always equal distastefulness, which often arises instead from an excess of the stuff. If sometimes bad taste materializes as poeticized and/or politicized kitsch (see the pavilions of Canada, the US, Israel, and, at moments, the Netherlands), other pavilions broke through the visual chatter."

On the Netherlands' presentation, Adrian Searle of UK's The Guardian commented that Mark Manders' "Room with Broken Sentence" (...) "is a sensitively conceived and quietly dramatic tableau, like the interior of a mind as much as an actual space. The human presence emerges and disappears, conjoins with furniture or is sandwiched between stacks of timbers." 

Following on from our previous post on biennale tote bags, we'd like to add that the Dutch press package gets our bravo for the most beautiful, comprehensive and effectively-designed communication materials (and what a great pavilion catalogue too, with contributions by 37 international writers invited to reflect on individual works by Manders, published by Roma Publications). The press folder includes a full-coloured booklet with beautiful installation views of the pavilion; an 8-page booklet with an interview between the pavilion curator, Lorenzo Benedetti, and the artist alongside black and white photos of the works on show and a floorplan of the exhibition; two double-sided thick card A4 postcards of the artist's work; and a copy of Manders' "fake newspapers" which also covers the entrance to the pavilion. You can see images of the materials on the website of Amsterdam-based designer Roger Willems, or read more in the website of the pavilion. Gefeliciteerd!

  
 (Three above) Installation views of Mark Manders's "Room with a Broken Sentence" (2013) at the Dutch pavilion. More photos via Contemporary Art Daily.

Latimer laments the somehow shy presentation of Valentin Carron at the Swiss Pavilion which according to her "provoked nostalgia. Bruno Giacometti’s austere, 1952 modernist idyll is one of the finest pavilions in the Giardini. If two years ago Thomas Hirschhorn [see a few photos here onwards] obliterated Giacometti’s clean lines with his overwrought, über-hoarding installation, this year Valentin Carron erred on the side of caution, hewing too close and careful to those very same lines."

 View of Valentin Carron's presentation at the Swiss Pavilion.

Despite Latimer's comments on the "disordered, disparate pavilions", Jörg Heiser was amazed to find a common thread: "Even in the national pavilions of the Giardini – which are not under any over-arching curatorial supervision, but in each case are commissioned according to very different agendas – there are numerous signs that artists are groping in the dark of the unconscious and the (supposedly) ‘primordial’: grottoes and caves all over the place, clay sculptures, enigmatic allegories, prehistoric flintstones, (pseudo-)fossil findings. Is this parallel between the curated show and the national pavilions merely coincidental or does it tell us – as it steers art away from sober abstraction, calculated boutique chic, and more straightforward forms of realist social comment – something about the current state of things, the position of art in society (and economy) at large?"

And speaking of clay figures and rocks, according to Carol Vogel Sarah Sze's 'Triple Point' spread beyond the US Pavilion, with a few merchants in Castello displaying simulations of her pieces adorning rooftops, balcones and shop windows. "Ms. Sze is asking questions of her audience: “What objects in your life have value, and how is value created?” she explained. “I wanted to show objects that we know and have seen in our bag or on the shelf of a store which have the residue of emotion... Ms. Sze, who is known for creating site-specific environments from everyday objects like toothpicks, sponges, light bulbs and plastic bottles, arrived here in a snow storm on March 28 and has been hoarding, foraging and installing ever since." [Full article here, you can also read another review here, watch a video interview with the artist or have a 360 degree virtual tour of the Pavilion].

(Above) Sarah Sze's 'Triple Point', United States of America Pavilion.


The mentioned 'spiritual turn' is also shared by Corinna Kirsch in her review in Art F City, which reads: "It seems there’s something in the air about The Encyclopedic Palace’s “dream of a universal, all-embracing knowledge” (...) Science fiction and spirituality, in particular, are present in the pavilions as well as Gioni’s exhibition, though the way these themes play out are to entirely different stylistic ends... Overall, these works are less emotional than Gioni’s; even when they’re grounded in science fiction and spirituality, they’re grounded in the concerns of the here-and-now. Simply put, Gioni’s artists tend to live in their head, and the pavilions’ artists, in the world." 

According to Kirsch, examples of this are the British pavilion with Jeremy Deller's "English Magic" [see a video of Adrian Searle visiting the pavilion], where the artist has "the grandest presentation on view of epic creation and destruction myths, and on a national scale." [Watch the full-length of the video 'English Magic' here]. Paul Teasdale went on to say that Deller delves in the "antiquated, faintly ridiculous notion of the ‘national pavilion’ and the antiquated, faintly ridiculous notion of Englishness itself that Deller is exploring. And the almost magical way in which we so quickly forget the past."

(Above) Visitors queue to have their own prints of "William Morris returns from the dead to hurl Roman Abramovich's vast yacht Luna, which blighted the waterfront beside the Giardini at the 2011 Venice Biennale, into the waves." (Adrian Searle) and of a Hen Harrier grabbing a Range Rover.

 Above: A steel-drum orchestra played A Guy Called Gerald and Bowie's The Man Who Sold the World during the afternoon of the opening day.

Moving on. The almost bare Romanian Pavilion presented a "retrospective history of Venice, with actors as breathing archives of the Biennale itself" as Kaelen Wilson-Goldie has described in her Artforum diary review. Adrian Searle went on to recommend everyone to visit "the Pavilion, where Alexandra Pirici, Manuel Pelmuş and a small group of performers restage dozens of works from the previous 54 Biennales: using nothing more than their own bodies, they act out and mime Picasso's Guernica, Hans Haacke's famous destruction of the German pavilion's floor in 1993, paintings by Modigliani, sculptures by Rodin, performances by Marina Abramović and photographs by Nan Goldin. Both homage and parody, these quick-change charades in the otherwise empty pavilion take place all day, every day. Marvellous, funny and affecting, An Immaterial Retrospective of the Venice Biennale is much more than a parlour game. It is about history and memory – and it shows that the real encyclopedic palace is not to be found in a collection of objects, but in people themselves." [see a video of Searle visiting the Romanian Pavilion, starting at min. 2.30 while the 'living sculptures' are performing a reenactment of Allora and Calzadilla's 2011 piece presented in the US Pavilion].


(Above) An Immaterial Retrospective of the Venice Biennale, Romanian Pavilion.


Above: 'Bang', a so-so installation assembled by 886 three-legged wooden stols by Ai Weiwei, at the entrance of the German Pavilion (this year housed in the French Pavilion).

More Giardini. For the Austrian Pavilion, Mathias Poledna takes us to the movies. "... to a very short movie, that is. At just over three minutes long, “Imitation of Life” should feel like a slap in the face to the hulking structure in which it sits (both literally and figuratively). But the single animated scene, which reproduces to exacting detail the process used by film studios in the late 1930s and early 1940s, is a joy. It’s simple, light (at least on the surface), heartwarming even, and then it ends leaving one wishing for more." Jörg Heiser of frieze adds: "Poledna shows a four-minute musical animation in the style of Disney’s Bambi or Snow White – realized, in Los Angeles, with specialists able to do it the classical way. It’s not an original found object, but a kind of new reconstruction. Poledna does not rely on readymade or parody, thus generating a kind of double perception: I see the film projection and am inevitably reminded of childhood experiences – don’t I know this cute donkey with drooping ears in sailor outfit? – that I never could have had. He taps into our real-existing, pop-cultural affect reservoir, while diverting it into perfect fiction."


Still from Poledna's “Imitation of Life”.

Adrian Searle also mentioned Anri Sala's "Ravel Raval Unravel": "... Albanian artist Anri Sala, representing France, is in the German Pavilion. He drew big queues last week for his three-part film installation, based on performances of Maurice Ravel's 1930 composition Concerto in D for the Left Hand. Impeccably staged though it is, Sala's is a minor work on a major scale." [Watch video here]

 A (poor) photo of Anri Sala's video installation.


Midwaythrough a 2-hour queue under the rain to enter Anri Sala's exhibition on Friday 31 May.
  
Other National Pavilions in the Giardini not very much mentioned by the press, but worth visiting: Czech Republic & Slovak Republic, exhibiting work by Petra Feriancová (first room) and Zbyněk Baladrán (with the film "Liberation or Alternatively", at the back). Feriancová's project takes "Venice as a starting point and theme disappears in a return to intimate history: although pigeons, shells, masks and cityscapes are universal figures with a specific information value right here in Venice, their photographs or their collections were taken for purely personal reasons (the artist and her family) and have in fact nothing in common with Venice." [More images and text via Mousse].
the exhibition project Still the Same Place by Petra Feriancová and Zbyněk Baladrán curated by Marek Pokorný. - See more at: http://moussemagazine.it/55vb-czechoslovak-pavilion/#sthash.hhxgS6c4.dpuf


Also, Lebanon was represented by a wonderful new film, "Letter To A Refusing Pilot", by Akram Zaatari. The story is centered on a powerful real-life account of an Israeli Air Force fighter who was sent to destroy a school outside of Saida, the artist hometown, in the early 1980s but refused to do so, and instead dropped the bombs in the sea. As a kid, Zaatari would hear the story from his father, director of the very same school. Years later Zaatari discovered the story wasn't a rumor and that the pilot was real. 

Nina Siegal includes a quote by the artist on her New York Times article: “The importance of the story is that it gives the pilot a human face,” Mr. Zaatari said. “It gives what he is about to bomb, which is considered terrorist ground; it also gives that a human face. I think it’s important to remember in times of war that everyone is a human being. Taking it to this level humanizes it completely, and we’re not used to this at all.” 

"The film was shot in the neighborhood around the school, which has been rebuilt and incorporates aerial photographs, drawings, computer imaging and some personal documents from Mr. Zaatari’s own life to tell the story from the perspective of a teenage boy. In the Lebanese Pavilion at the Biennale, it is part of an installation that includes a reel film projector, a single movie theater chair and a number of cylindrical stools."

Zaatari's film in the Lebanese Pavilion in the Corderie.

Holland Cotter of the New York Times wrote on Alfredo Jaar’s show at the Chilean pavilion [two photos below], which is "centered around a sculpture that moves, an exact model of the Giardini campus that emerges from and sinks back into a vat of fetid-looking water. Mr. Jaar is telling a story about the alignment of art and power: Many of the older, pre-World War II pavilions are relics of a murderous nationalism were built as cultural trophies by economically competitive nations that created colonial empires and eventually led Europe into war."
 

Elsewhere in Venice, a number of Pavilions bid for our attention. Not least Angola, which won the Golden Lion for the Best National Participation. The question here was, as rightly stated by Filipa Ramos in her Art Agenda review, "How much of the Golden Lion for the best National Participation was due to Edson Chagas's "Luanda, Encyclopedic City" and how much of it was due to the gallery of Palazzo Cini, which hosts the Angolan Pavilion?" The impressive Cini collection of Renaissance works (Piero della Francesca, Filippo Lippi, Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Pontormo...see photos below) is rarely open to the public. Chagas's low pillars of twenty-three off-set takeaway posters à la Felix González-Torres (though displayed on pallets), marked a contrast between classical products of Western culture and the photographed images of the streets of Luanda.

"The images consisted mostly of depictions of large pieces of junk (the seat of a broken office chair, a tattered soccer ball) that were displaced and then photographed by the artist in Luanda. Visitors were invited to collect the different images, thus producing a supersized album of all the gathered prints. Despite the naïve dualism generated by the blatant contrast between the two worlds (the location of production and location of display), the project presented an almost magical and secretive discovery to its visitors that was much in harmony with Massimiliano Gioni's exhibition's focus on parallel and lesser-known art histories."




Do check out – and leave plenty of time for – the Cyprus-Lithuania in Palasport "Giobatta Gianquinto" nearby the Arsenale entrance. The sports centre building alone is worth a visit. You'll be surprised to see such a large venue in what is seemingly such a small island. As Dan Fox of frieze writes "The Pavilion of Lithuania and Cyprus, held in a building one would never expect to find in Venice. An almost Brutalist-looking edifice, tucked next to the Arsenale, housed a huge, modern school gymnasium, where curator Raimundas Malasauskas had organized a show of performances, sculpture, painting, and dance in an environment that was about as un-Venetian as one could get ... What on earth was going on? What was the work and what wasn’t? For once it was nice to simply enjoy the mystery." 

Back to Quinn Latimer: "Maria Hassabi performed her intricate movement-based work on the steep, cinematic steps of the gymnasium, while far below, an installation of temporary walls made up of recycled walls from previous pavilions (by Gabriel Lester) and works by various artists—Jason Dodge, Elena Narbutaitė, and Dexter Sinister, among twelve others—looked, from above, as small and distant as a diorama." [Watch a video with interviews and images of the exhibition]


(Above) New York-based performance artist Maria Hassabi during Intermission (2013), surrounded with works by Phanos Kyriacou.


Another one to not miss is Richard Mosse's 'The Enclave' in the Irish Pavilion. The photo below doesn't do justice if you want a better idea to watch this wonderful 7min. video 'The Impossible Image' produced by frieze (and Vimeo staff pick!) in which you can hear the artist talking about the process of making the works. 

(Above) Multi-screen installation of Richard Moss' The Enclave in the Irish Pavilion in the Fondaco Marcello. 

Not to forget the Scottish Pavilion in the Palazzo Pisani which has one of the most solid shows in town, composed of three artists – Hayley Tompkins, Duncan Campbell and Corin Sworn. Filipa Ramos noted that "Hayley Tompkins’s floor installation of photographs and paintings puts together different scales of familiar, commonplace scenes and objects (from the depiction of a traffic jam to an electric plug or to the proliferation of plastic bottles) in such a way that they all become part of a set of recognizable, familiar presences."


Detail of  Hayley Tompkins's "Digital Light Pool (Orange)" (2013), composed of Acrylic on plastic trays, stock photographs, wooden boxes, glass, plastic bottles, watercolour.

Elsewhere in the city, dozens of Eventi Collaterali and other exhibitions piled up. Christy Lange wrote about one of the most talked-about events (particularly as queues became a real 'trending topic' in any conversation). Lange writes: "organized by the Fondazione Prada, the exhibition ‘When Attitudes Become Form: Bern 1969 / Venice 2013’ at Ca’ Corner della Regina ambitiously sets out to reconstruct Harald Szeemann’s seminal exhibition ‘Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form. Works – Concepts – Processes – Situations – Information’, originally staged at the Kunsthalle Bern in Switzerland in 1969." (...) "The show also recreates the tile and wooden floors of Bern, and even imported and installed authentic radiators. The effect is not seamless; nor is meant to be. Instead, there are visible gaps where the white walls had to be cut to fit around the classical Venetian moldings, and the intricately painted wooden beams of the palazzo remain exposed overhead." (...) "Along with Szeemann’s preliminary sketches for the show’s poster, we also get to see evidence of the harsh reception the show received in the Swiss press: illustrated by several ridiculing cartoons in national newspapers, like one in which a cleaning woman forgets her mop bucket in the gallery, only to have it interpreted as a work of art by a museum guide."

Carol Vogel of the New York Times puts the exhibition into historical perspective: "Originally organized by Harald Szeemann, the Kunsthalle’s director at the time, the show is considered the first major exhibition of what was then regarded as radical art. It included little from outside the  Western Hemisphere and little by women, but it was the first big show to acknowledge a broad range of mixed-media work that fell under freshly coined terms like Arte Povera, Process Art, Anti-Form, Conceptual art and performance art. Its nearly 70 artists included Claes Oldenburg, Joseph Beuys, Eva Hesse and Bruce Nauman." (...) "Featured in the show, which ends on Nov. 3, are works from artists who were then emerging, including Carl Andre, Richard Artschwager, Alighiero Boetti, Sol LeWitt and Keith Sonnier. And when the curators were unable to locate a work of art, they just left a dotted outline of where the piece should have been placed — a ghost of what once was."

Ramos reminded readers of "Celant’s ongoing inquiry upon the possibilities of reproducibility—a line of research he has pursued since his early years as an exhibition maker—a step further, as he attempts to reproduce the unrepeatable, indeed to repeat the irreproducible."

Jannis Kounellis' "Untitled" (1969) was originally installed in the lower floor of the Kunsthalle Bern. Here it's on the second mezzanine floor of Ca' Corner della Regina. 

 Walter de Maria's "Art by Telephone" (1967). Reenacted.


 Richard Serra works from 1969.
 General view of the Schulwarte (third floor in the Fondazione Prada) which displayed works by Pino Pascali (floor), Marinus Boezem (left), Frank Lincoln Viner, Thomas Bang, Michael Buthe, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Paul Cotton, Ger van Elk, Rafael Ferrer, Hans Haacke, Roelof Louw, Emilio Prini, Allen Ruppersberg, Frank Lincoln Viner and William T. Wiley.

 Giovanni Anselmo's "Untitled" (floor, right); "Il cotone bagnato viene buttato sul vetro e ci resta" (left, wall) both from 1969; and the 1968 "Untitled" in the corner. (Displacement)

Szeemans' (pre-excell!) spreadsheet listing the artist's names, place of residence, title, technique, and measurements of the work to be displayed, and a projected travel and production budget.

Another interesting exhibition was the Future Generation Art Prize housed in the incredible  Palazzo Contarini Polignac nearby the Accademia. More photos here.

 Entrance to the exhibition. 

 Emily Roysdon, "Our Short Century", 2012. 

 Eva Kotátková, "Theatre of speaking objects (Becoming objects)", 2013.

Detail of Rayyane Tabet, "Architecture Lessons", 2012. From the series "Five Distant Memories: The Suitcase, The Room, The Toys, The Boat and Maradona". 

 Aurelien Froment, "Pulmo Marina", 2010.

And last but not least, the Palazzo Grassi's inauguration of Tadao Ando's Teatrino (or rather "Teatrone" as it's 1,000 square-meters and holds 225 seats), as stated by Ramos "a truly remarkable event for a country known for its epidemic of closing-down cinemas." During the opening days, the Teatrino screened Anri Sala’s "1395 Days Without Red" (2011), Philippe Parreno’s "Marilyn" (2012), and Loris Gréaud’s "The Snorks: A Concert for Creatures" (2012). This was undoubtedly the best contribution Pinault brought to this year's biennale. We agree with Christy Lange on that the exhibition "Prima Materia", curated by Caroline Bourgeois and Michael Govan at the Punta della Dogana "managed to reduce even good works of art to macho collections of ‘things’". The only room that was somehow 'saved' was the space mixing Japanese Mono-ha and Arte Povera with works by Merz, Paolini, Boetti, Penone, Sekine, Suga, Ufan, Koshimizu, Enokura (photo below). Adel Abdessemed's 2011 four life-sized sculptures of Christ modeled after the Crucifixion made of razor wire was one of the low points in Venice.
 
All photos: Latitudes | www.lttds.org (except when noted otherwise in the photo caption)
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(Part 2/3) "The Encyclopedic Palace", 55th Venice Biennale in tote bags

Courtesy: Tucano, Milan

The biennale tote bag. Merely light and foldable marketing freebees in the form of non-rigid containers for the carrying of catalogues, innumerable press releases and checklists? Or ironic critiques of an increasingly capitalist and permissive society? Austere, poetic and challenging invitations to revalue familiar things and refocus our perceptions?

Now ever-present at the most vital and visible sites for the production, distribution, and public discourse around contemporary art, these large and often alarmingly unfastened cloth bags – typically with parallel handles that emerge from the sides of its pouch – have in the span of a few decades quietly become the unquestioned handmaiden of biennalisation. In Venice this year few dared to break with the tote's canvassed hegemony. The Dutch stuck their head above the parapet with a risky choice of clear plastic bags to accompany Mark Manders' pavilion – a whimsically aggressive engagement with issues of indispensability, and, perhaps with typically Dutch straightforwardness, transparency. 

Even if a pavilion or Eventi Collaterali can fly in Michelin-starred chefs for their dinners or legendary DJs from the South Bronx instrumental in the early development of hip hop for their parties, getting the tote bag right nevertheless remains a perilous balance of form and content, of prestige and patriarchy, greenwashing brinkmanship and sheer design cojones.

So was 2013 acqua alta for tote bags in Venice? Did any of them attain the understated brilliance of the Canadian Pavilion bag at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007? (David Altmejd's noir classic in heavy twill boasted a separately tailored gusset.) Or did they match the game-changing 48 x 48 cm tote bag for Ayşe Erkmen's Turkish Pavilion in 2011? (designed by Konstantin Grcic, it featured an inner pocket made to fit the catalogue, and its own section on the pavilion website). There's a big wide world of tote bags out there...



This year, the Biennale organisation brought in the Milan-based Tucano to design the official tote – they've been working with the film festival for a decade or more – and they spurned the traditional heavy cloth in favor of a lightweight synthetic "skin" and webbing straps which lend the item the air of a piece of technical camping equipment. The extra-long straps allow for a certain dynamic freedom of movement that is a clear reference to the Futurists, although they may impede the shorter visitor on a busy vaporetto. Its uncompromising blackness seems to suggest mourning, yet with a vital rather than dour spirit –  "time and space died yesterday" as F.T. Marinetti once said. Good effort.


Le pavillon français opted for a nocturne in Parisian fog grey for its bag accompanying Anri Sala's "Ravel Ravel Unravel". The rawness of the medium-weight cotton – or is it hemp? – speaks of torrid emotional intensity while the contrastingly spare and delicately-kerned typography attempts to echo the phasing-in and out of the pianists in Sala's grand video installation. Only printed on one side however – a note of uncertainty?


Being in part based in Alvar Aalto's masterpiece pavilion in the Giardini, Finland's representation at the Biennale has wisely shied away from grand gestures with its bag for the exhibition "Falling Trees". The exhibition was put together with "a sinuous curating process" the organisers reveal, and their serene bag prompts us, with its ample volume and unadorned reilu meininki tailoring, to weave our way through its "contingent encounter between art and nature". Onneksiolkoon! Pidän siitä todella!


The Tuvalu Pavilion pluckily represents the third-least populous sovereign state in the world, and likely the first in line to disappear underwater as sea levels rise due to climate change. The exhibition itself, by "sensational Taiwanese artist Vincent J.F. Huang" reportedly features "a sea turtle and a group of penguins belonging to an underwater mafia ring seeking revenge on capitalism and the effects this is having on their natural habitat". Wow. More understated – though no less imaginative – the cream-and-azure coloured tote bag bears the coat of arms of Tuvalu: a shield decorated in a pattern with mussel shells and banana leaves, a hut and stylized waves. A Tuvaluan inscription reads “Tuvalu mo te Atua” (Tuvalu for the Almighty). Made from silkscreened Polyfabric™ (an environmentally-friendly cloth) it hits all the right notes for ecologically-sensitive micro-nation enthusiasts. Child-safe and odor/mildew resistant.


The tote for Jeremy Deller's British Pavilion, entitled "English Magic", was manufactured in 100% 135gsm cotton by a company based, ironically enough, in Welshpool, Wales. The reverse side depicts a line drawing of the British Pavilion which has been a staple on the British bags since at least Chris Ofili's 2003 exhibition. Given the inspiration that William Morris provides in Deller's exhibition, and the fact that Morris was a prolific type designer, it is perhaps a missed opportunity that the slogan text appears in the all-too-familiar Times New Roman. British Council directives? Nevertheless it does lend it a kind of appropriate DIY quality, and the highlighter orange colour (wondering though why it wasn't pink considering how much the artist loves to wear this colour) gives it the so-wrong-its-right touch that will secure its place on the sturdy shoulders of Deller fans, Bowie fans, cyclists, birdwatchers, tea-drinkers, stone-hand-axe experts, etc., for posterity. Not likely to appear on the Christmas list of Harry, His Royal Highness Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales. Or autocratic Russian billionaires.


2013 saw the United Arab Emirates present the work of Mohammed Kazem in the Arsenale's Sale d’Armi. "Walking on Water" comprised a projection of the sea and illuminated GPS coordinates within an chamber, but the quality of the tote bag alone was already leaving visitors feeling like they were walking on water with its speckled blue background recalling the waves of the Persian gulf. Assalaam alaykum!


Jesper Just's Danish Pavilion had to suffer the cruel injustice of technical difficulties with its complex five-screen video installation during the opening days. And to be frank, the gloomy black-on-black tote accompanying an exhibition burdened with the icky title "Intercourses" cannot have lifted the mood. An uncharacteristic error from the style-conscious Danes? In fact the design was headed by the usually-impeccable New York based Project Projects. Nevertheless, the bag looks more suited to a Bulgarian goth club or an inner tube manufacturers' convention than something to accessorize an exhibition that "challenges the viewer’s preconceived notions of space and time". Interesting pavilion. Charismatic artist. Woeful tote. Even difficult to re-gift this one.

 
Photo courtesy: Graphical House
 
Scotland! A typography-forward triumph! Impactful use of the three artists surnames in a highly refined neo-grotesque sans serif which appears not at all restrained by an attempt at upholding historical accuracy or formalities. The clarity, poise and symmetry of the white letterforms, combined with the discerning deep-blue cotton base, and the cheeky short handles say "hey, let's celebrate everything that's good about Scottish creativity!" If there was a Golden Lion for totes, this would surely be in with a roar. 


"See Venice and die," is what they say? Or is it Rome? Whatever, once you've experienced the bag for Lawrence Weiner's THE GRACE OF A GESTURE, organized by the Written Art Foundation and presented at the Palazzo Bembo near the Rialto bridge, you may have witnessed the pinnacle of totes. Or something pretty close. Weiner has already produced some bag legends – check out his audacious design for Printed Matter – yet this multilingual canvas produced in Westphalia is a perky filet mignon of a bag that makes the competition look like cheap mince. As Weiner says: “Art is the empirical fact of the relationships of objects to objects in relation to human beings and not dependent upon historical precedent for either use or legitimacy". Who can argue? 


Related posts: 
(Post 1/3) The 55th Venice Biennale: "The Encyclopedic Palace" in pictures and as seen by the critics, 1 June–24 November 2013 
(Post 3/3) The 55th Biennale di Venezia: National Pavilions and Collateral Events in pictures and as seen by the critics, 1 June–24 November 2013

 
All photos: Latitudes | www.lttds.org (except when noted otherwise in the photo caption)
 

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

(Part 1/3) The 55th Venice Biennale: "The Encyclopedic Palace" in pictures and as seen by the critics, 1 June–24 November 2013

 Poster announcing the biennale nearby the Accademia.

Following previous years reports (2009, 2011 biennale posts and 2007 photo album 1 and 2) we'd like to share our photo-documentation alongside some articles and interviews related to this year's biennale that we have been reading before, during and after our Venice trip. 

Bit first a bit of recent history. Massimiliano Gioni (Busto Arsizio, 1973), currently Associate Director and Director of Exhibitions at the New Museum as well as Artistic Director of the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi in Milan, was appointed Director of the 55th International Exhibition of the Venice Biennale at the end of January 2012. In October 2012 he announced the title and overall concept of "The Encyclopedic Palace" (Il Palazzo Enciclopedico) and in March 2013, he announced his artist list (over 150 artists from 38 countries, map of the venues here). A real tour de force.


 IL ENCICLOPEDICO PALAZZO DEL MONDO (The Encyclopedic Palace of the World) Marino Auriti (1891–1980), Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, c. 1950. Wood, plastic, glass, metal, hair combs, and model kit parts. American Folk Art Museum, gift of Colette Auriti Firmani in memory of Marino Auriti, 2002.35.1. 

Both frieze magazine and Artforum had published interviews previous to the exhibition's opening. The former with Milan-based art critic Barbara Casavecchia and the latter with the Artistic Director of the 2003 Venice Biennale, Francesco Bonami. A third interesting article to give some background if you're planning a trip to Venice is by Carol Vogel in the New York Times, narrating the previous weeks to the opening.

In the above mentioned interview with Bonami, Gioni describes Il Palazzo Enciclopedico as an attempt "to conceive of the biennial as a temporary museum more than simply as a show that captures the supposed zeitgeist." (...) The title comes from the self-taught Italian- American artist Marino Auriti, who conceived of his own impossible, imaginary museum: a building that would house all the knowledge in the world. Obviously his was a dream that remains only a model, a failed project. By using this title, and by looking at the figure of Auriti, I also hoped to connect to the history of Venice, because it’s the oldest biennial; founded in 1895, it has its roots in the format of the world’s fair, going back to the Great Exhibition of 1851. I wanted to acknowledge the link to the tradition of the universal exposition but also to suggest the failure of that model right from the beginning."

29 May 2013, 9.45am. VIPs and Press gather in front of the door.

On the spirit of the biennial, its zeitgeist and the oft-heard ‘It’s a museum show, not a biennale’, Dan Fox of frieze writes: "During the opening week, I wondered why I felt like giving little more than a shrug of the shoulders whenever I heard the criticism that ‘It’s a museum show, not a biennale’. Long gone are the days when a show such as this – or for example the Sao Paulo Bienal, or the Whitney Biennial – would be the one of the few opportunities one would have to be brought up to speed on the latest art being made in various parts of the world."

With regards to the exhibition design and parcour, Paddy Johnson of Art F City rightly notes that "the grandeur of the Arsenale was greatly diminished through near-obsessive wall building. That decision kept the architecture from overwhelming the work, a godsend to the biennale, which has historically been burdened by relying on spectacle to compete with the architecture." New York-based architect Annabelle Selldorf reconfigured the space into a museum-like suite of  white cube galleries projecting large walls that covered almost entirely the populated columns in the Arsenale, hidding its (rather charming) crumbling walls. This made the visitor focus on the many paintings, drawings and vitrines on display.
Room 1, Arsenale: Auriti's model welcomes visitors in the first room of the Arsenale. Behind one can observe the high walls built to 'block' the grandeur of the Corderie spaces.

Room 1, Arsenale: J. D. 'Okhai Ojeikere's black and white photos of Nigerian women's hairstyles and head wrappings accompanies Auriti's architectural model.

Vincenzo Latronico introduces the linearity of the exhibition: "Gioni’s exhibition focuses on the encyclopedia as an idiosyncratic struggle—the impossible, yet nonetheless deeply human attempt at knowing the structures of the world. The part of the exhibition taking place in the Arsenale is linear and suggests a possible evolution of the way this structure has been imagined. It opens with the Palazzo Enciclopedico, a utopian architectural model for a museum of all human knowledge, patented in 1955 by Marino Auriti, a retired car mechanic. It closes with a sequence of chaotic and overcrowded video works (most notably Stan VanDerBeek’s immersive 1968 Movie Mural), offering a stark rendition of how such encyclopedias have been approximated by the Internet."
 

Room 13, Arsenale: Stan VanDerBeek’s 1968 Movie Mural closes the linear section in the Arsenale (though strictly speaking the show finishes with Walter de Maria's 'Apollo's Ecstasy' (below, Room 16) from 1990, a loan from the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam). More photos of De Maria's piece via Contemporary Art Daily.


Centering on the much-discussed inclusion of "professional/insider" and "outsider" artists, Holland Cotter argues that the "The outsider art concept is tired by now, even ethically suspect, the equivalent of “primitive art” from decades ago. Mr. Gioni finesses the problem without really addressing it by integrating outsider-ish-looking inside art (there’s more and more of this around) so the two designations get blurred." 

Cotter continues "with a blend of insider-outsider and art-nonart components, it could have been stimulating. But the objects had little to say to one another. I feel a lack of surprise in Mr. Gioni’s show for the opposite reason: Its pairings — spiritualists paintings by af Klint and Emma Kunz, digital-printer abstractions by Alice Channer and Wade Guyton — are too neat and museumy. Yet at the same time, the show’s curatorial line is so firm, its choice of artists so strong and its pacing so expert that you are carried along, and ultimately rewarded."   

In an interview with Francesco Bonami, artistic director of the 2003 biennale, wittily argues that "crossing the line between insiders and outsiders is a very dangerous one" (...) "a lot of these artist—outsiders—were presented in a standard label, describing their pathologies, but I think it would have been interesting going a little farther (...) if you want to describe art through the pathology, it should have been presented as all artists are freaks. Like, Bruce Nauman, this guy is a freak that lives in Galisteo, [New Mexico], or Walter De Maria is a freak that lives in a power station in Manhattan, in a small space with a space heater. I mean, that would be, maybe, a fair thing to do, but it would not have been allowed, probably, as an insider artist. So I think that is the only critique that I can bring, that the outsider artists at the end they are presented, but also taken advantage of."
   Room 3, Central Pavilion: Hilma af Klint (wall) and Roger Hiorns (floor) "atomised" altar from and English church. [See profile of the artists]

 
 
Room 12, Arsenale: Alice Channer's digitally stretched images anchored at the floor by slabs of marble.


During a recent Q&A with Gioni at the ICA in London in March 2013, an interesting question arose from a member of the public about interpretative materials, and how the wonderful history that each work encapsulates was going to be received by the viewer. Gioni responed that he was inspired by a show he saw curated by Roger Buergel where the captions created a parallel narrative rather than utilising a more didactic tone, and he has since been writing "extended captions" in collaboration with artist and writer Chris Wiley.

The choice of the works by more contemporary artists often has a outsider "look" that is often played-up by these captions. Such is the case with Eva Kotátková (video here), whose rather beautiful "Asylum" (2013) installation is described as a piece in which she "collaborated with patients at the Bohnice pshychiatric hospital outside Prague, resulting in an installation based on the social hierarchies and modes of communication envisioned by the patients" (Exhibition Guide, text by Rachel Wetzler).

 Room 21, Central Pavilion: Eva Kotátková's "Asylum" (2013), shares room with Anna Zemánková's drawings (wall).

To this much-debated insider-outsider wrangle, Dan Fox of frieze adds: "perhaps Gioni did stack the number of artists expressing dense personal cosmologies rather high in places throughout the show – at points it was a little like going to a party where every guest wishes to corner you and talk intensely about their definition of the universe rather than ask you how you’re doing – but I was never short of something to discover, think about, learn from, agree with or push against."


 Room 7, Central Pavilion: Oliver Croy and Oliver Elser's The 387 Houses of Peter Fritz (1976–1992).

Adrian Searle writes humourously about the exhibition's megalomaniac ambitions: "You expect Gioni to leap out of Auriti's tiered architectural cake of a building yelling: "Today we curate the biennale! Tomorrow, the world!"" He then continues, "throughout Gioni's exhibition, we are asked where meaning lies. So many artists here seem to be speaking private languages only they can understand: here is a Theosophist, there is a Shaker, and over there are some horrible occult tarot drawings by Aleister Crowley, the satanist once described as the most evil man in the world... What unites this vast rag-bag of sculptures, tantric blobs, errant modernists with esoteric beliefs, and outsiders who fill drawing after drawing with lurching interior worlds, is a sense that everyone here is trying to make sense of the incomprehensible. Much of the time, they just add to it."


 Room 10, Central Pavilion: Enrico David's recent work with distended figures, totemic sculptures and patterned tapestries. More views via Contemporary Art Daily.

An important question is raised by Bonami in the interview: "How to avoid geographic flattening, in which everything from everywhere is thrown in? But then how do you avoid that kind of flattening with respect to history? How do you achieve historical specificity? That is the challenge if you are adopting a Wunderkammer, or encyclopedic, approach." To which Gioni responds "well, it might resemble digital Wunderkammer, or computer desktops." Something to keep in mind...

Room 5, Central Pavilion: (Vitrine) Ron Nagle's moon-rock formations and coral-like spires; (Walls) Anonymous Tantric Paintings produced between the 1960s-2004.

Starting with the Central Pavilion (previously called the "Padiglione Italia"), Vincenzo Latronico
writes in Art Agenda that "one of the Giardini’s most delicate rooms, for instance, displayed French Surrealist Roger Caillois’s collection of over a hundred rare geodes—their flamboyantly colored geometrical patterns and crystalline structures arranged in progressions, suggesting both a museum of natural history and the visionary maps of an alien landscape."


Room 14, Central Pavilion: Collection of Roger Caillois rocks from the Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris. Caillois shares room with Guo Fengyi, whose ballpoint pen, pencil and ink drawings she created to alleviate her acute arthritis.

Vincenzo Latronico also highlights another central piece: Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s Plötzlich diese Übersicht (1981–), "a collection of over a hundred small clay sculptures offering a depiction of the world through an arbitrary selection of significant minor events. From Einstein’s parents staged at the moment after the conception of their son, to Jacques Lacan first seeing himself in a mirror at age two; from a group of potatoes (asking how they ever got to Europe) to Jagger and Jones going home satisfied after writing “I can’t get no satisfaction” it is an ironic and yet oddly sensitive encyclopedia of banal mysteries and everyday epiphanies. The display, however, is particularly significant. In 2008, when Gioni showed the piece in a Fischli and Weiss retrospective he curated in Milan, he arranged the sculptures’ individual plinths in a linear sequence of groups, suggesting both an intrinsic order and a path the viewer could follow to obtain a complete experience of the work. In the Biennale, however, these are scattered around the room, giving the labyrinthine feeling of a mass of knowledge that could never be fully apprehended."

Room 13 (upper level), Central Pavilion: Peter Fischli & David Weiss, 'Suddenly This Overview' (1981–2012).

Another absorbing piece in the Central Pavilion is Kohei Yoshiyuki series of black-and-white infrared film photographs “The Park” (1971–1979) in which the artist photographed unaware couples having sex in parks at night. An interesting piece of context is that the pictures where originally presented in a dark gallery, offering the possibility of recreating the gloom depicted and making viewers complicit in the act.


Room 17, Central Pavilion: Kohei Yoshiyuki, “The Park” (1971–1979).

Writing about this years's Golden Lion awardees, Amy Sherlock points out that music features heavily in the encyclopedic video Grosse Fatigue (2013) by French artist Camille Henrot in which "computer windows showing photographs, video clips and morphing Wikipedia pages flicker and accumulate to a pulsing baseline whose steady tempo links a primitive, cardiac rhythm with the heady erotic charge of the dancefloor."


Room 3, Arsenale: Still of Grosse Fatigue (2013) by Camille Henrot.

"Tino Seghal picked up a Golden Lion as best participant in the main pavilion for his piece in which performers sit on the floor, beatboxing, singing and humming in a shifting melody of voice and rhythm."


Room 2, Central Pavilion: Tino Sehgal shared room with Rudolf Steiner's blackboards filled with coloured chalk (background).

Also in the Central Pavilion, Italian Marisa Merz and Austrian Maria Lassnig, Golden Lions for Lifetime Achievement of the 55th International Art Exhibition, share room 24. See video of the award cerimony. [More photos of Marisa Merz via Contemporary Art Daily.]



In the above-mentioned interview with Bonami, Gioni described that "a few artists in the show will use theatrical stagings or, simply, live actors. But I think of these less as performances than as living sculptures. Tino Sehgal is making a new piece, comprising a mise-en-scène with other works in the main pavilion. It’s on a smaller scale than his most recent works, but it is going to be quite intense. (...) John Bock is creating an installation that will include actors speaking in imaginary languages and what he calls a “house of maggots."
(Above) John Bock's 'Above the Point of Glowing Silence', a 2013 work commissioned by the Biennale at the Giardino delle Vergini. More views of his installation via Contemporary Art Daily.

Sam Thorne: "The Arsenale – the stronger half of the exhibition, I think – is episodic, even insistently narrativizing in its form. It tracks a kind of evolutionary process. The beginning, for example, is pointedly about beginnings of different kinds – Stefan Bertalan’s drawings of the life cycle of a sunflower or the whole of R. Crumb’s illustrated Book of Genesis. Indeed, the refrain of a great new film by Camille Henrot is ‘In the beginning…’ These early stages are also filled with animals and evocations of the natural world: Eliot Porter’s exquisite 1950s photos of birds in flight, Christopher Williams’ forensic photos of Harvard’s collection of glass flowers (1989)."   



Room 2, Arsenale: Christopher Williams, Angola to Vietnam* (1989). A suite of 28 gelatin silver prints of glass flowers from Harvard's Ware Collection portraying the hyperrrealistic glass specimens made by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. 


Room 6, Arsenale: R. Crumb's 207 pages of 'The Book of Genesis' (2009).

Having not seen Gioni's much-celebrated '10,000 Lives', 8th Gwangju Biennial (2010), we asked to those who had seen it for their impressions. Back then, Gioni also described it as an exhibition that dealt with ‘our obsession with images’ and has referred to 'The Encyclopedic Palace' as a continuation of this exhibition model proposed in 2010. In Gwangju, Gioni also included several of the works also exhibited in Venice: Shinro Ohtake's scrapbooks (1983); Paul McCarthy’s Children’s Anatomical Educational Figure (1980); Eliot Porter’s colour dye-transfer prints of birds caught in flight; and repeated numerous participating artists such as Dahn Vo, Bruce Nauman, Carl Andre, Stan VanDerBeek, Fischli & Weiss, Aurélien Froment, Morton Bartlett, Dieter Roth, Ryan Trecartin, Christopher Williams, James Lee Byars, Matt Mullican, João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva, Henrik Olesen, Hito Steyerl, Maria Lassnig, Emma Kunz, Mark Leckey, Pawel Althamer, Tino Sehgal and Cindy Sherman, amongst others (see Gwangju images here).

Room 13 (lower level), Central pavilion: Shinro Ohtake's obsessive scrapbooks produced since 1977.
Room 8, Arsenale: Aurélien Froment's new work "Camillo's Idea" (2013), a film featuring a mnemonist in the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza who demonstrates her own feats of memory and recites the history of mnemonics from teh system devised by Greek lyric poet Simonides of Ceos to Giulio Camillo's Fifteenth-century "Theater of Memory". (Exhibition guide, Text by Chris Wiley)

Room 5, Arsenale: Danh Vo installation with an imported colonial-era Catholic Church from Vietnam. [More photos of his installation via Contemporary Art Daily.]

Room 9, Arsenale: Pawel Althamer's 90 "sci-fi" sculptures with masks of Venetian citizens and plastic bodies are one of the downers of the Arsenale. As Adrian Searle warned "watch out for Pawel Althamer's room of flayed figures, and avoid them if you can."

It would seem that Gwangju's "unauthorized, partial reconstruction and unannounced tribute" of Mike Kelley's 1993 'The Uncanny' exhibition is in Venice echoed with the invitation extended to Cindy Sherman, who curated an excellent show-within-a-show in the Arsenale (Room 10). Sam Thorne describes it as a space with "figures of all shapes and sizes: signature pieces by Charles Ray, Duane Hanson and George Condo, some slightly more surprising inclusions like John Outterbridge and Jimmie Durham, through to Haitian vodou flags and even Sherman’s personal collection of photo albums. It’s quite a coup."    


Vitrines with Shermans' collection of photo albums.


Other highlights (unfortunately not all with photo-documentation to accompany): Tamar Guimarães and Kasper Akhøj's 16mm film examining a map created by a member of Brazil's Spiritists community, one of the few intimate moments in the Arsenale; João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva's immersive room with 16mm projectors presenting a new repertoire of films shot in Mozambique; Eduard Spelterini's black and white 1890s photographs of his ballooning expeditions; Sharon Hayes' video [see interview here] inspired by Pier Paolo Passolini's 1965 documentary Comizi D'amore, in which the artist interviews American women students, executives, artists, poets about their sexuality; Rossella Biscotti's minimal sculptures produced in compost created in collaboration with the inmates of the women's prison in the Guidecca island, accompanied by an hour-long sound piece where the women describe their dreams [see interview here]; and Michael Schmidt's Lebensmitten [Food] (2006–10) photo series for which the artist spent four years documenting all aspects of industrial food production in Europe.

 Room 3, Arsenale: Eduard Spelterini's black and white 1890s photographs of his ballooning expeditions.

 Room 8, Arsenale: Michael Schidt's Lebensmitten [Food] (2006–10).

 Room 8, Arsenale: Sharon Hayes, 'Richerche: three', 2013. 23'

Hito Steyerl's tucked-away video in the Giardini delle Vergini, was certainly one of the best pieces in Gioni's exhibition. Michael Connor of Rhizome has written about the 14 min. video, describing it as an "instructional video informing viewers how to remain invisible in an age of image proliferation". (...) "In the context of the Venice Biennale, which explores the theme of human knowledge and its limits, this discussion brings up fundamental questions about how much of our knowledge is derived through representations of the world, through images and data, and the limits of such knowledge." [Read full text here]

Hito Steyerl, How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File (2013).

 Erik van Lieshout's new work Healing (2013), an outdoor drive-in movie installation with a 5 meter LED screen, involves the artist' micro-cosmos: the work and ideals of his family members.

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Appartment 22 radio interview between Latitudes and Massimiliano Gioni


During our participation last June in the X Initiative’s NO SOUL FOR SALE - Festival of Independents in New York, James Merle Thomas, a San Francisco-based team member of L’APPARTEMENT 22 from Rabat, recorded a short interview for Radio Apartment 22 between us and Massimiliano Gioni, Director of Special Exhibitions of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. Gioni briefly talks about the 'introspective' (intead of retrospective) the museum dedicating to Zurich-born, New York-based artist Urs Fischer, opening 28 October.

The interview is part of Appartement 22's 'R22 Universe - Live From NYC' programme available online here.

Founded in 2005 by Max Andrews and Mariana Cánepa Luna, Latitudes is a curatorial office based in Barcelona, Spain, that works internationally across contemporary art practices.

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