55th Venice Biennale – Top 10
by Tiziana Borghese
Direct from Venice: On the 24th November the two principal venues which are the heart of the Venice Biennale closed, marking the end of one of the world’s major global art events. Over 300,000 visitors came to Venice in the six months June to November, seeking out the latest in contemporary art. I was fortunate to have been in Venice to report on life and art during this amazing time. Here are my top 10 exhibits.
The Arsenale’s Top 5
1. Maurino Auriti’s Il Palazzo Enciclopedico
At the heart of the conceptual focus of Il Palazzo Enciclopedico was Maurino Auriti’s head high model of the Encyclopaedic palace, which greeted visitors at the entrance. Auriti built it himself in 1955 out of found objects such as combs and scraps of wood. Keeping in mind that Auriti was self taught, not an architect and was relatively unknown before this Biennale, his model was remarkable in detail, passion, ingenuity and determination. Tiny banners surrounded the building with utopian slogans of peace and good will, pleas for better understanding and empathy and an end to humanity’s inhumanity. Whether it qualified as a work of art or not, it is a testament to one person’s passion and idealism and his conviction to stand by those ideals to create a better world. It stands here as a symbol of what can be achieved through self determination and faith in the face of opposition and narrow mindedness.
2. Pawel Althamer’s Venetians 2013
Althamer’s Venetians were impressive as stand alone sculptures but put together as an installation they emanated an eeriness and post-apocalyptic feel that was both engaging and aesthetic. Althamer’s body of work was also represented in a collateral retrospective of videos where the artist pushes the boundaries of his own perceptions documenting his experimentation with peyote, mescalin, marijuana, acid, hypnosis and reincarnation.
3. Piero Golia’s Untitled (My Gold is Yours) 2013
Golia’s cement and pure gold 2.5 metre white square was of interest more as a conceptual piece than an aesthetic one. Embedded within the sculpture was a kilogram of gold, and visitors were invited to chip away at the block and take some home. Like Felix Gonzales Torres’ candy, the viewer become an intricate participant in the work of art. The work questioned ideas of art in terms of its value, permanence, and its relationship to the viewer. The number of times I visited this piece having forgotten to bring a knife etched it in my memory. From my observations not many other visitors carried knives to the Arsenale as most of the gold was still there and untouched.
4. Yuri Ancarani’s Da Vinci 2012
Ancarani’s series of three videos which showed robotic machines performing intricate operations to classical music was reminiscent of technology gone wrong with Hal in 2001: a Space Odyssey. Although these machines were still controlled by humans the Kubrick type scenario had an unsettling yet aesthetically compelling effect.
5. Ed Atkins’ The Trick Brain 2012
Atkins’ found footage of Andre Breton’s personal collection of unusual objects was fascinating from a voyeuristic point but also because Atkins’ narration referenced the body’s relationship to death and the object’s left behind, like a ghost remaining after the body is buried. The use of the novelty gun added suspense and anticipation to the work.
The Giardini’s Top 5
There were 88 counties and territories represented in this Biennale.
1. Russia: Vadim Zakharov’s installation Danea
Expanding on the myth of Danea, who was imprisoned in a cave by her father and husband because they believed she would be responsible for their deaths, Zakharov has created a surreal, contemporary take on the oppression of women in a patriarchal society. The organisers only allowed women to visit the cave and take home some of the gold coins which raied from above. Men could only observe from red velvet pews reminiscent of a church from the second storey. Visually enchanting it was art with a bite.
2. Nordic: Finn Terike Haapoja Falling Trees
The human subject and its relationship to nature and technology was the focus of this installation. Haapoja converted the pavilion into a research laboratory, a space for an open dialogue between art, natural science and environmental ethics. Her technologically focused components visually displayed the cyclical nature of life on earth and the inevitability of death and recycling. Of note was the ‘talking’ tree whose sounds were magnified as human breath from spectators was blown into its leaves, and the visual display which showed the effect of heat leaving the body of a dying animal and of recycled decomposing leaves.
3. Korea: Kimsooja: Breathe
Kimsooja played on visual and sensory perception by enveloping the Pavilion with a filter which produced a rainbow effect and mirrors which disoriented the viewer. In total contrast to this plethora of colour and images visitors were asked to enter a room which was totally dark and soundless. Immersion in stillness is something which is rare in our technologically driven world.
4. USA:Sarah Sze Triple Point
The whole US Pavilion was filled with kinetic installations of found objects and photographs of found objects. Highlights were photographs of rocks, wrapped around plaster models of rocks, questioning the intricate relationship between image and the original and its relationship to reproduction and display.
5. Argentina: Nicola Costantino: Eva Peron
The iconic 20th century Eva Peron was represented in a number of video installations as she groomed herself in front of a mirror in her bedroom. As viewers moved around this intimate space they become aware that the parallel mirrors placed on either side of the room reflected both the front and the back of Peron simultaneously. Of note was a robotic rendition of the wooden frame she wore for her back, moving without a body like a ghost inhabiting the space. The work questioned alternative realities and the contrast between private and public space.
There were so many exhibits of interest and my original list was much longer, but the exhibits I have mentioned here stood out from the rest.