Arsenale: Pavilions in Crisis in Interesting Times

Arsenale: Pavilions in Crisis in Interesting Times

In these challenging and threatening times the artists representing their countries at the 58th  Venice Biennale are even more stimulated than in the past to “self-retreat”  thereby bringing forth a more profound vision and fulfilling a social function, opening a dialogue with the curatorial concept of this 2019 edition. How should we evaluate our actions and the connections we establish between the natural world, geological time, moral choices and aspirations for redemption? The social and geopolitical order of things is in a phase of change and knowing how to position oneself on the global chessboard is the only basis for a lucid and more political game.

It is Madagascar’s first Biennale, with the participation of the artist Jöel Andrianomearisoa, an historical event, a sign of dynamism and modernity, a message of hope and willingness to engage the countiry’s creative energies  in the world’s great movements. In the project  entitled “I have forgotten the night”, the artist pays tribute not to a country but to the majesty of what he calls oltrenero, the deep darkness of his sad wanderings. His work bend, explain, carve, sing and laugh when this darkness is melancholy. The artist materializes his journey translated from the night through torn papers of love and death, revealing the immaterial of the invisible world, traveling the world elsewhere. Thinking of his distant homeland, the artist breaks up the building of Ilafy,  Madagascar’s royal residence, separating its black rosewood boards, to join them in nine organic skies that fall like dark cascades of bags, ropes and ashes. An aesthetic emotion that speaks for itself. The work develops around a narrative that is often abstract, never explicit, and its world of forms intertwines the work in sequences, often in the profound sadness of an absence that is impossible to fill.

Mexico is represented by Pablo Vargas Lugo, an artist who made his debut in Turin in 1997 with a solo show at Maze Gallery, he traveled along it … and we now found him at the Biennale with a project entitled “Acts of God”, which remains on the threshold between script and writing, performance and (dis) belief, exploring the relationship between the unexpected and the prophetic. Based on stories in the Gospels, it consists of two 20-minute films that fit together like gears thanks to a shared and easily identifiable iconic elements, but which reorganize themselves in each tape in a different narrative sequence, in which discrepancies and off-key details are present. According to the artist: … “the point is not to make a biography about Jesus, but to take some key scenes and some of the figures that embody symbols and metaphors that we use in our private and public lives, and then you ask yourself: what would happen if  things had not been in the right place? … “. The film was produced in Cuatrociénegas, a protected natural area in the State of Coahuila. The choice of this place emphasizes Mexican biodiversity and the importance of conserving it.

The “Island Weather” Project in the Philippines Pavilion, presented by the artist Mark Justiniani, is an exploration of the many ways in which the Philippines, an island-nation, can be understood and imagined through its geophysical characteristics reflecting the multiple ways in which Filipinos consider their spaces, as a place of origin, of refuge, of truce or of the country as a whole. “Island Weather” has three thematic approaches: “Island Voyage”, alludes to travel and travelers, to major construction works during the colonial period, to lighthouses, to places that combine fantasy and myth. “Local forecast: turbulent weather”, refers to the importance of the lighthouse, in a salvific sense, which challenges the forces of nature and shines in the dark of night to lead sailors to a safe harbor, symbol of spiritual strength, a house of light. “Piers and Ports” refers to the artist’s investigation into building and recognizing the truth, and shows that today in a world bombed by fake news intended to deceive and manipulate, the most radical antidote to the virus of falsehood is to let oneself be purified by the truth, to somehow reach the light of things, the non-hidden (a-lethès), cosciuosness.

For the curator Ralph Rugoff interconnection is a constant “Everything is connected”, the natural predisposition of art to connect planetary phenomena and current situations. It allows us to recognize the common thread in different but common plans, depending on the reinterpretation of each country or artist. The case of the Japanese visual composer-artist Ryoji Ikeda is one of the most striking. His ‘data-verse 1’, is an audio-visual trilogy that immerses visitors in the vast universe of data in which we live, capturing hidden aspects of nature and the vast scientific knowledge underlying our existence. Enormous open source scientific datasets of various institutions including CERN, NASA and the Human Genome Project, have been processed, transcribed, converted, transformed and orchestrated to visualize and sonorize the different dimensions that coexist on our planet, from the microscopic  to the human to the macroscopic. The raw data are thus reworked in digital works of art that evoke an aesthetic and auditory sublime by means of patterns and the realization of 3D models of these basic constituent elements. The projection is a large-format video in the 4K DCI high definition Hollywood standard, the soundtrack  minimalist electronic weaves fascinating layers of white noise.Electronic music was (in part) created for this, to try to explore the boundaries of art, philosophy and sound by employing technology, trying to sketch new, different specific imagery. His works are total, born from the power of sophisticated algorithms that always develop on three trajectories: the audio, the visual and the philosophical. Trajectories that run together and together influence each other, in a cross-media compensation that very few have, in terms of style, essentiality and intensity. The predominant use of  video as a means of expression in this edition of the Biennale, means that time serves as a metabolic laboratory to educate the viewer to an all-embracing understanding of the work of art.It was Kant who underlined the difficulties of the perception of simultaneity because understanding is in time and what is given as simultaneous and immediate tends to be perceived as becoming.  For Jon Rafman the dystopian view of  postmodern reality of contemporary capitalism is the main theme of the crazy video “Xanax Girl” – Dream Journal”, a reversal of the utopian concepts of the future, typical of modernist movements.with their rosy optimism. The artist uses a single-channel video, with a digital-surreal animation composition, focusing on the adventures of Xanax – Girl, in search of her kidnapped companion (a cross between a dog and a seal with a human head). Rafman created the images using a combination of lucid dreaming and automatic writing, in a relationship of direct tension with a pre-established plot, creating an aura of mystery in the flow of the film, which combines a regular narrative trajectory linked to characters as exciting as they are bizarre, presented as combinations of recognizable elements whose assembly generates a feeling of annoyance. Vibrant armchairs add a physical dimension to the hallucinatory work that urges the visitor to question their own concepts of reality. What we see is a dreamlike and dystopian universe with highly negative dangerous social, political and technological situations and developments carried to the extreme.

“Body en Thrall”, taken from the glossy magazine Indigenous Woman, complete with photographs of advertisements for beauty products, fashion services, etc., is a work of art in itself, produced and created by Martine Gutierrez. It proposes a series of glam images supported by photographic sets in which the main actress is the artist herself. The mannequins, she is seen with, appear rigid, the lines of their joints visible, recognizable as likely Ken and Barbie, participants in fake erotic encounters, dummies positioned in a liminal, marginal area, the antechamber to the transition to new social and cultural aggregations. The artist uses the interconnections of gender, sexuality, race and social class.  What is observed is a lack of defined boundaries, a loss of group memberships, an infinite present where the individual is surrounded by contradictions and only a strong sense of awareness can help and prepare for change and reshape the overall social structure.

Juggling in these interesting times thus stimulates an urgent, far from idle, sense of curiosity and an out-of-the-ordinary audacity that the artists present at the Biennale have been able to interpret and represent, challenging the habits of reasoning with great skill.


Arsenale Photo by Andrea Avezzù – Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

Madagascar Jöel AndrianomearisoaPavilion of MADAGASCAR, Jöel Andrianomearisoa, I have forgotten the night

Pablo Vargas Lugo MessicoPavilion of MEXICO, Pablo Vargas Lugo, Actos de Dios / Acts of God

Mark Justiniani FilippinePavilion of PHILIPPINES, Mark Justiniani, Island Weather

Ryoji Ikeda data-verse 1, 2019 DCI-4K DLP projector, computer, speakersRyoji Ikeda, data-verse 1, 2019 DCI-4K DLP projector, computer, speakers

Jon RafmanJon Rafman, Dream Journal 2016-2019, 2019 Single channel HD video, colour, stereo sound

Martine GutierrezMartine Gutierrez, Body En Thrall from Indigenous Woman, 2018 C-print mounted on Sintra

For all the installation views: 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, May You Live In Interesting Times
Photo by: Italo Rondinella
Courtesy: La Biennale di Venezia


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