Biennials & TriennialsPeople 29-11-2015

Capitalizing on the Biennale

From Rousseau’s "Discours sur l'origine et les fondements de l'inégalité parmi les hommes"to Karl Marx’s "Das Kapital" the theme of this year’s biennale (All the World's Futures) is, without a shadow of a doubt, political. The same goes for this year’s Lions. Yet the theme isn’t necessarily reflected in the numerous exhibitions across Venice. The underlying theme of man's exploitation of man is intense.

Certain pieces follow Enwezor’s theme to the letter — see Isaac Julien’s daily reading of Das Kapital —others more tangentially. One thing is certain, it is necessary to visit these exhibitions multiple times over several days in order to seek out and understand the truly excellent works, whether or not they be created in order to fit Enwezor’s vision.   

The best of the Arsenale

It is worth mentioning the brilliant work of Huma Bhabha (also in sculpture form at the Giardini as part of the Italian pavilion’s presentation), Tiffany Chung, Steve McQueen, Adel Abdessemed, Eduardo Basualdo, Nidhal Chamekh, Mika Rottenberg and Gedi Sibony, however, Tania Bruguera’s presentation at the Arsenale is arguably the work that is most rooted in reality: no special effects, no overworked techniques, no drones to film her videos, and no bells (so recurrent one might think we’re being primed for the next theme for the biennale). We are left with the transmission of the sentiments of oppression and imprisonment. There are artists who still dare to speak of politics, those who are the victims of it. The power of this work — previously presented in Havana in 2000 and censored due to male nudity — lies in its simplicity.

The American-Vietnamese artist Tiffany Chung retraces the conflicts and evolutions of global societies with a technique closely linked to cultural (rather than geographical) cartography.

Nidhal Chamek, photo by Anne Maniglier​

HAPPENINGMika Rottenberg leads the audience through a pearl market in China, her video NoNoseKnows (2015) serving additionally as an explanatory discourse on the production line of pearl beads, investigating workers conditions. As usual, Rottenberg’s work resembles the films of Jacques Tati, addressing ridiculous and degrading economic systems which collapse under absurd geographic situations. Nidhal Chamekh, a very young Tunisian artist presents a series of magnificent drawings interpreting the Tunisian revolution where violence and politics collide.

New Yorker Gedi Sibony paints on metal carcasses, Huma Bhabha onto immense photographs, meanwhile Argentinean artist Eduardo Basualdo works from banal details of daily life, transforming them into disturbing objects.

To Steve McQueen we owe Ashes (2002), a perfect installation video retracing the life of a lost friend, whilst Adel Abdessemed opens the Arsenale with an impressive piece, Nyphéas featuring bouquets of knives sat under Bruce Nauman’s fiery neons.     

To the Giardini

Some pavilions really stand out: the first that comes to mind is the accumulation of poetics and politics that is Wrong Way Time by Fiona Hall at the Australian pavilion. The Uruguayan pavilion presents Marco Maggi’s Global Myopia, an impressive display of workmanship, composed of micro-sculptures made from office materials. French artist Celeste Boursier-Mougenot’s piece Révolutions was unanimously appreciated by the general public during the unveiling of his national pavilion, a natural, dream-like piece, sophisticated, but the product of hard work.

The English have gone yellow with a provocative Sarah Lucas solo show, getting away with it firstly because she is Sarah Lucas, secondly because she is British, turning the male-dominated art world upside down.      


Left: French Pavilion, Celeste Boursier Mougenot, Révolutions, photo: Sara Sagul 
Center: British Paviilon, Sarah Lucas, Gold Cup Maradona, photo: Alessandra Chemollo
Right: Australian Pavilion, Fiona Hall, photo: Alessandra Chemollo 
Courtesy: La Biennale di Venezia.

In the Italian pavilion, where the pieces are as varied as they are numerous, the work of young Peruvian artist Elena Damiani stands out from the crowd, cutting up maps to create collages where the oceans and continents reverse roles.

It would have been good to have recontextualized Marx’s Das Kapital to show what man and art have to offer us in the 21st century: can art present us social alternatives, or does it just critique? Has art gone too far to the other side, the capitalist side? Does that mean it is no longer able to respond?

It would have been nice to have rediscovered photographic and cinematic archives other than a mere few Walker Evans’, an Einstein and a reading of the entirety of Das Kapital sponsored by Rolls Royce, who are also heading to Basel.

It is outside the official Biennale space that we get the chance to see more enlightening exhibitions such as


“Painting as Shooting”, showcasing the incredible talent of painter Lui Xiadong, organized by Jérome Sans (Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Isola Di San Giorgio Maggiore, until August 2).

“Slip of the Tongue” at the Punta Della Dogana, curated by Danh Vo with the aid of Caroline Bourgeois left us feeling inspired. The exhibition redefines the role of the curator, propped up by solid texts, where the audience evolves according to the choices of the artist.

The Palazzo Grassi’s “Venetian Blinds” exhibition and evening concert series finally got people moving.Jean Luc Verna and his bandmates Julien Tassart and Julien Tibéri managed to get everyone out of their seats dancing.
And so we left Venice, with three kilos-worth of catalogue, the first 150 pages of Rousseau’s text photocopied, and the cover of Das Kapital in Bengali, Urdu, Arabic, Yiddish… as well as an opening text by Okwui Enwezor which does very little to explain the biennale at all.
" Collage text on card,
Thierry Geoffroy Colonel​
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