By Nancy Nesvet
My second day at the 2017 Venice Biennale finds me attentive to Venice Biennale President Paolo Baratta’s assessment of the humanism and ability ofartists to “avoid being dominated by the powers governing world affairs” and their “resistance of liberation and of generosity” in his introduction to the Viva Arte Short Guide.
Curator Christine Macel has judiciously assigned themes within the exhibition of artists’ work she has chosen; at the Giardini; Pavilion of Artists and Books, Pavilion of Joys and Fears and Pavilion of Time and Infinity (part 2). The Arsenale site includes Pavilion of the Common; Earth Pavilion; Pavilion of Traditions; Pavilion of Shamans; Dionysian Pavilion; Pavilion of Colors and Pavilion of Time and Infinity, part 1. Intentionally amorphous separations of the Pavilions without blatant markings allow unhampered flow. In her statement in the Short Guide, curator Macel explains that this flow is important. Flowing water crossed by refugees has no boundary signs; the flow of refugees must ignore boundary marks to progress.
Similarly, at the National Pavilions, where invited nations choose their best artists’ work to represent their country, national art funds and councils have largely sponsored artists who address environmental and political threats, incorporating community, history and tradition. Underscoring the work that I viewed yesterday, the same concerns continue, environmental and political threats, the awareness of history so we do not repeat or continue on a destructive path and the need for the international community to collectively save our world.
Rodan Kane Hart’s “Western Death Masks” (2017, South Africa, stainless steel, wood LED lighting) are chilling in their use of heavy metals to portray death masks of those who have died for their extraction; women’s and human rights are emphasized in Jesse Jones’ “Tremble, Tremble” (2017, Pavilion of Ireland, Video Projection of Performance), to which I return a second time, images a different social order where witches have returned and women run the world; Sislej Xhafa’s “Lost and Found” (2017, Pavilion of the Republic of Kosovo, installation), provides an unmanned desk and telephone, not connected, in a lost and found booth dedicated to the 5,000 missing people after the war in Kosovo with 1664 missing still unresolved. The unmanned booth asks if anyone cares anymore.
The “Spectre of Comparison” (2017, Lani Maestro, Phillipine Pavilion) speaks to the origin of nationalism, which according to Jose Rizal, a 19th
century indio from then colonial Philippines, lives by making comparisons. Maestro compares European and Filipino sculptures of heads. They are not very different, but our perception of them often is, and that is the point. Similarly, Liu Jianhua’s “Square” (2017, China, courtesy of Pace Gallery, Beijing/Hong Kong), explores the materiality of ceramics, exhibiting solid golden drops, giving solids the appearance of a liquid state. Appearance can be deceiving.
In Irish artist Mariechen Danz’s “Knot in Arrow” (2017, video archive of live performance during preview of Venice Biennale 2017, Performance Video Room), actors portray a world in a constant state of becoming, singing of hierarchies of learning, language, mapping and bodies, against a background of ancient and modern maps, with feet creating pathways along the walls calling attention to the constant and changing trek of civilization.
My second day at the Venice Biennale shows me artists drawing attention to truth and proposing alternatives to the current direction of the world. I am open, emotional, empathetic and learning, curious for more.