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Together We Stand, Divided We Fall Venice Biennale 2017 Arte Viva Arte

(left to right) Olafur Eliasson, Green light — An artistic workshop; Jesse Jones, Tremble, tremble (still image from video); Samson Young, Songs for Disaster Relief (still image from video); Mark Bradford, Tomorrow is Another Day.

(left to right) Olafur Eliasson, Green light — An artistic workshop; Jesse Jones, Tremble, tremble (still image from video); Samson Young, Songs for Disaster Relief (still image from video); Mark Bradford, Tomorrow is Another Day.


By Nancy Nesvet

Venice, Italy – Bringing awareness to political and environmental crises and uniting the world’s artists in proposals for humanity’s and the earth’s survival, the Venice Biennale 2017 might be the most important art exhibition ever. Harold Rosenberg famously said that art is about events. This Biennale addresses current events while posing fundamental questions regarding the role of art and art-making. Is it a journalistic report and analysis of events, or an illusory view of what might be, could be, has been or is? This Biennale includes all of this: including beautiful and threatening nature, environmental disasters and the danger for refugees traveling upon the open seas, while optimistically providing solutions to potentially disastrous situations.

Christine Macel, curator of the Venice Biennale 2017, implores that this Biennale is for and by artists. Its participatory nature makes it clear that we are all artists, and the remaking and restitution of our world is the greatest art project ever. The most remarkable aspect of this Biennale is the many ways artists treat the subject of migration, be it forced, economically or politically necessary, and the necessity to confront threats to our environment, together formulating ways to save our world and our human race on this planet. Whatever the politics of each nation, artist or group, this Biennale brings the message that art creates awareness and comforts, that artists propose solutions, and we must come together as a world community to solve the world’s problems.

I still love Jesse Jones’ “Tremble, Tremble,” at the Ireland Pavilion, a frightening film of a performance announcing “The witches have returned” and in the process, proclaiming a new body of law, in “Utero Gigante,” ruled by a multitude of formerly suppressed women. Mark Bradshaw’s installation, “Tomorrow Is Another Day,” at the USA Pavilion, where Bradshaw makes a pile of discarded possessions of the disenfranchised around the perimeter of the room, accentuates the marginal status of some members of American and world society.

At Palazzo Mora, the Pavilion of Humanity’s “Objection,” two plaster figures, self-portraits of artists Ekin Onat (a Turkish Muslim) and Michal Cole (a Jewish Israeli), inhabit the same territorial bed but face away from each other. At the same pavilion, in a claustrophobic room made of 2400 men’s ties, the uniform of bureaucrats, chokes the Arabic-inspired room décor. The optimistic stop on this journey is “The Absence of Paths” at the Tunisia National Pavilion, where I obtained my new passport, issued by the state of Freesa, with the stamp of Pangea, declaring my nationality ‘Only Human,’ with origin and destination unknown, and status, migrant.

Refugees’ reasons for fleeing their native lands is treated in Jana Zelibsa’s “Swan Song” at the Czech and Slovak Republic’s pavilion, where Zelibsa’s video backdrop of Venice’s Adriatic Sea is foregrounded by lighted white swans moving in orderly rows. Mechanical swans, against rising waters relate our continuing obsession with digital imagery and virtual reality, while we ignore the real, threatened natural world. Perhaps most frightening is Samson Young’s “Songs for Disaster Relief,” at the Hong Kong in Venice pavilion. Using sound and video, Young re-appropriates “charity singles” “We are the World” and Bob Geldof and Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” to explore the ideologies and empathy that instigated these performances. Dirk Braeckman’s black and white photographs in the Belgian Pavilion are stripped of specific nationality. His shadowy figures, devoid of dress or skin color, could be anyone, a code and year the only identifying marks.

Actualizing the philosophies, sponsored by the Venice Biennale, Artist Olafur Eliasson and his foundation set up “Green light-An artistic workshop,” inviting the public to help make Green Lights, the sales of which enable a program to house, support and train political and economic refugees to gain employment skills in Italy.

This art exhibition’s anagramic motto, “Viva Arte Viva,” announces that art must live, and it does, spanning genres, history and culture, and that we must live art, together creating ways to live in and maintain our world. The most remarkable achievement of the Venice Biennale 2017 is its inclusion of so many nations’ artists and communities, enabling them to live and talk together, considering each others’ problems and viewpoints, and realizing that, as the world’s people, we can and must come together to solve problems if we are to survive on our mutual planet. This is the power of artists that Christine Macel and Biennale President Paolo Baratta attributes to artists.

Thank you to Artscope for this amazing journey, and especially to you, the readers for following on facebook and Artscope’s zine, coming along for the ride. Viva Arte Viva!