It is fitting that on my last day at the Venice Biennale, as on my first, it is raining buckets, only underscoring what I perceived as the themes of the biennale: false facts and the implications of global warming on climate change.
Regarding false facts, the Indigenous Peoples exhibit, “Volume 0,” establishing its place as an original document, was held at the Zuecca Project Space outside the Giardini grounds. Sponsored by the Venezia Fondamenta Sant’Anna, organized by Dr. Max Carocci, the “Indigenous Peoples” pavilion showed a video on four medicine-ball size spheres, sequentially narrating the story of Venice’s impact on 16th century North American settlements. It said that trade and the necessity of acquiring gold and gems for trade provided the impetus for invading other lands, and Venice was a crossroads of trade. The video’s narration began, “We think of these explorers, taught to schoolchildren to be heroes, but in fact they were pirates.” It went on to provide factual information regarding settlement and killing of native Americans and First Nations people, destroying the myths we were taught.
The most surprising exhibit regarding false facts was at the Pavilion of Chile. “The Hegemonic Museum,” curated by Agustin Perez Rubio, the next curator of the Berlin Biennial, presented six hegemonic case studies establishing the European white heterosexual, patriarchal, monarchical, Christian male as culturally and economically superior: the basis for colonial policy and treatment of native colonial populations. This debunking of scientific racism, gender-based discrimination and female “hysteria” is exposed via official documents from nations across the globe. The third cultural sphere in this exhibit is an operatic cantata, sung by a multitude of voices of those called inferior during past centuries, with the final voice that of Daniel Vega, the Chilean trans singer and actress. The juxtaposition of this talented, superior singer’s voice with that of a muleteer reverses the positions of the dominated and dominator.
Showing a caring for the environment, Mexican artist Renata Morales’ simple and effective exhibition, “Invasor,” showed a roomful of car tires, each painted a bright color, like so many Lucky Charms cereal circles. Inside several tires were brightly colored, strange sea animals, illustrating how our plastic, rubber and other trash thrown into the sea is changing animal life.
Even more effectively, Federico Uribe’s “Plastic Reef,” sponsored by Adelson Galleries, at the European Cultural Center, covered the walls and parts of the floor with the most beautiful scene of sea creatures, flora and fauna, creating a coral reef teeming with sea life. It is all made of recycled plastic, from bread tabs to cigarette lighters, showing the plastic detritus that is destroying the coral reefs and ruining the sea itself. Uribe successfully calls attention to the situation with the amount of plastic he has gathered.
Similarly, “Ghana Freedom,” at the Ghana Pavilion, featured a field and wall of decaying old bottles and another shining wall, made up of silver and gold bottle caps from drinks finished long ago. These products of Ghana’s colonial heritage were now made into a beautiful large-scale wall installations by world-acclaimed artists El Anatsui and Ibrahim Mahama, appropriating products of colonialism to make a new vista for free Ghana.
Not as effective, because of the reliance on and interruption of the Virtual Reality (VR) headset, Marina Abramovitz’s VR project, “Rising,” poses the artist in a capsule in the sea, with seawater gradually submerging her. The Northern Lights, and fire in the sky, accompanies an apocalyptic storm raging above images of icebergs and glaciers, as the northern world is inundated by water. For me, it resembled a disaster film, but due to the VR helmet and inability to move, it did not produce the chilling effect I believed was sought by the artist. Sometimes, simpler is better.
The Venice Biennale 2019 has done an amazing job confronting the art public with threats to our world and our culture. It makes us aware of false notions and “facts” that we assumed were true and disparages them. It makes us aware, as a world community of many nations and all people, of environmental threats to our earth, its land, waters and people. In Venice, a city that might be one of the first to suffer from the effects of “climate change” amid rising waters, I have been witness to artists’ many different, creative ways to show a story that makes all aware of these threats, and to show that what we assume to be true is not always so.
What I did not see at this biennale were possible solutions. Some might think that is the venue of scientists, but the creativity I saw displayed in Venice this past week makes me believe that artists will come up with creative solutions to show the truth and save our world. There were venues and opportunities for discussion and for brainstorming solutions. Specifically, at Ocean Space, Joan Jonas created “Moving Off the Land,” where Ocean Space, a new global center sponsoring ocean research, advocacy and environmental literacy brought together people to apprise them of their efforts, and to begin a discussion.
“True Love,” situated on a boat docked at the Giardini, one of the sites of the biennale, launched an artistic platform and catalyst for conversation, uniting artists, composers, ecologists and experts in global environmental studies to explore possible solutions.
“She Persists” brought together 20 female artists to highlight women’s achievements and explore the common female experience, but it also instigated conversation of how women could come together to save the earth, employing a feminist ecological perspective.
Outside of these venues, constant conversation took place, propelled by the themes of the biennale, one clearly global warming leading to climate change, another false fact. It is these conversations among artists from all over the world that makes the biennale vital to global society and to the world itself. Ralph Rugoff did an amazing job, choosing artists to address his theme. Saluto!
(La Biennale di Venezia: The 58th International Art Exhibition — “May You Live in Interesting Times” takes place from May 11 through November 24, 2019 at the Giardini and the Arsenale, Venice, Italy. For more information, visit labiennale.org/en/art/2019.)