Venice art fest a tonic for global woes
Weary of the modern-day “global disorder” of politics and conflicts? The 57th Biennale art festival promises to lift the spirits of those frazzled by everything from Brexit to global warming.
“Viva Arte Viva”, which opens Saturday in Venice, is “a passionate outcry for art” in a world “full of conflicts and shocks”, curator Christine Macel said ahead of the opening.
Macel, chief curator of the Pompidou Center in Paris, has brought together 120 artists from 50 countries — with the emphasis on rediscovering great artists who may have been overlooked, rather than blowing the trumpets of rising stars.
“The Biennale challenge is to give as global a picture as possible of the artistic situation” across the world, she told AFP.
Among those exhibiting are pioneering US fiber artist Sheila Hicks, West German-born American Kiki Smith and Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, the man behind the vast sun at Britain’s Tate Modern in 2003 and the New York waterfalls in 2008.
– Music and gold –
France’s Loris Greaud pays homage to the city’s famed glass blowers — forced by the Venetian Senate in 1291 to settle on Murano island to protect the industry’s secrets — by bringing a disused furnace back to life in “The Unplayed Notes Factory”.
Swiss-born Julian Charriere, perhaps best known for dying the feathers of live pigeons in bright colours and releasing them into Venice’s Saint Mark’s Square in 2015, brings visitors “Future Fossil Spaces” — towers of salt bricks extracted from deposits in Bolivia.
Some exhibits are dotted around “La Serenissima”, “the most serene” as Venice is known.
Visitors should take to the gondolas for the best view of the glinting “Golden Tour” (1990) by US artist James Lee Byars, which stands proudly on the canal front next to the Peggy Guggenheim museum.
Alongside the contemporary art exhibition, 85 countries are putting on their own national pavilions at the Biennale.
The French one will be a recording studio with classical, baroque, electronic and folk instruments, which will host over 100 professional musicians from different countries during the exposition, with visitors able to drop in on some lively jam sessions.
Several countries will be showing for the first time in the northeastern Italian city, from Antigua and Barbuda to Kazakhstan and Nigeria.
– Green lights, disco beat –
However it is impossible to escape the modern world’s problems altogether, even at the Biennale.
“The Pavilion of Joys and Fears”, for example, explores “new feelings of alienation due to forced migrations or mass surveillance” in a world shaken by conflicts, wars, increasing inequality and the rise of populism.
But the topics are approached with humour or warmth, aimed at energising those suffering from 21st century blues.
“At a time of global disorder, art embraces life. Art is the last bastion,” Macel says.
At the heart of her show lies Eliasson’s “green light” installation, where refugees and visitors come together in a workshop to assemble lamps designed by the artist and share stories.
As the worst migrant crisis since World War II rocks Europe, it represents the metaphorical green light he urges his homeland and other countries to give to taking in those fleeing conflict and persecution.
In the wake of the US presidential election, American artist Charles Atlas presents the large-screen video work “The Tyranny of Consciousness”, in which drag queen Lady Bunny bemoans American politics to a disco beat.
The Golden Lion for lifetime achievement goes to the pioneering US feminist performance artist Carolee Schneemann, famed for using her body to examine the role of female sensuality and the overthrow of oppressive social conventions.
The Venice Biennale is held on odd-numbered years. This year’s event will run until November 26.