The dream of a new humanity at the Venice Biennale

Visiting the Venice Art Biennale, it occurred to me that while meeting Cecilia Alemani in Tuscany (here), we had commented on Jeff Bezos’ ridiculous manifestation of masculinity, who had just shot himself into space (and sadly returned). ) with his penis-shaped rocket. It was the summer of 2021 and the atmosphere seemed less heavy than now. The Coronavirus epidemic – which had forced the curator, or rather “the first Italian female curator of the Venice Biennale”, to organize everything from behind a screen, from the studio visits to the selection of works – seemed to be drawing its last breath. , defeated by human intelligence. For many it was the summer of the second dose, we were full of hope and longing for lightness and perhaps also a shy but renewed confidence in ourselves, poor little people. The exhibition titled The milk of dreamshad Alemani explained to me, would have somehow celebrated our capacity for adaptation, metamorphosis and transformation, it would have been “a path based on the representation of bodies and their metamorphoses, the relationship between individuals and technologies, the Links Between Bodies and Land”.

The title comes from a book by Leonora Carrington, a surrealist painter and writer unknown to most, who acts somewhat as the patron saint and testimony of the exhibition (along with the personal invitation, some received a delicious Adelphi as a gift). The milk of dreams is a book for children, born from the stories the artist wrote and drew on the walls of his nursery: educational stories, in a sense, because they taught children the freedom of imagination and the potentially infinite possibilities to re-imagine our own identity. find . As Cecilia Alemani writes: “To the enlightenment idea of ​​modern man – especially of the male subject, white and European – as the immovable fulcrum of the universe and the measure of all things, [gli artisti e le artiste] they contrast worlds made up of new alliances between different species and inhabited by permeable, hybrid and multiple creatures, such as the fantastic creatures invented by Carrington ». Subject to these terms and conditions, The milk of dreams it is the first Biennale of Art in History with a majority of artists and non-binary people.

However, who would have thought that the previous edition would have brought so much bad luck (or been so prophetic, depending on your point of view). May you live in interesting times, curator Ralph Rugoff, director of the Hayward Gallery in London, wished us a title that today seems a dark omen. The phrase “May you live in interesting times” was long attributed to an ancient Chinese curse and today must be interpreted as an ironic wish that evokes periods of uncertainty, crisis and disorder. And the title reflected a Biennale dominated by a dark, apocalyptic atmosphere (I wrote about it here, naively titled “The art of our horror present”: in 2019!). Then came Covid, which caused the interruption of the Venice Art Biennale for the third time since the First and Second World Wars. And then came the war in Ukraine, in which, inevitably and for reasons that are certainly apparent, we feel more involved than in other conflicts in other parts of the world. During the inauguration, an armed guard stood in front of the opulent Russian pavilion, closed and empty. For the Ukrainian – which is not even a pavilion, but a wall – it was inevitable to be respectfully silent, as in a church, and to treat Pavlo Makov’s “The Fountain of Exhaustion” (1995) as if it were a crucifix for which a desperate prayer must be called.

Pavlo Makov, The Fountain of Exhaustion (1995)
The Russian Pavilion, closed

The milk of dreams opens to the public on April 23 at a time when our faith in the glorious metamorphosis of man is more or less nil. We are victims of the dementia of a “male, white and European subject” who does what the fuck he wants and no one can stop him. But here we are, in Venice, to visit the exhibition, open until November 27. We try to push back despair and absorb some of the power and assertiveness of Simone Leigh’s imposing sculptures of black women in the United States pavilion). The arrangement of the works (again in the Arsenale, where it is easier to create a linear path, which prevents the central pavilion of the gardens due to its disordered structure) follows the development of this ideal transformation: the powerful black and white Belkis by the artist Ayón is the prelude to a series of colorful artifacts, tapestries, sculptures, drawings, masks that, often based on indigenous knowledge, try to restore our relationship with nature, others and our body, in a new community with the non -human, animal and earth. Through a gradual metamorphosis that also encompasses the path of the exhibition, we reach the works in which the inorganic and the organic, the animate and the inanimate continue to merge, involving, however, a new element, the technological, as in the artificial entrails a single made a bit disgusting and a bit erotic by the Korean artist Mire Lee, the sculptures that look like they come from a science fiction movie by the French Marguerite Humeau or the video game-esque videos by the Chinese artist Luyang. Much simplistically, we can sum it up as follows: a journey into the possible metamorphosis of the body, from the natural (with all its magic and mythologies and the fundamental relationship with nature and animals) to the artificial, interspersed with what Alemani “historic capsules” : some wonderful mini-exhibitions in the exhibition that enrich the Biennale with a transversal approach through a selection of historical works that deepen our contemporary experiences in the nearby spaces.The titles say it all: it goes from The Witch’s Cradle until The seduction of the cyborgpass Body track† All in all, a triumph of female artists: past and present, dead and alive, very young and old, unknown or famous such as Niki de Saint Phalle, Paula Rego or Miriam Cahn. At one point I heard a male “colleague” exclaim: «I have never seen so many embroidery, so many breasts and so many vaginas!».

Niki de Saint Phalle, Gwendolin (1966-1990)
Tua Lewis, Vena Cava (2021)
Marguerite Humeau, El Nino (2022)
Andra Ursuta, IImpersonal Growth, 2020, (Central Pavilion, Gardens)

Another note from the preview: on April 19, the first opening day for insiders, Raf Simons wandered between the pavilions. The designer’s physical presence at the Biennale was the living manifestation of the ever closer relationship between art and fashion (as well as between literature and fashion: a few days ago New York Times talked about the new figure of the “book stylist”), with Burberry sponsoring the United Kingdom Pavilion (which echoes the voices of the British black vocalists orchestrated by the artist Sonia Boyce) and Valentino the Italian by Gian Maria Tosatti, composed by Eugenio Viola, an evocative series of dark, obscure and depressive scenographies, a pavilion in Italy finally coherent to feel self-pity in silence (a mediator at the entrance reminds us that it is forbidden to speak). History of the night and fate of comets tells the rise and fall of the Italian industrial marvel and offers a moment of epiphany that is not very instagrammable and therefore perhaps also emotionally strong. As satisfying as only the lights twinkling in the dark can be: a bit like the fire raining down from the ceiling in the Malta Pavilion (“Diplomazija Astuta” by Arcangelo Sassolino). Immersive, a term very popular with those who write press releases, but perhaps revealing a need we’ve developed as a result of the pandemic and the screens, or perhaps simply the manifestation of a forever compromised attention span: never like this year I found it bizarre and unnatural to stand in front of paintings, drawings, sculptures and artefacts. An unprecedented sense of frustration I felt even for the works of Marlene Dumas a Palazzo Grassic (unmissable exhibition of the best living painter). My damaged brain found it much easier to watch videos or “get started”. Not all videos and of course not all works: the archaeological excavation and excavation carried out, for example, by Maria Eichhor in the German Pavilion (similar to the 10-degree rotation of the Spanish Pavilion) is a déja-vu that regrets the vigorous execution by Anne Imhof of 2017 (on art and fashion).

Gian Maria Tosatti, History of the Night and the Fate of the Comets
Gian Maria Tosatti, History of the Night and the Fate of the Comets
Gian Maria Tosatti, History of the Night and the Fate of the Comets
Diego Marcon, The parent’s room
Loukia Alavano. Oedipus in search of Colonus

But the beauty of the Biennale is also this: regardless of the path set by the curator, you can choose to wander around at random in search of the works that best suit your needs. My numb gaze for the paintings and sculptures was revived thanks to Diego Marcon’s disturbing, tragic video “The Parents’ Room” and the augmented reality of the Greek Pavilion (there is a queue but it’s worth it), where with headphones and as a viewer you enter the film of artist and director Loukia Alavanou, “Oedipus in search of Colonus” connecting Greece’s past with the present and transporting us to a Roma camp in Nea Zoi, west of Athens. Strange emotions are also felt for the video – you can recognize it by a huge furry tail coming out of the curtains (and walk in: you can lie on it to watch the movie) – by Marianna Simnett, “The Severed Tail”, too very well promoted via Instagram. And then other works that I have highlighted in the version for the poor (18 euros) of the catalog, a booklet that insiders disapprove, but in reality it is very well organized and written and helps to orientate you when visiting the exhibition and to the different sections or remembering your favorite works after seeing it or discovering others you were too tired to look at.

Installation view pavilion Uzbekistan © gerdastudio

Even the Uzbek Pavilion, for the first time at the Biennale, satisfied my stupid annoyance with immovable objects. It is a reformulated environment with a mirrored floor reminiscent of water, imbued with a strong smell of seaweed (caused by the vegetation hanging from the ceiling) that reinterprets the Islamic tradition of the garden as a place of encounter and intellectual exchange. Is called Dixit Algorizmi – The Garden of Knowledgecurated and designed by the architecture and research studio Space Caviar and Sheida Ghomashchi and is an environment that will host a rich program of talks, symposiums and musical performances throughout the Biennale involving international artists and thinkers. An operation that we could extend to the whole Biennale: a great “garden of knowledge” to explore, to really understand, also thanks to the works of the past, also thanks to doubts, contrasts and misunderstandings, what we feel about this desperate present and what we dream for the future.

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