58th Venice Biennale
Updated: May 29, 2019
May You Live In Interesting Times. Interesting. Or challenging. Rewarding.
The exhibition which includes artworks by 80 artists, not mentioning artists contributing to the national pavilions, clearly shows one thing. Art is a very collective activity. Artists choose the topic and means to speak about it. Viewers have their own right to interpret the work and bring it further within personal associations. Other people involved, curators, writers, assistants, etc., are also there to instigate and to keep the narrative going. Is it important to avoid miscommunication? It is more important to take responsibility to educate your eye.
I wouldn’t have believed if you had told me that I would be walking at the Venice Biennale. Some things just look so far away. Not necessary physically. And here you are – see below the list of the artists I found the most compelling at the 58th Venice Biennale. Of course, it might be that if I had more than one day to spend there, the list would have been longer. Anyways, I am sure I would like to see more artworks by these creators. London, please!
Njideka Akunyili Crosby (b. 1983, Nigeria; lives and works in Los Angeles)
I wouldn’t dare to pronounce her name; I am even struggling to read it. However, her work stands out in the room once you see it and demands to look at it for longer. Acrylic paints, transfers, colour pencils, charcoal, collage, commemorative fabric are densely layered on paper creating figurative compositions, domestic interiors. Akunyili Crosby was born in Nigeria and lived there until the age of seventeen, later moving to the United States. Historical, political and personal references she uses in her work reveal her strong attachment to the country of birth and adaptation to the new home. A hybrid identity is one of the most celebrated and concerning topics to discuss these days.
Colours. Domesticity. Photographs. Details.
Ed Atkins (b. 1982, UK; lives and works in London)
I went to the biennale with the prompt list of the artists I could not miss. Ed Atkins was one of them, and, to be honest with you, I was rather disappointed to see spiders with his face in multiple locations at the central pavilion, Giardini. Thankfully, the exhibition continued to Arsenal, where he showed an installation with his high definition videos. One of them was a sequence of making different sandwiches, like babies, lettuce and tomato or face, lettuce, books, tomato between white formed bread. To hear the sound of the squeezed ketchup, and to see everything on the glowing reflective screen were enough to be disturbed.
Extreme anxiety. Obvious artificial. Awkward. Uncomfortable.
Nicole Eisenman (b. 1965, France; lives and works in New York City)
Neat renderings of her figurative paintings with allusions and references to the famous artists, their work, and movements. Dark stories are represented in bright colours, cartoonish figures, featuring her critical observation of contemporary life and culture. More accelerating, within her monstrous, distorted bust sculptures, she seems to be judging people who believe in money as a value and are driven by power, gluttony. Let’s look around and see what other references we could find.
Figurative painting. Contemporary life. Storytelling.
Zhanna Kadyrova (b. 1981, Ukraine; lives and works in Kyiv)
This is how eastern European market looks like. This is, more or less, how any market looks like. Bold colours, fresh fruits and everything is too expensive. In Kadyrova’s work, sausages are made from concrete and natural stone, fruits and vegetables – in chunky mosaic. Mosaics are made from ceramic tiles that are found on the place related to the exhibition area. That applies to any work making it original yet site-specific.
Colours. Food. Reuse.
Otobong Nkanga (b. 1974, Nigeria; lives and works in Antwerp)
Another artist who lives and works outside her birth country. Her work explores the relationship between landscape and body, as a unity and dependency; the landscape as a body. The question whether you would treat the landscape the same if it was your body, gives a political point to Nkanga’s artwork. The installations and sculptures mimicking the landscape give reference to body. However, her drawings on paper look like fantasies through technical diagrams.
Colours again. Diagrams. Composition.
Sun Yuan (b. 1972, People’s Republic of China) and Peng Yun (b. 1974, People’s Republic of China); they live and work in Beijing
A winner in the technological section. A winner of the scariest setup. A winner to represent the power. Two installation were on display at the Venice biennale by this collaborative duet. The first installation ‘Can’t Help Myself’ (2016) is a room with a robotic arm in the middle. The arm moves continuously to ensure that a thick, deep red liquid stays in a desired area. The constant interplay between the fluid and the robotic marks the differences between the organic and the mechanical. Yet, another installation ‘Dear’ (2015) is a room where a white chair is placed in the middle. A black rubber hose coming out of the chair releases blasts of highly pressured air, tearing apart everything around, including the glass walls of the room. The sound of whip is really unpleasant to the ear, and every blast makes spectators cower. Like listening to the big boss. But wait – there is just air inside. And the hose is short. And the boss is behind the glass. Well, there is some time between air blasts to occupy the chair. Anyone?
Technology. Materiality. Power. Control.
Henry Taylor (b. 1958, USA; lives and works in Los Angeles)
Acrylic paintings combining race, politics, art history references and everyday observations. Despite injustice, inequality of the narrative built in the work, block colours, bold forms, abstracted, yet distinguishable figures immediately catch the attention and make consider what happens in the painting further.
Bold colours. Reference. Action.
Kemang Wa Lehulere (b. 1984, South Africa; lives and works in Cape Town)
Socially engaging practice is the key in Wa Lehulere’s work. The installations are made in semicircle inviting visitors to join in shared contemplation. Many objects in the installations are made from wood and metal from school desks and chairs, referencing education, history of apartheid and the ongoing issues. He relates himself and community with every independent object and gives spectators a chance to participate in peaceful protest.
Collective. Sound. Meditative.
Belgium. Mondo Cane by Jos de Gruyter (b. 1965) and Harald Thys (b. 1966).
Two groups of automated puppets: good - respective craftsmen - in the centre of the room, and bad – zombies, psychotics, dropouts – are displayed in the cages. Feeling like you have been walking in a museum of history and anthropology.
Unsettling. Utopian. Segregation.
France. Deep Blue See Surrounding You by Laure Prouvost (b. 1978).
Winner of the Turner Prize in 2013 took an inspiration from Venice – a floating city built on water and by water, a city of façade and backstage. The project officially described as a liquid and tentacular environment, structured around a reflection on notions of generations and identities, on who we are, where we come from and where we are going, and what links or distances us from each other. To me, it was like walking on polluted water, through globalised world connected by damaged tunnels.
Environment. Water. Installation.
Lithuania. Sun & Sea (Marina).Opera-performance for 13 voices. By Rugile Barzdziukaite (b. 1983), Vaiva Grainyte (b. 1984), Lina Lapelyte (b.1984)
Winner of the Golden Lion
Probably the warmest place in the entire city of Venice. From the first sight it looks like a pleasant and superficial setup (more laziness and lights than ever), the overall performance provides insights to the issues people argue mainly these days. While looking down at the installation, it is not only you become a witness of the world living without you (oh yes, ghostly movies), but also you have a chance to see how easy it is to become lulled by conveniences and let contemporary crisis to unfold.
Contemporary anxiety. Pleasure. Environment.
- Alexandra Bircken (b. 1967, Germany; lives and works in Berlin)
- Haris Epaminonda (b. 1980, Cyprus; lives and works in Berlin)
Ancient references. Clean installations.
- Jill Mulleady (b. 1980, Uruguay; lives and works in Los Angeles)
Angry. Vivid. Munch.
- Christine and Margaret Wertheim (b. 1958, Australia; lives and works in Los Angeles)
Coral Reef from yarn, thread, wire, old video-tapes, beads. Craft. Time consuming.