All the World’s Issues: a selection of 5 artists at the 56th Venice Biennale
Art might not be the most current issue in such an historical period. Neither can it do a lot to change the world. Well, perhaps… directly. Indirectly, it can succeed in this titanic mission.
Art might not be the most current issue in such an historical period. Neither can it do a lot to change the world.
Well, perhaps… directly.
Indirectly, it can succeed in this titanic mission. We must see art not as a practical medium to solve world’s issues, but as a means to fight ignorance: the reason of all evils. Art must be understood as that intuitive tool through which humanity comprehends itself, its mistakes, its hopes, and its futures.
The political turn that 56th edition of the Venice Biennale, curated by the Nigerian veteran curator Okwui Enwezor, has taken this year has been an occasion for many artists to reflect upon the most current political and social issues. . Not a good period – as never was though – to show art as object of aesthetic appreciation, to sell it to the market, and to be the center of formal concerns. What could not be so?
The surpassed notion of l’art pour l’art is not part of Enwezor’s vocabulary. All the World’s Futures aims at presenting an overview on the future, the past, and the present of the nations and of the planet. A bitter view appears as the only possible result, through which, though, we find ourselves discovering what art is for.
Contemporary art’s task is not to give solutions, but to make questions. It must be so, in order for people not to fell in the dark and disquieting lullaby of ignorance and non-education. Accordingly, Enwezor’s choice of including many non-Western artist, away from the more popular art market, appears significant in this sense.
In her My Epidemic (Small Bad Blood Opera), the French artist Lili Reynaud-Dewar deals with the disease. Specifically, AIDS. The work is a musical installation composed of five videos showing her dancing naked in various spaces in Venice (her all body being painted in red), sound pieces, and light and written texts. Rather than being an activist piece, Reynaud-Dewar’s installation overcomes the boundary between private and public. Spread mostly throughout the Eighties and the Nineties, AIDS has represented a debated issues in the past, which deeply struck the adolescence of the artist. Past, in fact, is something the Reynaud-Dewar draws on to reflect upon the themes of personal decisions, responsibility, and freedom. The 13-song recorded opera piece lyricizes the work, which the artist describes as
“a metaphorical discussion between a group of aids activists and a character who discusses with them the choice of not protecting himself against the virus”.
Words, here, appealingly written on pastel-colored sheets, are efficient means to convey such universal messages as vulnerability, authenticity, truth, and humanity.
The two artists Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige have turned the experience of a photographer into an insightful artistic experiment about the (visual) silence brought by war. Latent Images: diary of a photographer is the last part of the Wonder Beirut project. At the Venice Biennale, it acts as a daily performance involving the reading of the artists’ homonymous book. The 1,312 page book reports hundreds of rolls of film that were shot but never developed by the Lebanese photographer Abdallah Fara, who documented the civil war in Lebanon (1975-1991). Due to this same war, Farah had stopped developing his films. Satisfied only with taking the pictures, Fara felt no need to reveal them, yet minutely described them to memorize the details. Through this decision, the reader is able to create the pictures in his/her head, allowing him/her to have a difference perception on war and displacing events.
The 2015 work by the Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu questions the fate of materialism. Enwezor has dedicated an entire room to Mutu, in which we find a sculpture titled She’s Got the Whole World in Her, a collage-painting titled Forbidden Fruit Picker, and a three-channel animated video titled The End of Carrying It All. The sculptured black female body lies quiet, staring at a black sphere hanging in front of her, her lower part passing through a cage full of symbolical belongings, while the collage-painting gives an archetypal backdrop to the whole work, showing a black Eve picking the prohibited fruit: how man became the insatiable product of his creation. The video is a metaphor of how Mutu sees the world’s (and capitalism’s) ending. As the woman walks, she gradually collects useless items, for then being overwhelmed by them and turning into lava, which finally erupts, eating everything up on earth. Mutu observes: “Females carry the marks, language and nuances of their culture more than the male. Anything that is desired or despised is always placed on the female body” (Merrily Kerr).
In his three-screen film installation Vertigo Sea, the British filmmaker John Akomfrah reflects upon whaling, the environment and our relationship with the sea. The film was shot on the island of Skye, the Faroe Islands and the Northern regions of Norway. Traditionally associated with the Romantic notion of the sublime, Akomfrah shows us a sea victim of violence and of human disrespect. Archival material, readings from classical sources, and newly shot footage are all sources for the artist and filmmaker to speak about the cruel whaling industry. The film is also rich in scenes of migrants – coming from diverse generations – hoping for a better life though crossing the ocean. The sea, generator of life, appears as a suffering mother, and as bringer of death and desperation. Melville’s Moby Dick (1851) and Williams’ Whale Nation (1988), two deeply inspiring works celebrating the “intelligence and majesty of the largest mammal on earth” (The Lisson Gallery, http://www.lissongallery.com/artists/john-akomfrah ), are sources for Akomfrah to give a poetical and dramatic hue to his work.