Held this year between April 23 and November 27, the 59th Venice Biennale presents itself, from the outset, as a historic edition, both for its realization after a long period of pandemic and for being the first in which the number of women participants exceeds that of men. At the same time, for the curator and writer Gabriel Bogossian, a contributor to arte!brasileiros present in the Italian city, the current event presents a main exhibition characterized by a certain escapism, without facing the conflicts, noises and dissonances latent in the current world – the full text you can read here (read also about the Brazilian pavilion, with works by Jonathas de Andrade, here).
Among the large amount of works presented at the Italian event, between the traditional Arsenale and Giardini pavilions and the national representations, Bogossian now writes about what he considers some of the highlights of the event. Read below:
feeling her way, work by Sonia Boyce, winner of the Golden Lion for best national representation, is part of her project Devotional Collection, which documents the contributions of black music performed by women to the culture. In the British pavilion, Boyce's installation combines videos, objects, wallpaper and memorabilia items related to this musical production. The videos were made in collaboration with five black female singers from the UK and show improvisations, vocals and interactions between the five, in clean and visually minimalistic recordings.
Outside the Giardinis, in an incidental dialogue with the Boyce installation, the Scotland pavilion features works by Alberta Whittle, the first black woman to represent her country at the Venice Biennale. Starting from bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Christina Sharpe and other authors who approach the black diaspora, especially that produced by the British Empire in its possessions on the American continent, Whittle's works approach in a more direct and documentary way the world forged by slave capitalism. .
It is also worth mentioning the video installation of Tourmaline, on the way out of Arsenale. The American transqueer activist, writer and artist brought to the Bienal a fictional short film set in Seneca Village, the first African-American neighborhood on Manhattan Island, destroyed for the construction of Central Park. Its protagonist is a black trans woman with psychic gifts who, in the 19th century, defies local authorities to defend her community while being haunted by visions of the future, envisioning a New York filled with cars and skyscrapers.
Distributed between the US pavilion and the Arsenale (inside and in its garden, outside), Simone Leigh's participation calls attention not only for the quality, but for the striking scale of the works, perfectly suited for an event of the size of the Bienal de Venice. In all three spaces, Leigh shows sculptures inspired by the body or female figures, working with techniques and materials traditionally used by the African diaspora in their production of material culture. The combination of narrative pieces, such as the washerwoman who receives the public inside the North American pavilion, with others of a more abstract nature, highlights the political force of her works and the ethical dimension contained in her work.
Gaming is serious business
Occupying the Belgian pavilion with a series of small-format paintings and another of video installations, Francis Alÿs is one of the highlights of this edition. A Belgian artist who has lived in Mexico for many years, Alÿs shows, in both series, children from different parts of the world and their different ways of playing. While the paintings discreetly welcome the public at the entrance of the pavilion, the large-format video installations document in a free and documentary way the uproar of girls and boys having fun. Here, the analog simplicity of children's imagination and their games, often developed with simple and cheap materials, effectively responds to a Bienal full of fantastic bodies and technological dreams.
intimacy and desire
In the Romanian pavilion, artist and filmmaker Adina Pintilie unfolds her investigation into the politics and poetics of intimacy with which she won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Festival in 2018. The video installation presented at this Biennale, You are another me, borrows its title from a Mayan greeting, which simultaneously launches an ethical position of interdependence between interlocutors and in relation to the context in which they operate. In the work, three individuals report their experiences around sexuality, the constitution of subjectivity and physical contact from their dissident bodies, exposing spaces of intimacy for Pintilie's camera in a generous and delicate way. The documental grammar of the work overshadows its technological aspect, without, however, any harm to its enjoyment.
After successive editions with little presence for the Bienal as a whole, the Italy pavilion in this edition is occupied for the first time by a single artist. Gian Maria Tosatti presents an installation that takes up the entire interior of the space, evoking, in the form of phantasmagoria, Italian industrial dreams and their decadence. The rooms are occupied by different expressions of this fall: rusty and disarrayed machines, covered in dust; aseptic spaces, with hanging ventilation tubes; a dormitory dating back to the 1950s, the decade of the beginning of the “Italian miracle”; and sewing machines stopped, observed by a crucifix on the wall. In the last room of the pavilion, a simple tribute to filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini and his fireflies, which, after all, finally remain.
As with the Sámi pavilion, in this edition the Polish representation invited a Romani artist to its national pavilion, a people without a State historically the target of attacks wherever they settled. In an abandoned hotel in Zakopane, southern Poland, artist Małgorzata Mirga-Tas produced a series of 12 enormous fabric works, loosely inspired by the panels at Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara, Italy. Covering the walls of the Polish pavilion from top to bottom, and also part of its facade, the works of Mirga-Tas show the migrations of the Romani across Europe and moments of their history seen from the female perspective, highlighting the mutual influence between Romani cultures, Polish and those of other European countries.
* Gabriel Bogossian is an independent curator and writer. Its practice is based on collaborations with artists, curators and human rights organizations for the realization of publications, exhibitions and other cultural projects, often articulating productions from different fields of visual culture, such as art, cinema, journalism and movements. social. He was guest curator of 21st Contemporary Art Biennial Sesc_Videobrasil | Imaginadas Communities (São Paulo, 2019), Screen City Biennial 2019 – Ecologies: Lost, Found and Continued (Stavanger, 2019) and VideoEx Festival (Zurich, 2019) and assistant curator of Galpão VB (2016-2020). He was the author of the translation of Americanism and Fordism, by Antonio Gramsci (ed. Hedra, 2008), and the chapter Contact and contagion, conversation with Ailton Krenak who is part of the publication In the trembling of the world (2020)