Sun&Sea (Marina), performance opera by Rugile Barzdziukaite, Vaiva Grainyte and Lina Lapelyte at the Lithuanian pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale, Photo: Andrej Vasilenko

For the first time, the Venice Biennale, created on the models of universal exhibitions, that is, where each country shows its best, presents a pavilion for refugee artists. Neverland, by the Turkish artist Halil Altindere, would be this space, but it is just a facade, which becomes a metaphor in the times of fake news, one of the themes of May you live in interesting times (may you live in interesting times), title of the 58th Venice Biennale.

Altindere has already worked with this type of social criticism in Wonderland (2013), a hip hop clip that addressed the gentrification processes in Istanbul, prescient for being made shortly before the demonstrations against the destruction of Taksim Square, in the Turkish capital. The work has become a rage in contemporary art shows, including the Istanbul biennials in 2013 and São Paulo in 2014.

Ciudad Juarez Wall
Teresa Margolles. Ciudad Juarez Wall, 2010

Now in Venice, however, Altindere seems to restate the obvious: lie and social disparity are keys to the present, there is no viable inclusion in 21st century societies and his work is a mere aestheticizing commentary on this catastrophe.

Neverland would be included in one of the themes of this edition of the Bienal, fake news, defined by its curator, the North American Ralph Ruggof. The name of the biennial already points this out, as “may you live in interesting times” would be an expression cited as a Chinese proverb by figures such as Hillary Clinton, but, according to him, it is one of those cultural translations that are not confirmed. I'm so bored.

If the phrase in itself is already boring, the Bienal falls into shallow simplifications, as the most famous and commented of this edition that is, without a doubt, Barca Nostra, by the Swiss Christoph Büchel. He took a sunken ship to Venice in 2015, which was carrying nearly 28 refugees and only 33 survived. According to a text on the Egyptian website Mada, written by Alexandra Stock, the total cost of transporting the ship to the show reached an immoral XNUMX million euros.

With works that carry this type of contradiction, where absurd values ​​are spent to deal with a pressing subject and the formalization reduces the content to mere illustration, this biennial is already starting from a low level. Even an artist with a forceful work, such as the Mexican Teresa Margolles, ended up in the same tune, when showing parts of a concrete wall full of bullets, transported from Ciudad Juarez, a metropolis that borders the United States. The work, from 2010, was already talking about the walls long before the Trump administration, but in Venice it loses strength as it becomes an illustration of the late proposals of the American president.


In addition to the fake news, another theme of this Venice edition, are doubles, which means dealing with issues such as copying and cloning. In this sense, one of the good works of the show is the new video by Stan Douglas, doppelganger, about astronaut Alice who is teleported into a spaceship but does not act like her original figure, in a futuristic reenactment.

Stan Douglas, Doppelganger, 2019

The idea of ​​the double is also materialized in the curatorial concept in the mirroring of the two large spaces of the show, Arsenale and Pavilhão Central, at the Giardini, both with the same artists. The double projection doppelganger, for example, it is in the Central Pavilion, while in Arsenale Douglas it is seen with staged photos from the series Scenes from the Blackout. The Arsenale's exaggerated scenography, with immense slabs of exposed wood, hiding the grandeur of the place, is another low point of the show.

national representations

In years of weak main show, national representations usually compensate. This was not the case now in 2019, with rare exceptions, among them Brazil and the winning pavilion of Lithuania, an opera that takes place on a fake beach, over eight hours, but lasts an hour. Sun and Sea (marina), by Rugilé Barzdziukaité, Vaiva Grainyté and Lina Lapelyté, is a performance about the simplicity of being by the sea, from putting on sunscreen to complaining about not being able to relax. Basically it's about nothing but sung as if everything matters.

By moving in a delicate way between the spectacular and the simplicity, the performance deservedly won a Golden Lion, mixing fifteen singers with another twenty or so extras, among them several children, in an action that follows a script, but is full of improvisations.

Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca, with swing war, empower a marginal Brazil from the popular culture of the northeast of the country, specifically from a movement called swinggueira. The video presents several narratives, created in partnership with the members of this group, mixing dream and reality, showing how these spaces of music and dance are places that contradict the entire current official discourse of the country of exclusion and prejudice.  The art in the Brazilian pavilion is not an illustration, but a vital experience of resistance and understanding of the human, everything that was lacking in the main show. 

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