"A Sacred Place", Ernesto Neto. Photo: Disclosure

By Vivian Mocellin

live live art, the central show of the 57th edition of the Venice Biennale, is a politically correct exhibition to the limit. It brings together 120 artists from all continents, with representative works, from great names such as Philippe Parreno, Olafur Eliasson, Ernesto Neto and Gabriel Orozco, to young bets such as the Chinese Guan Xiao, 33, and the Moroccan Achraf Toulob, from 30 years.

There are many artists who have never participated in the show, which makes the selection give the impression of correctness in the historiography of art seen from Venice, as by including the Dutch Bas Jan Ader (1942 – 1975), the Brazilian Paulo Bruscky and the Chilean Juan Downey.

However, the result of the ensemble is not powerful, possibly because the show has a more museological temperature, which may have to do with the curatorship being in charge of the French Christine Macel, from the Pompidou Center, in Paris. The last edition, by Okwui Enwezor, had a much higher voltage, with the Communist Manifesto at the center of the exhibition and works that related to critical readings of contemporary society.

What would motivate this current coldness precisely during the hottest months of the iconic Italian city? On the one hand, it is clear that the show is built with few commissioned works, so it starts from a more historical perspective – even if some works are recent.

On the other hand, the presentation of artists with significant works from the 1960s and 1970s, when the performance began, is very recurrent. Several works in the show are connected with this moment. This is the case of the Italian Maria Lai (1919 – 2013), the Hungarian Tibor Hajas, the Dutch Ader, and the Brazilian Bruscky, among many others. However, they are artists with productions that carry the feeling of déjà vu, despite the originality of each in its place.

The various wooden boxes that Bruscky spread out in front of the Central Pavilion, for example, the result of a performance, is a work with a dated mark, since the reference to mail art, with the irony of what it means to transport a work of art art, loses a little meaning with the lack of importance of the mail in today's society.

By the way, live live art It even gives the impression that worse than falling into the polarized radicalizations that the world is experiencing today is seeking to please everyone with an inclusive consensus. The exhibition is divided into nine chapters, two of them in the Central Pavilion and another nine in the Arsenale. Each chapter or pavilion, the name that ends up opposing the traditional national pavilions of the show, is seen in a broad and generic theme, ranging from specific art issues, such as the Colors Pavilion and the Artists and Books Pavilion, through others with a social theme, such as the Pavilhão do Comum and the Terra, to exoteric themes, such as Shamans, Time and Infinity.

The Pavilhão do Comum, for example, brings together artists such as the Italian Maria Lai, who until now has been quite on the sidelines of the art system, but was rescued in 2017 in two major exhibitions, since in addition to Venice, she participates in the Documenta of Kassel and Athens. At the Bienal, Lai is widely seen, in works from various periods of her career, from performance interventions in her hometown of Ulassai, in the 1970s, to the splendid series Bed sheet, 1991, composed of texts sewn onto fabrics, an impressive handiwork.

If there is an axis to be noted in Macel's selection, it is that he deals with works, with very few exceptions, that avoid any technological sophistication and are constituted by a manual invoice, as in Lai's production. In a sense, with the excess connectivity of the contemporary world and absolute dependence on digital screens, this even represents a certain relief, a kind of escape to the essentials.

In this context, Ernesto Neto's installation stands out. First, because of the magnitude that his works have assumed in recent years, but especially because of the relationships that the artist has been developing with the Huni Kuin, from Acre, which end up attaching a political character to his work, in defense of the dignity of indigenous peoples.

Neto's installation came to be heavily criticized in foreign newspapers for presenting an exotic facet of Brazil, as if the performance with the Indians at the opening of the exhibition was similar to the Indians exposed in cages in the XNUMXth century. In fact, it was somewhat shocking to see the globalized elite of the art circuit dancing alongside the Huni Kuin, as if they were at Carnival. However, this does not detract from the constant relationship that Neto has been developing with the Indians, and how his work has grown with this partnership, especially at a time when, in Brazil, the genocide of indigenous populations has become governmental policy.

This almost artisanal character of the show is also seen in the works of the Mexican Cynthia Gutierrez, in the crazy and dazzling drawings by the Czech Lubos Plny, one of the revelations of the Bienal, in the production of Sheila Hicks, with her great skeins from there, the most photographed work of this year. edition, and in Abdoulaye Konaté, with his panel Guarani, created for the Sesc_Videobrasil Festival, in 2015. These are just a few examples among many possible ones of a procedure that is in fact repeated throughout the show.

However, the final impression is that Macel looked back a lot, but was unable to talk about the now. With so many tensions exploding and growing everywhere, avoiding the current crises sounds out of place.

National Pavilions depict obscure present

If the central exhibition avoids conflicts, the National Pavilions bring a darker portrait of the current world, starting with the North American one, in charge of Mark Bradford. Tomorrow is another day, the title of his participation in the show, features a somber pavilion, where the exterior of the building appears in ruins and the first room on the circuit has the ceiling practically on the floor, a clear allusion to the decline of the US in the Trump era.

The England pavilion, in charge of Phyllida Barlow, also gains a surreal atmosphere, which mixes abandonment and decay, in the destroyed architecture of the building, with colored concrete balls, a kind of maddened delirium in Brexit times.

However, Cinthia Marcelle really has an impact, who, in the Brazilian pavilion, makes a strong criticism of the country's situation. The success of choosing just one artist to occupy the space deserves credit to Jochen Volz. The curator opposed recent editions that brought together somewhat disparate artists and works.

Alone, Marcelle can not only occupy the space, but transform it in an impressive, at the same time, simple way. On the floor, she installed railings, mimicking the ones that exist in the Bienal garden, but changing the level, causing a certain situation of irregularity. Stones are embedded in these grids, creating a minimalist vision of apparent stability, but hiding black eggs in a can, the eggs of a serpent that comes out of the depths of the Brazilian pavilion and predicts obscurity at high intensity. In the video made with Tiago Mata Machado, we can still see a situation of prisoners in riot. Chaos is here and now.

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