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What you need to see in Venice but didn’t see advertised

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Loads has been said, written, expected and advertised for the 57th version of the Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art which opened its wide doors just some days ago (13th of May) to the public. Despite the huge queues on the day of the opening, the busy streets in the city, and the disorganized staff in the venues, I managed to see most of the pavilions in the Giardini and the most of the Arsenale.

In this article, I will not try to sound pompous and I will avoid saying the same as other articles have done. What I wanna give you is an overview of what you should visit if you have limited time at the venues which will also however give you a simple overview of what you need to see in order to get a grasp on this year’s entries.

So let’s start and keep this short.

With an interesting concept and an even more interesting exploration of time, the Czechoslovakian pavilion with artist Jana Zelibska sets lit swans on the ground and a video projection on the wall in the work Swan Song Now. You won’t expect people talking about it, but you should definitely take a look on this small pavilion which is however situated on a very central spot just two pavilions further down the British one.

 

Photo taken by Vanessa Souli

 

South Africa featured SA artist Candice Breitz with her video Love Story which is also projected in KOW Berlin (which I also talked about in another article). Don’t forget to visit the pavilion at the Arsenale and also spend a fair amount of time on the first triptych work of the exhibition by artist Mohau Modisakeng.

 

Photo taken by Vanessa Souli

 

New Zealand for this year chose a grand-scale panoramic wall projection by Lisa Reihana which aims to disrupt our illusions of beauty and myth. The country changed pavilion this year (and very rightly) so the work had the ample space to expand and show its real magnitude. Inspired by a 19th century French wallpaper, the artist narrates stories of colonization and western imperialism with digital media reinventing the scene from a Pacific perspective.

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Photo taken by Vanessa Souli

 

The Italian pavilion has been an unexpected pleasant surprise to all of us, presenting a very interesting concept brought forth through sculpture, video and architectural inventions. The Italian pavilion like the Egyptian, Latvian and Irish showed us one that no matter the influences of technology and media politics in contemporary life and art, art continues to be inspired by mythology, folklore and legend. Presenting a multi-sensory and obscure artistic composition, the Italian pavilion is one of those opting out from a merely aesthetical presentation and going for a more mysticistic, quaint result.

 

Photo taken by Vanessa Souli

 

The Latvian pavilion presented a semi-dystopian work where aliens and imaginary monsters take control over humankind – a quite enjoyable work with carvings and a monster-like illuminated installation on the back room.

 

Photo taken by Vanessa Souli

 

Japan offered a multi-level work which expanded across two ‘floors’. Visitors on the top floor could watch the person sticking their head through the hole situated on the floor, whose entrance was on the first floor; an interesting concept and a variety of works on the second floor.

Germany was this year’s Golden Lion receiver and maybe not unfairly. I read and heard so much about Germany that I was quite disappointed to find out that without the accompaniment of the performance, the exhibition venue seemed empty and not so appealing. I have to admit though that the glass floor and the scattered objects induced some artistic minimalist reverence but the setting is not complete unless you attend the performance… which lasts around four hours.

 

Photo taken by Vanessa Souli

 

Ireland featured a huge wall projection dealing with feminism and its history through the lenses of the forgotten yet diachronic subject of witchcraft, thus trying to provide new grounds for sociopolitical commentary.

Egypt was also one of the pavilions which offered a myth-originated projection, with a woman hero in the center of the story. Drawing inspiration from local folklore, Moataz Nasr manages to present work which was one of the highlights (for me and many others I spoke with) and succeeds in reminding us of the strength that this kind of popular culture still has in other regions of the planet.

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Photo taken by Vanessa Souli

 

Greece presented an interesting spectacle which drew both from pseudo-scientific research and mythology. A labyrinth constructed to provide an extra layer of mystery, a documentary about a newly discovered cell culture capable to treat hepatitis and narrative elements from Aeschylus’s tragedy Iketides compose an imposing yet controversial entry from Greece’s part this year. The focus of the work is the moral dilemmas that people in science and politics found themselves in most of the time. What I found interesting is the combination of ancient myth and contemporary myth within a dark, perplexing setting.

Finally, the Mongolian Pavillion, a little bit further from the major locations, presented an interesting work relating to the global environmental challenges which are being faced nowadays by the locals and how the Mongolian people are gradually adapting to Western concepts of consumerism and capitalism.

Don’t miss out these tips and a lot more surprises at the Venice Biennale this year.