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smfoundation
2013 Venice Biennale (Part 1)
June 04, 2013

The popular response to the 55th Venice Biennale after its opening week has been positive all around. Curator Massimiliano Gioni's expansive group exhibition Il Palazzo Eniclopedico (The Encyclopedic Palace) at the Palazzo del Esposizioni is well loved if Twitter feeds are anything to go by. And the national pavilions contain surprise after surprise. As first time Akimblog correspondents, we focused on the latter, doing our best to see both the big names and the newcomers. We haven't yet made it to the Angola pavilion (which won the Golden Lion for Best National Participation), but here are some of our favourites so far...



Canada

Representing the home team, Shary Boyle takes us on a spiraling journey into the recesses of the psyche with her spooky installation Music for Silence. Viewers are only allowed into the darkened nautilus-shaped Canadian pavilion a few at a time. As our eyes adjust, we encounter a succession of hunched and arching ceramic figurines on plinths, all supporting globes of various sizes on their chests or backs. Two of these figurines slowly rotate on antique record players. Further along we pass a black and white video of a woman communicating in sign language, and then finally, at the far end of the space, we are confronted by a white mermaid reclining across the mouth of a white cave, her tale split into two leg-like appendages. Onto this tableau, the artist intermittently projects textures and colours, the distorted details of the mermaid's face, and the faces of artists, entertainers, Charlie Chaplin, Helen Keller, and some others we didn't recognize. It's classic Boyle creepiness (in a good way).



Great Britain

Jeremy Deller's English Magic had our vote for the Golden Lion (Tino Sehgal won, but what do the judges know anyway). He draws upon a vast array of ideas and disparate sources, collaborating with musicians, prison inmates, archaeologists, archivists, and members of the public to delve into the diverse nature of British cultural, economic and political society – it's the artist as visual anthropologist. Beginning in pre-history, a collection of arrowheads and Paleolithic hand axes found along the Thames snake through the first room. There is even an expert on hand to let you hold some of the specimens and discuss their significance. Meanwhile, we pass a giant mural of a hen harrier scooping up a Range Rover in its talons as the Isle of Jersey burns on the opposite wall. Images of mobs of teenage fans from David Bowie's 1972 Ziggy Stardust tour are juxtaposed with mobs of disenfranchised and unemployed youth from that same summer. There is a video of a South London steel drum band recording a rendition of Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World at Abby Road studios. Two more Paleolithic hand axes, excavated at the site of the EMI studio hang above. The video is intercut with shots of a Range Rover being crushed and the endangered hen harrier (a bird of prey and annoyance to old moneyed grouse hunters). Elsewhere Deller explores the nefarious network of high finance, Russian ponzi schemes, and the offshore tax havens of Britain's wealthy elite. It's a lot to digest, but in the end you can get a cup of tea and enjoy the sun on the back terrace of the pavilion as you mull it all over.



Germany

The two longest line-ups were for the Germany and France. The latter country is showing Anri Sala and we never did manage to get in. The line up for Germany's Pavilion was largely due to their inclusion of Ai Weiwei. The two pavilions are directly across from each other and their respective lines intermingled at the ends, so it was difficult to know which line you were actually joining. To make matters more confusing, the two countries have traded buildings this Biennale in honour of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty Elysee, a symbolic moment when Germany rejoined the European community after WWII. In an extension of this gesture, curator Susanne Gaensheimer has chosen to explore what national representation or nationhood even means at this point in history. She proposes that nationality as a defining format of the Biennale be treated as an open concept and that Germany not be understood as a "hermetic entity," but rather, as an active participant in a worldwide network. In addition to the Chinese superstar, she has invited the French filmmaker Romuald Karmarker, South African photographer Santu Mofokeng, and Indian artist Dayanita Singh, all of whom have particular and significant relationships with Germany.



Venezuela

For the South American nation's contribution to the Biennale, curator Juan Calzadilla has chosen to present the culture of graffiti and street art as a particularly significant agent within Venezuelan society. Often organized in "communicational brigades", graffiti writers there play such an important role within their communities that they are often "converted" with the support of state institutions into official graphic designers of public spaces. The exhibition consists of a mosaic of videos and music celebrating this culture.



Italy

As the cliché goes, Italians are serious about how they look and dress up. At the Italian Pavilion, the artist Sislej Xhafa will give you a haircut in a tree if you do not mind climbing the rope ladder to sit on a branch with a yellow heavy-duty safety belt around you. One visitor got a quite stylish eighties-looking haircut for free! I regretted having mine cut before leaving for Venice. Inside the pavilion, a young girl under a spotlight keeps dressing and undressing in an extremely orderly manner. One could easily dismiss her as a young feminist artist talking about gender and the body until you realize that she is putting on the uniform worn by young Italian fascists and that she has be hired to re-perform the late Fabio Mauri's 1973's work Idiologia e Natura.

Part 2 of smfoundation's Biennale reviews (including Angola) will run next week on Akimblog. Stay tuned!


2013 Venice Biennale: http://www.labiennale.org/en/Home.html
The 55th International Art Exhibition continues until November 24.


smfoundation is Shinobu Akimoto and Matthew Evans who sometimes collaborate in the same apartment in Montreal, Canada, and other times across the Pacific. Shinobu has practiced art and life in Canada since the early 1990s and now divides her time between Japan and Canada. Matt is a Canadian artist currently based in Montreal. This is their first writing assignment for Akimblog.

 

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