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THE NEXT 7 DAYS:     EVENTS (18)     +     OPENINGS (8)     +     DEADLINES (5)     +     CLOSINGS (13)
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2013 Venice Biennale (Part 2)
June 11, 2013

As we head back to North American along with the steady stream of reports and reviews from the on-the-whole well-liked 2013 Venice Biennale, here are five more reviews of some celebrated pavilions that would normally be off the art world map. If anything, this year's exhibition is a testament to a post-global dispersion of centres into margins that, as some have grumbled, does it's best to ignore the insidious tractor beam of the art market.


Who expected plucky Angola to take home this year's Golden Lion for the best pavilion? Building on their contribution to the 13th International Architecture Exhibition with its focus on "the city as encyclopedia," curators Paula Nascimento and Stefano Rabolli Pansera selected the young Angolan artist Edson Chagas for their exhibition Luanda, Encyclopedic City. Chagas' intervention uses the Renaissance opulence of the Palazzo Cini as a site-specific foil for his Found Not Taken series of photographs, which catalogue abandoned objects repositioned within the contexts of Luanda's dusty streets. Throughout the Palazzo's impressive collection of 15th Century paintings and ceramics, Chagas has arranged his images as stacks of peel-able posters up for grabs on small pallets. Beyond the clever, if not obvious post-colonial critique of European wealth extracted from resource rich Africa, what was most intriguing to watch were the visitors. Between Chagas' now-hot-commodity posters and the art history textbook masterpieces on the wall, it was a "grab-all-you-can" viewing frenzy. People were obsessed about not missing a single free poster, all the while trying to photograph the Palazzo Cini's amazing collection. They looked up and down and up and down but not around, consequently creating a chaotic traffic at the exhibition, as if to reflect the mental and physical chaos of our urban society. If the artist-curator team foresaw this as a crucial element of the installation, their brilliant calculation truly deserves the award they received.


So far the most unusual venue has been the Lithuanian/Cypriot pavilion. Curator Raimundas Malasauskas occupied a community sport centre to showcase sixteen artists. The structure of the building itself is already a bit puzzling and daunting. We were first guided down to a basement basketball court, which was hard to determine if it was an art installation or not. Then we took random stairs to have odd encounters with a robot vacuum cleaner crawling on the floor, stacks of paper for an "assemble-yourself" exhibition guide, or a TV screen repeatedly airing the weather forecast of, I presume Lithuania. We finally found ourselves at the very top of a grandstand looking down on a strange mish-mash of contemporary art-looking objects placed on a gymnasium floor and in the surrounding bleachers: scuffed drywall dividers, custom-made furniture, illogical LED numbers flashing on the score boards. And all the while ambient sounds echoed throughout the building. There were more art-like photos or sculptures as well, which, all together, might have appeared rather unspectacular were they put in a more "formal" pavilion. We felt weirdly satisfied by the end of this sport-art tournament.


As a Biennale amateur, we expected the whole exhibition to be an art fair of so-called national pride and cultural celebrities, and less diverse in manner and presentation. When we went to the Georgia pavilion's opening, we felt as if we were at a party for some newly launched artist/activist-run organization held in their self-built attic office. Curator Joanna Warsza brought together what appears to be the symbol of a new wave attempting to influence the cultural development of the country. A team of artists along with an architect have re-enacted the architectural "movement" to augment existing Soviet-era buildings with terraces or balconies, common in the city of Tbilisi since the fall of the iron curtain. Here in Venice, they extended an old building in the Arsenale with this informal structure called a kamikaze loggia. The haphazard plywood stairs take us up to the ludicrous wooden DIY lodge with details done by each artist. People sat on the floor or on handcrafted benches and ate food shared from big bowls (unlike the petit individual portions served in pretty plastic glasses and cups at other pavilions). Outside the lodge, a bunch of young athletes (Bouillon Group) repeated a strange aerobic routine to the point that their knees started bleeding. This turned out to be a choreographed movement based on rituals of the three most popular religions in the world: Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. Many pavilions at the Biennale reflect the social/cultural problems their countries face; what was most refreshing was the way these young artists from Georgia dealt with similar problems, but with an incredible wit and objectivity.


Among the inherent nature lovers and tree-huggers of Scandinavia and the Northern European pavilions, Finland's Antti Laitinen wins our hearts with his abundance of nonsense and poignant devotion. Here, he has transported birch trees he cut down from his own back yard, chopped into segments, and then manually "re-constructed" in front of his pavilion. Behind this is a story that during the 2011 Biennale, a large tree fell over on the Finnish pavilion.


At the Russian pavilion's lower entrance, we first see an empty bucket on the end of a rope coming through the ceiling. Beside that, there is a room full of golden coins, where only ladies are invited; an umbrella is provided as they enter. Suddenly, more golden coins fall from the skylight. We are encouraged to pick up coins and put them in the bucket upon leaving. When it collects enough coins, the bucket is pulled back through the ceiling. Upstairs, there are three parts to this performance/participatory/large-scale installation. In the first room a gentleman in a suit is sitting on a horse saddle on a beam, eating peanuts, and dropping the shells. The second room is directly above the golden coin room with a large square opening through which the coins fall. A wooden railing and padded ledge surround this opening where people kneel and watch the women below. From a distance, it appears as if they are praying to a golden shower of coins. The last room reveals how the coin falling apparatus works. There is another tall, slick-looking gentleman in a suit pulling up the bucket and pouring coins onto a conveyor machine that takes them up to the skylight to eventually drop into the room. Once in a while, a visitor will try to touch the coins in the machine, only to be shouted at by the gentleman: "DO NOT TOUCH THEM!" Titled Danae and conceived by artist Vadim Zakharov, this is an over-the-top spectacle of self-criticism of the current state of Russian (or the Western world in general?). We couldn't help wondering why Pussy Riot are in jail while this is the national entry at the Venice Biennale.

2013 Venice Biennale:
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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