Azerbaijan Venice Biennale 2015, Italy

Venice Biennale is an event eagerly awaited by all workers and art lovers. It is considered the most prestigious and representative exhibition and action in the modern art world.

Azerbaijan Pavilion
Azerbaijan’s second participation in the 56th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia, supported by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. For Biennale Arte 2015, Azerbaijan presents two exhibitions for international audiences that celebrate the voices of artists addressing social, political, and ecological questions of global relevance.

de Pury de Pury and Emin Mammadov curate the first exhibition, Beyond the Line, which spotlights the resilient spirit of artists whose lives and work were overshadowed by the repressive Soviet regime of the mid 20th century.

Susie Allen, Laura Culpan, and Dea Vanagan of Artwise curate the second exhibition, Vital life, in which Azerbaijan brings together international contemporary artists whose work expresses concerns about our planet’s destiny. When viewed jointly, the two exhibitions reveal a country contemplating its past and its future, as well as the impact of 20th-century social and industrial transformations upon its own soil, and that of the world. Beyond the Line revisits a crucial moment within Azerbaijan’s history, and returns their voices to the nation’s mid-century artists, who were silenced or ignored under Soviet rule.

With Vital life, Azerbaijan looks forward, and beyond its geographic borders, providing a platform for international artists and scientists who grapple with the ecological challenges we face globally today and tomorrow as a result of our technological advances, and the consequent rise in consumerism.

Both exhibitions showcase the gravity of the artist’s voice on the social and environmental issues that define not only the past, present, and future of Azerbaijan, but of the planet.

Vital life

Vital life, are two very profound words that, for me, aptly sum up this exhibition on art and environmental conservation – two of my personal passions. There seems to me nowhere more pertinent in which to bring this exhibition to life than Venice, where all around you can see the profound impact that a significant change in the world’s climate would have. It would quite simply disappear. What a loss it would be to the world and to future generations if this city were destroyed by human action, or indeed by our inaction in preserving it. In this exhibition, we have brought to life some of the challenges faced by man, plants, trees, and animals living together on this one planet. Despite those challenges, finding a way to live together is essential to sustaining the Earth and the species that inhabit it.

Sometimes, when you look around the world, you may assume that this idea of ​​one sustainable planet on which birds, bees, plants, trees, animals, and humans live together in harmony is a hopeless dream that will never be achieved. But I don’t believe that it is. That is why we founded IDEA, (International Dialogue for Environmental Action) three years ago in Azerbaijan.

IDEA focuses on getting young people involved in environmental action. In the short time that we have been active we have begun a huge project of replanting trees – over one million – in order to reclaim some of the land that has been damaged over many years. Additionally, last year we held the Caucasian Cat summit in Baku, which focused on how we can support the re-introduction of the almost extinct Caucasian leopard into Azerbaijan.

Following this event, we began working with the ZSL (Zoological Society of London) and the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) to create a plan to support that re-introduction. We have also collaborated with Georgia on the reintroduction of gazelles, and are developing joint initiatives with the American Prairie Foundation, the Blue Marine Foundation, WildCru at Oxford University, and Panthera.

IDEA is at the start of its journey, but that is why I am so excited about the creation of the IDEA laboratory as part of this exhibition in Venice. Biennale Arte 2015 offers us a unique moment in time where we can showcase to the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to this beautiful city the challenges we face, and together explore ideas we have for fixing them in the future. I am thrilled to be working with Professor Rachel Armstrong on its creation, and hope that together we can explore some potential game-changing ideas that help to make our planet more sustainable for future generations.

Timeless art is about creating works that are unique, beautiful and compelling, while also communicating a message to their audience. There is no more profound message than sustaining this planet and living in harmony with the other species that inhabit it. Arguably, it is also the greatest challenge we face. Yet, I am enthusiastic that by bringing together the IDEA Laboratory with Vita Vitale’s amazing, inspiring, and unique artworks, we will forge new futures for us and for the planet. That is why we are so grateful for the support of SOS – Save our Species, a global coalition founded in part by IUCN.

The Venice Biennale was established in 1895 as the first international art exhibition of the City of Venice; that very same year the physicist Svante Arrhenius presented a groundbreaking paper to the Stockholm Physical Society entitled ‘On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground,’ 1 linking concentrations of carbon dioxide to global warming for the first time. 120 years later, in 2015, we again see La Biennale di Venezia dovetail with environmental concerns as we mark Azerbaijan’s second participation with two very different exhibitions. The first, Beyond the Line,looks back at a crucial moment within its history, returning voices to the nation’s mid-century artists who were silenced or ignored under Soviet rule. In its second exhibition, Vita Vitale , Azerbaijan looks forward, and beyond its geographic borders, to grapple with the delicate balance of our planet’s ecosystem and the impact of humans on the natural world.

In the decades that have passed since Arrhenius first warned of the Greenhouse Effect, research into the condition of our environment has flourished. Yet, alarmingly, we are doing very little to change the human behavior that exacerbates global warming. While Vita Vitale tracks our footprint, and explores such environmental concerns as pollution, rising sea levels, climate change, depleting resources, and endangered species, it is important to us as curators that it does not simply illustrate environmental themes. Rather, we hope that it becomes a catalyst, a wake-up call, and a call to action for each and every one of us.

In this spirit, Vita Vitale ‘s Living Laboratory, hosted by IDEA (International Dialogue for Environmental Action), stimulates dialogue between the worlds of creativity, innovation, art, and science. We have invited Professor Rachel Armstrong (Senior TED Fellow and Professor of Experimental Architecture at Newcastle University) to collaborate with scientists, artists, and designers in conceiving and testing new ways of synthesising with the natural realm. Through their alliance, the Living Laboratory energizes Vita Vitale with the tools to enact vitally needed change.

The artists of Vita Vitale are also agents of change: they help us to see our interdependency with the natural world, and how our daily habits impact upon the earth. To them we are most grateful. They remind us that our over-sized and seemingly indelible footprint on the planet need not be irretrievably so.

Just as 1895 – which included not only Arrhenius’s presentation on Global Warming, and the establishment of the Biennale di Venezia , but also the founding of the Nobel Prize, and the screening of the Lumière brothers first commercial film – was significant for art and science, we believe that Biennale Arte 2015’s artists and scientists will inspire us to recognize the state of our planet today, and how our habits impact on us all. Ultimately, their collective voices resonate throughout Vita Vitale, asking us to contemplate what will become of ‘all the world’s futures’ if we don’t look after the planet today.

Azerbaijan’s participation in the 56 th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia 2015 is commissioned by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. For Biennale Arte 2015 , Azerbaijan presents two exhibitions for international audiences that celebrate the voices of artists addressing complex and pressing questions that affect us globally. While Beyond the Line reconsiders the country’s past, Vita Vitale looks to Azerbaijan’s future, and beyond its geographic borders, to spotlight the artists and scientists confronting the ecological challenges we face globally.

The naturalist Sir David Attenborough once declared that humans were a plague on the Earth, depleting their own resources and those of other species, thereby threatening their own existence. Vita Vitale unites an international group of contemporary artists galvanized by this threat. From the grandly-proportioned rooms of a 13 th-century palazzo overlooking Venice’s Grand Canal – itself the bearer of the human footprint’s heavy weight – their multimedia works and installations explore the consequences of plastic pollutants, consumerism, climate change, dwindling resources, deteriorating land and seascapes, rising sea levels, and endangered species . From aerial shots of the increasingly arid Texas Panhandle to a futuristic wasteland built upon the excesses of the financial market; from photographs of flip-flops washed up on the beaches of Wales to sculptures of barnacle-encrusted reefs inspired by the urbanization of the Galapagos Islands, Vita Vitalenavigate the delicate balance between our planet’s ecosystem and our impact on the natural world. At the same time, works such as a gilded swarm of bees, an idyllic animation of an apple tree, and sculptures of olive trees celebrate our interdependency on the Earth and its species.

The exhibition’s Laboratory, hosted by IDEA (International Dialogue for Environmental Action), further reinforces our connection to our environment, especially Vita Vitale ‘s own immediate environment. Located only a few steps from the Grand Canal, and drawing inspiration from Venice’s ecological concerns, the IDEA Laboratory convenes scientists, artists, and designers to spark dialogue about synthesising our technological capabilities and our living realm.

At a time when the human race increasingly consumes and jettisons natural resources and manmade products, the collective voices of Vita Vitale ‘s artists and scientists resonate throughout Ca’Garzoni.The challenge us to confront the potential dangers of ignoring the messages that Vita Vitale conveys , while simultaneously suggesting creative tools and ideas for securing ‘all the world’s futures.’

Exhibiting Artists: Edward Burtynsky, Mircea Cantor, Loris Cecchini, Gordon Cheung, Khalil Chishtee, Tony Cragg, Laura Ford, Noémie Goudal, Siobhán Hapaska, Paul Huxley, IDEA Laboratory and Leyla Aliyeva, Chris Jordan with Rebecca Clark and Helena S.Eitel, Tania Kovats, Aida Mahmudova, Sayyora Muin, Jacco Olivier, Julian Opie, Julian Perry, Mike Perry, Bas Princen, Stephanie Quayle, Ugo Rondinone, Graham Stevens, Diana Thater, Andy Warhol, Bill Woodrow, Erwin Wurm, Rose Wylie.

Scientific Curator for the IDEA Laboratory: Rachel Armstrong, Professor of Experimental Architecture, Newcastle University and 2010 Senior TED Fellow; featuring ecoLogic Studio, Julian Melchiorri, Mike Perry, and Studio Swine.

Beyond the Line

Culture is a universal and irreplaceable tool that allows people and nations to perceive and understand each other more deeply. A striking example is the Venice Biennale, which for many years has served the noble goals of spiritual unity, mutual enrichment of cultures, and strengthening the creative bonds between talented artists from around the world. Extraordinarily effective ideas, and promising projects that enrich the relations between countries and people, spring up in a climate of friendly communication within each Biennale. The high professional level of its participants, life-affirming spirit, and a variety of genres has brought the Venice Biennale international fame and recognition.

La Biennale di Venezia’s continuous success, together with the widening geographical spread of its participants, proves that culture knows no boundaries. Its grandest exposition attracts interest from both experts and general audiences from the different countries of the world, including Azerbaijan. This, in turn, shows the aspiration of people to expand humanitarian cooperation, and to contribute to the expansion of inter-civilization and intercultural dialogue.

As the 56 th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia turns its attention to the theme of All the World’s Futures , Azerbaijan presents Beyond the Line , an exhibition that for the first time showcases the original art of the Azerbaijani avant-garde of the last century to a wide audience of art professionals. Tofik Javadov, Javad Mirjavadov, Ashraf Murad, Rasim Babayev and Fazil Najafov are all masters of unique talents, each of whom cultivated his own distinctive art practice. They are bound together by imagery that expresses their deep cultural influences, a symbolic visual language, and the use of Middle Eastern national and folk styles of remarkable sophistication.

When we were approached by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, whether we would be interested in co-curating, with Emin Mammadov, ‘Beyond the Line’ the Azerbaijan pavilion of this year’s Venice Biennale we knew strictly nothing about the lost generation of artists who were working in Baku during the Soviet times in the 1970’s. Having back when I was preparing Sotheby’s first auction in Moscow in 1988, spent a considerable amount of time in the pursuit of works by Russian artists, active during the same period in Moscow in similarly isolated conditions, I was very curious to discover the work of their Azeri counterparts.

The paintings by Javad Mirjavadov, Tofik Javadov, Ashraf Murad, Rasim Babayev and the sculptures by Fazil Najafov I was struck by their strongly expressionistic style and in the case of the painters their extensive use of very bright colors. These works are totally different not only from anything that was being done in the west at the time but also from what was being done in Moscow or Leningrad.

Despite the infinitely difficult circumstances these artists were facing to be able to express themselves at all, there is great strength, vigor and passion that emanates from those works. At the height of the Cold War there was very little information available to artists of what happening elsewhere. If a western art magazine would occasionally be brought to Russian artists by visitors from the west, the isolation of officially not accepted artists in Azerbaijan at the time of the Soviet Union was total. The artists had to dig deep within themselves for inspiration but also found it in the centuries old Azeri tradition for arts and crafts and making carpets.

In the post Cold War world and with the technology revolution the contemporary art world has become global. Artists working anywhere in the world are fairly well informed on what other artists are doing in other parts of the world. This has occasionally led to a bland international style. The exhibition ‘Fly to Baku’ which took place at Phillips de Pury in early 2012 put the spotlight on the vibrant scene of artists working in Baku today. This exhibition was subsequently shown in Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Rome, Vienna. While the artists that were included in that show do not have to grapple with the constraints and isolation that was ruling the lives of the 1970 ‘and 1980’s generation, a common thread there as well, was a distinctly Azeri flavor that is totally original.

The work of the group of strong artists from the ‘Beyond the Line’ generation, whose inner passion helped them to compare all obstacles thrown in their way, is finally being given a stage. It is my hope that discovering it will convey to the viewers of the Azerbaijan pavilion some of the same fascination it has given me.

Art keenly reacts to modernity, recreating the visual image of an epoch as a whole. Each landmark in the development of states and nations remains in the memory of mankind because of art.

We live in a time when art is becoming increasingly globalized. However, in the mid 20th century, the world of art was quite different. For one-sixth of the globe, art was divided into two mutually exclusive concepts – Soviet and Western. Although the achievements of western European culture – including the development of 20 th -century modernism – had become part of the west’s cultural canon, they were absent from the world of Soviet art.

But time doesn’t stand still, even in a country as tightly regulated as the USSR. At the end of the 1950s, innovative Azerbaijani art that contradicted Soviet art ideology developed on the periphery of official art. In the 1960s, artists who deviated from the Communist Party line were no longer arrested. They weren’t banished to Siberia and shot as they were in the terrible 1930s. Instead, they were punished differently. Their artworks were ignored. Nor were they shown at exhibitions, as the artists themselves were not permitted to travel abroad. The Soviet Government simply pretended that these artists did not exist. Free from the watchful eye of State officials, they found self-expression, and became independent creators. But they paid an expensive price for this freedom. They had to refuse success, glory, and financial security. They have passed away in obscurity. But today Azerbaijan honors their names, and considers their artworks to be Azerbaijani art classics.

Azerbaijan proudly presents their works in Beyond the Line within the Azerbaijan Pavilion in the 56 th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia 2015 ,which showcases the work of the Soviet period non-conformist artists Javad Mirjavadov, Tofik Javadov, Ashraf Murad, Rasim Babayev, and the sculptor Fazil Najafov. The exhibition also includes the film ‘Stepping over the Horizon,’ directed by Shamil Najafzada from a script based on the memoires of Sarah Oghuz Nazirova, an art historian and critic. Additionally, it contains an installation by Huseyn Hagverdi, whose career suffered under Soviet rule, but whose creativity nevertheless blossomed. His sculptural installation greets visitors to the exhibition, and bridges the lives and creative output of two eras – the era of Soviet totalitarianism, and the period of Azerbaijan’s independence. Dedicated to all those who traveled a difficult and thorny road to freedom, this work binds together generations. It says that memory is alive,

This hallmark for the fine arts of Azerbaijan – an exhibition that showcases masterpieces of avant-garde art from the last century – is made possible by the initiative of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the personal participation of the First Lady of Azerbaijan, Mehriban Aliyeva. With the support of Mehriban khanum Aliyeva, these priceless artworks leave Azerbaijan for the first time to appear before a general and professional public at the oldest, most important, and most prestigious art world event: the 56 th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia .