João Louro: I Will Be Your Mirror / Poems and Problems, Portugal Pavilion in Palazzo Loredan, Venice Biennale 2015

The Portugal Pavilion is at the beautifull Palazzo Loredan, in Campo Santo Stefano, and presents the exhibition, I Will Be Your Mirror / Poems and Problems, by João Louro

The motto of the exhibition, I’ll be your mirror, is taken from a song by the Velvet Underground. The lyrics of the song, spread over a series of light-bulbs, receive and at the same time bid farewell to the visitors in that which is both the first and last room. Using illuminated words or phrases has been a recurring factor in João Louro’s work, and as in other works disappearance is as far away as that of a gesture: turning off the light.

The thrust of the project that João Louro presents in Venice borrows the title of a song from Velvet Underground—”I’ll Be Your Mirror.” Louro sets out an overview of his career, of his artistic and cultural convictions, his concerns and aesthetic and sociological decisions. Through elements taken from Minimalism and Conceptual Art, João Louro is an intensely conceptual artist, one whose intensity is shown in his presentation and interpretation of the world, in his musical phrasing of experience and in his commitment to bringing things to their limit, through a stunning unfolding of calculated tension and control. Louro builds his own world according to the traces that his readings, music and the cinema have left in his path; fusing these traces he builds a sort of autobiography, a personal diary, in which the texts or events are charged with meaning.

The works created specifically for the Portuguese Pavilion, which have been extraordinarily well adapted to the space in each room of the Palazzo Loredan Library, highlight the concern that João Louro has always shown in generating new semantic aspects and raising doubts about norms accepted by our visual culture, as well as in converting the spectator’s role into that of a participant, creating invented places and imagining scenes and inhabiting words that allow us to cultivate our deepest desires and aspirations.

The works Dead Ends are related to the challenge of language. In these he uses road signs as symbols that are automatically recognisable; only afterwards does the spectator reach the second level of reading, which are the contents.

In the series “Blind Images” the spectator is faced with a canvas on which the image has been blanked out, hidden beneath a coating of glossy acrylic and a glass panel that produces the effect of a mirror. At the bottom of the canvas there is a text alluding to or descriptive of the cancelled image, thus provoking different approaches to what is visible or varying perspectives through which one can consider the image.

João Louro’s conceptual work is a questioning about the limits and the expressive capacity of the image, reflecting outside the narrow margin of the work of art itself.

João Louro (Lisbon, November 13, 1963) is a Portuguese artist. He studied Architecture at the University of Lisbon and Painting at the ARCO School of Art and Communication. His artistic career began in the nineties. He starts with painting, but soon he expands his activity to the use of other means, such as photography, sculpture and installation, transforming this diversity into an internal characteristic of his work. He represents Portugal at the Venice Biennale in 2015

A descendant of conceptual and minimal art, with a special attention to the avant-garde of the early 20th century, his work traces a topography of time, with personal, but above all, generational references. One of the main objectives of his work is the reorganization of the visual universe. The other priority issue is language, in its potential and aspects. “João Louro travels incessantly on these two great bodies of work that never approach any end between themselves – Image / Language. Even so, they are destined to the permanent confrontation in the work.

The first major theme, related to the Image, has its origin in excess ”. João Louro is dedicated to questioning his power, testing his limits and causing disturbances in the apparent stability of the sense that each visual representation has. It is in this process that the use of Language becomes essential and the artist “juxtaposes words and images and creates new meanings and new experiences”. Within this second great theme, Language, the artist includes language itself, translation, writers, books and poetry. His work is assumed as “a strategic device for critical mediation of the real, insistently exploring the excess and power of the image and the written word in Western societies”. His work intends, at the same time, to interrupt the romantic paradigm, giving prominence to the role of the spectator. The viewer is the key figure to complete the work of art, since, for João Louro, the value of the work of art arises from the link that is established between the work and the viewer.

In 2005, he participated in the exhibition “Art Experience”, at Pavilhão Itália, at the 51st Venice Biennale, curated by Maria de Corral. Also in 2005, he participated in the project “Insite 05 – Art Practices in Public Domain”, in S. Diego (USA) / Tijuana (Mexico). From his vast curriculum of individual exhibitions in Portugal and abroad, the following stand out: “Runaway Car Crashed # 2”, Serralves Museum in Porto (1999); “La Pensée et l’Erreur”, Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona (2000); “Blind Runner”, Centro Cultural de Belémin Lisbon (2004/2005); “LA Confidential”, Christopher Grimes Gallery in Santa Monica (2007); “The Great Houdini”, Center for Contemporary Art in Bragança (2010), “My Dark Places”, MACRO – Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome (2010); “I Will Be Your Mirror – Poems and Problems”, Venice Biennale (2015) and “Smuggling”, MACE – Museum of Contemporary Art in Elvas (2015).

The Exhibition

Room 1
In the photograph taken in Miami Airport in 2005, João Louro is waiting for the arrival of Walter Benjamin. This image introduces into the course of the exhibition, which refers us back to the recurring themes of his work: invisibility and absence…

Dead Ends
The works Dead Ends are related to the challenge of language. In them Louro uses road signs as symbols that are automatically recognisable; it is only later that the spectator reaches the second level of reading, which are their contents. This variable language is no more than a possibility open to establishing new conditions for the producing of meaning. The Dead Ends stand as objects, at the same as being concepts, due to their strong physical component.

In this case Louro has used parts of the text of the Tchaikovsky opera Iolanta, a work which deals with blindness, or the impossibility of seeing, and of the use of language in order to grant a form to landscape, to light and to the sky. In short, to describe the world that surrounds us.

Blind Images
In the series Blind Images the spectator is faced with a canvas on which the image has been erased. These series help us to understand that the distance between words and images is not so great that as that which exists between words and objects, or between culture and nature.

In this case we are looking at an enormous “photographic film” that contains the few existing photographs of Maurice Blanchot (a writer who was always careful about maintaining his privacy and his image). Throughout this work we may get to know these images through a text that alludes to or describes the photo that has been eliminated, thus provoking different approaches to the visible or diverse views through which one may approach an image.

Room 4
In these two works the eliminated image is the only existing photo of Arthur Rimbaud as an adult, who, like Blanchot, never wanted to be photographed. The relevance that Louro grants to the language that describes the image even further stresses the importance of literature, poetry and suggests.

In these works reality is hidden beneath a layer of glossy acrylic paint, over which there is a glass panel that produces the effect of a mirror in which the spectator is reflected, thus making the spectators a part of the work.

The creased map leaves a somewhat disturbing message, as although it allows very distant parts to be connected, as if reorganising the world, making it one, as the creasing shortens the distances, on the other hand it is an “emblem of the contemporary world that does not guide and is disorientating”.

Mirror Ladder
The Mirror Ladder, apparently the same as so many others staircases we know, but in relation to which Louro has negated its function, making it impossible to be used, but, just as in the blind images, the spectator is again the protagonist when being reflected in it.

In these works Louro reproduces book covers, greatly increasing their size, in order to lead us into the reading of all his literary, poetic and philosophical idols, and thus constructing with them a space in which he may live

Room 5

Cover #16, Stirrings Still, Samuel Beckett (2015)
Cover #17, Bouvard and Pécuchet, Gustave Flaubert (2015)
Cover #18, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, Dylan Thomas (2015)
Cover #19, Bartleby, the Scrivener, Herman Melville (2015)

The End
The exhibition ends with the announcing of the end, with the work The End, referring us back to the imaginary of Hollywood,

Palazzo Loredan
The Veneto Institute of Sciences, Letters and Arts originated in the National Institute wanted by Napoleon for Italy at the beginning of the 19th century.

It was then refounded with the current name by Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria in 1838, with the separation of the Lombard Institute of Letters and Arts Sciences. With the union of Veneto and Italy, the institute was recognized as of national interest, together with the main academies of the pre-unification states, even though the greatest attention continued to be paid to the cultural and scientific life of the Venice region.

In 1866 the Veneto Institute of Sciences, Letters and Arts also assumed part of the positions assigned until then to the Magistrate alle Acque, which had been suppressed following the annexation of Veneto to the Kingdom of Italy. In 1871 the first tide gauge for the systematic control of the tides in Venice and for the statistical analysis of the high water phenomenon was installed at the headquarters of the Institute. The Institute took care of the observations until 1908, when he donated the instruments and the related document archive to the Municipality’s Hydrographic Office.

The first seat of the Istituto Veneto was Palazzo Ducale, which was then transferred to Palazzo Loredan in 1893. In 1999 the second headquarters of Palazzo Franchetti was purchased, inaugurated in 2004.

The Institute “aims to increase, disseminate and protect the sciences, letters and arts” (article 1 of the statute).

“The Institute is composed of two classes, one for the physical, mathematical and natural sciences, the other for the moral sciences, letters and arts. Each class is made up of 40 members for the category of effective members, 80 for that of the corresponding members and 25 for that of foreign members “(article 2 of the articles of association).

In addition to the ordinary academic activity and the monthly members’ meetings, the Institute periodically promotes scientific and humanistic events, study meetings, conferences, seminars, international specialization schools and organization of art exhibitions.

Annually publishes a periodical, various monographic volumes and unpublished works deemed of significant scientific value or in any case such as to make a significant contribution to the studies.

The library was formed starting from the re-foundation of the Institute, which took place in 1838. Initially located in the Palazzo Ducale, seat of the Veneto Institute from 1838 to 1893, with the transfer of the Institute to Palazzo Loredan, it was placed in a series of rooms of the noble floor furnished for that destination, where it is still located. In the library there are numerous sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, sixteenth-century manuscripts part of the collection of Serafino Raffaele Minich, the collection of classical studies by Oddone Ravenna, the entire medical library of Angelo Minich, that of Luigi Luzzatti, of Fabio Vitali and many volumes deriving from other bequests. The library also preserves the academic documents and volumes published by the Institute, as well as a collection of periodicals, including The Times (1870 – 1930), La Perseveranza (1859 -1922), L’Osservatore Romano (1861- 1996), La Stampa (1867 – 1948), Il Sole 24 ORE (1865-1916) and Il Gazzettino di Venezia (1887 – today).

Since 1990 the library of the Istituto Veneto has been part of the SBN (National Library Service) center in Venice.

Medal collection
The medal collection is divided into two parts:

The industry award medals, awarded in 1800 to the most successful companies in the Veneto
Medals related to commemorations, congresses and events of the Istituto Veneto

Documents Cretan
In 1898, following the abandonment of the island of Crete by the Ottoman Empire, an archaeological expedition led by Federico Halbherr was sent by the Ministry of Education of the Kingdom of Italy. The Veneto Institute decided to send a delegate, the young Giuseppe Gerola, who remained on the island of Crete from 1900 to 1902 to search for traces of Venetian monuments. The result of this expedition is kept at the Veneto Institute of Sciences, Letters and Arts and includes:

1642 photographic plates
1642 negatives
1642 photographic reproductions
1000 original photographs
291 tissue papers
102 absorbent papers
52 plaster casts of Leoni di San Marco with heraldic coats of arms of Venetian families (most of which are preserved in the Naval History Museum

Deposits library
The warehouse at the Zattere was purchased in order to keep the library collections. Formed by a single floor which has been rationalized with a mezzanine. In the upper part the offices for bibliographic research were housed and on the floor below a space was made available for exhibitions and art exhibitions.
The Mestre book deposit was set up to accommodate part of the Institute’s book heritage. Monographs and periodicals purchased after the end of the Second World War are deposited in this building. The warehouse has a space for the storage of volumes with a total capacity of 4,275 linear meters.
Casa Minich, bought with part of the bequest of Angelo Minich, was first residence and then, after the restoration by Libero Cecchini, used as a book deposit. It is also home to the European Center for Living Technology (ECLT) and the Interuniversity Center of Venetian Studies (CISVE).

Venice Biennale 2015
The 2015 Art Biennale closes a sort of trilogy that began with the exhibition curated by Bice Curiger in 2011, Illuminations, and continued with the Encyclopedic Palace of Massimiliano Gioni (2013). With All The World’s Futures, La Biennale continues its research on useful references for making aesthetic judgments on contemporary art, a “critical” issue after the end of the avant-garde and “non-art” art.

Through the exhibition curated by Okwui Enwezor, La Biennale returns to observe the relationship between art and the development of human, social and political reality, in the pressing of external forces and phenomena: the ways in which, that is, the tensions of the external world solicit the sensitivities, the vital and expressive energies of the artists, their desires, the motions of the soul (their inner song).

La Biennale di Venezia was founded in 1895. Paolo Baratta has been its President since 2008, and before that from 1998 to 2001. La Biennale, who stands at the forefront of research and promotion of new contemporary art trends, organizes exhibitions, festivals and researches in all its specific sectors: Arts (1895), Architecture (1980), Cinema (1932), Dance (1999), Music (1930), and Theatre (1934). Its activities are documented at the Historical Archives of Contemporary Arts (ASAC) that recently has been completely renovated.

The relationship with the local community has been strengthened through Educational activities and guided visits, with the participation of a growing number of schools from the Veneto region and beyond. This spreads the creativity on the new generation (3,000 teachers and 30,000 pupils involved in 2014). These activities have been supported by the Venice Chamber of Commerce. A cooperation with Universities and research institutes making special tours and stays at the exhibitions has also been establihed. In the three years from 2012-2014, 227 universities (79 Italian and 148 international) have joined the Biennale Sessions project.

In all sectors there have been more research and production opportunities addressed to the younger generation of artists, directly in contact with renowned teachers; this has become more systematic and continuous through the international project Biennale College, now running in the Dance, Theatre, Music, and Cinema sections.