On Ways of Travelling, Angola Pavilion in Palazzo Pisani, Venice Biennale 2015

At the 2015 Biennale, Angola presented five artists in On Ways of Traveling. Based on the idea of an intergenerational dialogue, the exhibition focuses on how a younger generation of artists and citizens in an independent Angola further the legacies and cultural fusions of past generations.

The Angola pavilion is located in the Palazzo Pisani in Campo Santo Stefano. The exhibition will take a central facility with the artist António Ole, to mark the front and back, with Francisco Vidal present constituted facilities of metallic skin of machetes, a symbol of the Angolan resistance, such as support of a remarkable pictorial action.

This choice allows a younger generation, but with given and recognized evidence, following the legacy of the artist António Ole, access to the circuit of the Venice Biennale, in a promotion of the country, but also the possibilities of settling its international presence to ensure the success of a project that meets the requirement of this presentation and the next representation contemporary profile.

Francisco Vidal showed Utopia Luanda Machine, a mixed-media work that folds into crates and includes images of Zadie Smith, Kanye West, and cotton plants painted on machetes. The artist hoped to create a new African industrial revolution that would combine art, craft, and design. Other works included Binelde Hyrcan’s humorous short video of four boys on an imaginary road trip, Délio Jasse’s layered images floating in a basin of colored water, Nelo Teixiera’s mask sculptures, and António Ole’s assemblage of plastic tubs. Ole also served as the exhibition’s curator. The show mounted in Venice’s Palazzo Pisani a San Stefano. The pavilion’s commissioner, RitaGT, said that the Angolan Ministry of Culture had been a strong supporter of participation in the Biennale for its impact both on the country and in bringing its contemporary art to an international stage.

The 56th exhibition will also use as a filter to historical trajectory as the same biennial has traveled during its 120 years of life, a filter through which to reflect on the current “state of things” and the “appearance of things.”

Approaching the Pavilion itself feels like a form of travel through time and space: the exhibition is mounted on the second floor of the Palazzo Pisani Moretta, a Baroque Venetian palace on the Grand Canal that now houses the Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello. In order to reach the installations, one traverses a richly decorated entrance hall to the sound of music students convening and rehearsing.

On Ways of Travelling: Urbanism and Renewal
The 56th edition of the most important international Biennale of contemporary art takes place this year in Venice, a leading forum for the introduction and recognition of artists from the participating countries.Since 2013, the Ministry of Culture of Angola has ensured the country’s representation at the Art Biennale di Venezia, which is characterised by the high quality of its submissions, taking into account the practices developed within the contemporary art scene. This approach has resulted in excellent feedback from the audience and art critics, both national and international, and culminated in the golden Lion Award in 2013.

The Angolan Pavilion for the 56th Biennale di Venezia is titled “On Ways of Travelling,” yet the exhibition more accurately invokes some of the barriers to the freedom of movement that are experienced by many in Angola, and elsewhere in Africa – visas, economic hardship, borders and road traffic. Yet “travel,” in this context, is not only meant to signify physical movement; it also refers to the meeting of disparate worldviews, lifestyles and temporalities, as well as to states of dreaming, desire and longing for change. The subject is nowhere more relevant than the present context in La Biennale di Venezia, an essential destination for international art tourism and an early precedent for the phenomenon of the ‘global exhibition’ of contemporary art.

Approaching the Pavilion itself feels like a form of travel through time and space: the exhibition is mounted on the second floor of the Palazzo Pisani Moretta, a Baroque Venetian palace on the Grand Canal that now houses the Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello.

In order to reach the installations, one traverses a richly decorated entrance hall to the sound of music students convening and rehearsing. Ascending the staircase to the second floor, a tower of brightly colored plastic bins appears into view, revealing a sculpture by artist and curator António Ole. Vernacular materials, bold colors and found objects fill the Palazzo’s ornate interior, creating a rich and uncomfortable juxtaposition between European opulence and African urbanism.

Herein lays one of the central threads that run through the exhibition, which envisages the constructed environment as a living network of meeting points, barriers, interstices and memories.

António Ole
Angola, 1951. Painter, filmmaker and photographer, Ole has created a vast body of work that reflects the multiple aspects of his creative universe, focusing on the themes of colonisation, civil war, famine, social conflicts and, specially, the human capacity for resistance and survival. Throughout his artistic career, he has developed projects that reveal a certain formal and aesthetic eclecticism, his works including drawing, painting, sculpture, installation, photography, video and cinema. His first exhibition was in 1967 and, since his international debut at the African-American Art Museum (Los Angeles) in 1984, his works have been shown in many exhibitions, festivals and biennales, including Havana (1986, 1988, 1997), São Paulo (1987), Berlin (1997), Johannesburg (1995, 1997), Dakar (1998) and Venice (2003, 2007). He also participated in the prestigious touring exhibitions: Africa Remix, Contemporary Art of a Continent and The Short Century.

In his own artistic practice, Ole has investigated Luanda’s recent modernization, the effects of high-end development on the city’s poorest areas, and the ways in which people always manage to pass through even the strictest of borders. Works from his acclaimed Township Wall series, which he began in the mid-1990s, invoke the permeability of border architecture and the coexistence of luxury and squalor in cities like Luanda (one has only to consult the first line of the BBC’s profile of the nation, which explains that while it is “one of Africa’s major oil producers, Angola is nonetheless one of the world’s poorest countries”). In addition to the Pavilion’s emphasis on architecture, many works share a Janus-like treatment of oppositions such as past and future, decline and progress, or memory and fantasy.

For this exhibition, Ole presents a sculptural installation that comprises a folded wall of corrugated iron; cut-out niches in the metal sheets are filled with glass bottles or scrunched piles of donated clothing – objects that have moved into Angola’s economy from elsewhere. Situated around this divide are two assemblages of plastic tubs, examples of the cheap and low-quality materials, often imported from China, that are now ubiquitous throughout Angola. Humble yet virtuosic, the installation testifies, as well, to the optimism, creativity and perseverance of Angolan culture even in spite of ongoing hardship.

Binelde Hyrcan
Angola, 1980. Binelde Hyrcan grew up in Angola. Shocked by the images of war in his youth, he saw the real consequences of political decisions. It is in this mix, between the vision of a present living world in front of him and the dramatic effects of some abstract political decisions, that the artist caught this indelible image. Hyrcan expresses himself in the full range of artistic media: sculpture, painting, design, video-art and performance. He has exhibited widely across the globe from his first exhibition in 2008 Three times Two movements in Paris, to the 2nd Luanda Triennale in 2010 and the 2013 ‘No Fly Zone’ at the Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon.

In Binelde Hyrcan’s video, Cambeck, allusions to travel are met with the reality of immobility; the piece records four young boys as they imagine alternate lives of affluence and escape. Seated in small holes dug out in beach sand that are positioned to resemble car seats, the boys face out towards the Atlantic Ocean and direct the “taxi driver” at front, who wields a flip-flop as steering wheel. “Driver, go faster!” one commands, “Come on driver put on that song!” “Can’t you see the radio is broken?” They speak of family members and loved ones in the United States and Italy and condemn the slums back home. While their dialogue hints at the dream of global travel – crafted through observation of adult conversations – it also makes reference to the road traffic that famously plagues Luanda, with commuters often spending up to four hours moving across the city.

Délio Jasse
Angola, 1980. When he was 18, he moved to Lisbon where he started to work in serigraphy studios. Here he had the first contact with the different printing techniques, among which he soon discovered photography. He started experimenting with the different technical possibilities of this means of expression. He participated in several group exhibition in Portugal, Angola, Brasil, Germany and France. Among the group exhibition, we recall África (2010) at the Museu Nacional de História Natural in Luanda, Bamako Photographic Encounters and the group show Present Tense (2013) at the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon. Among the solo show, we recall Schengen (2010) at Baginski, Galeria/ Projetos. In 2014 he was shortlisted for the BES Photo Award.

Délio Jasse’s installation Ausência Permanente has previously been exhibited in white-cube spaces, but it acquires new possibilities for signification in its display within the light-drenched Palazzo. Three shallow basins filled with colored water are arranged in the space beneath the Sala dei Vescovi’s exterior wall, which is lined to the ceiling with windows. Patches of bright sunlight stream into the room and across its elegantly tiled floor, casting both hard-edged shadows and glowing spotlights over the pools of turquoise, fuscia and clear-watered baths in which large images are submerged: these are photomontages that contain portraits of anonymous men and women overlaid with visa stamps, signatures, notations, dates and architectural details. Allusions to movement and the institutionalization of travel reside both in the symbols of bureaucracy scattered across the images and in the tentative, searching eyes of each subject gazing towards us, presumably photographed at the time of visa or passport applications.

Importantly, Jasse’s mode of presentation makes unmistakable reference to the process of developing photographs, which, once exposed, are delicately submerged in fluid chemical baths before the image is slowly revealed. Jasse has stated that “the stars of this series are ghosts,” and, as such, the present context brings their forgotten stories into light, through a poetics of exposure and visibility.

The water that moves softly over Jasse’s images will also remind viewers of a history of maritime travel that has defined modern history in Angola, from the 15th century Portuguese explorations of the New World to the trans-Atlantic trade networks between Europe, Africa and the Americas that carried slave ships between Luanda and Brazil, as well as the tragic present-day journeys of migrants and refugees from the African continent across the Mediterranean towards Italy.

Francisco Vidal
Francisco Vidal Angola, 1978. Francisco’s work examines the questions of race, difference, negritude and the African diaspora. he employs both the communicative possibilities of his plastic and aesthetic expression, as well as his relationship with society and modern Portugal and Angola. He believes it is particularly grounded in his era and his identity; something closely linked to the age group to which he belongs, and which one could almost consider a reflection of his generation. His works, in various formats, are the outcome from increasingly meticulous reflection on the reality in which he lives. He has exhibited solo and collectively since 2006.

Nelo Teixeira
Angola, 1975. Nelo studied painting and sculpture at the workshops of UNAP (National Union Plastic Artists) and has a background in carpentry and set design. Nelo inherited an interesting family legacy of masks makers. Also he plays an important role on the Luanda’s art community, teaching the youngest generation some of his techniques. He exhibits regularly since 2000 and developed Set Design for seve-ral theatre and film pieces.

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All this brings us back to the context of La Biennale, and to the privilege of touristic travel to a nation that currently represents the dream of asylum for so many across the African continent. While “On Ways of Travelling” contains rich statements on life in contemporary Angola, it seems that meaning also lies in the dialogue staged between the Palazzo itself and the materials and ideas presented in the exhibition and to the undeniable entanglements of histories, economies and cultures across the globe.

Palazzo Pisani in Santo Stefano
Palazzo Pisani is a Venetian palace located in the San Marco district, overlooking the Rio del Santissimo and bordering Palazzetto Pisani and Palazzo Morosini, overlooking Campo Pisani, adjacent to Campo Santo Stefano. It is the seat of the Benedetto Marcello conservatory.

“The last major renovation was entrusted to Girolamo Frigimelica, architect of the Pisani family, the same who built the imposing Pisani villa in Stra. The purpose of the construction was eminently celebratory: the noble Pisani family, at the time one of the richest in the city, wanted a palace worthy of its size, gradually making its way between the neighboring houses to reach the Grand Canal. Famous people, sovereigns and princes stayed here: the chronicles speak of the magnificence of the furniture and decorations, of the gallery full of paintings by the most illustrious painters. The huge facade of the building, criticized by some for its ostentation, is enlivened by two large arches above the entrance door ”
-Benedetto Marcello

“[In Palazzo Pisani] of remarkable [there is] only the courage of the ancient owner to spend a lot of money badly”
-Pietro Selvatico

In 1525 the Pisans already lived in the area of Santo Stefano, but the construction of the palace began only between 1614 and 1615. The first nucleus developed where there was a house already owned by the family (obtained by inheritance) and other buildings purchased specifically for the need to build this house. Alvise Pisani, the client, decided not to turn to an architect for the supervision of the activities but to provide personally, contacting the artisans directly, perhaps due to the absence of a great artistic personality in the city at that time. In 1634an earthquake destroyed part of the house, which had to be rebuilt. It was thought that the proto of the time, that is Bortolo da Venezia, known as the Manopola, may have been contacted for the building of the building, built “in the Roman style”. In the XVIII century Vincenzo Maria Coronelli attributed the project of the palace to Jacopo Sansovino.

In 1728 the Pisani family commissioned Gerolamo Frigimelica to provide for the raising and expansion of the complex. His intervention involved the destruction of the large central dormer window, the raising of a floor, the construction of the internal courtyards and the decoration. At the end of the 18th century other works were carried out which caused the alteration of the plant.

The new owner of the building, Alvise Pisani, decided to transform the halls of the second noble floor into smaller rooms, dividing them according to the plan of Bernardino Maccaruzzi. The palace now had around 200 rooms. During this time he was a guest of the palace as wellGustavo III of Sweden, who stated that he could never return the sumptuous reception received. Numerous other transformations followed: the plant was repeatedly revised, the art collections were removed, the entire complex was divided into rental apartments. In the meantime, the owner family had in fact had to transfer a large part of the building, remaining the owner only of the northern wing. In 1880 the owner family died out. In 1940 the building was changed into a conservatory. In 1947 the painter Zoran Music had his studio in the attic.


The building, which clearly demonstrates the desire of the Pisani family to reach the Grand Canal, the goal achieved with the acquisition of Palazzetto Pisani, has considerable dimensions and therefore multiple facades.

The main facade looks onto Campo Pisani and is characterized by the Istrian stone decoration, which gives it a majestic appearance. Traditionally it appears tripartite: in the center of the ground floor there is a large portal, taken from the serliane of the upper floors. On the sides of the latter there are windows with round arches, whose keystone is decorated with a human head. They are arranged to form mullioned windows: the two windows that make up the modular unit then repeated have a column in the center and the sides of the pillars. The exceptionally powerful first floor balcony is supported by two modillionsand its parapet is decorated with a square motif.

Secondary facades develop towards the Grand Canal (finished only in 1751 ) and towards the Rio del Santissimo. Both have a bare appearance, not comparable with that of the main one. Their decoration mainly consists of mullioned windows.

Lay out
The structure of the plant has very different characters from the traditional ones, which see a succession of rooms on the sides of the portego. In this case, the building develops around two courtyards, separated only by a loggia body.

Over the years the building has been the victim of spoliation. Despite everything, numerous works of art still survive, concentrated in the ceilings and stuccos. The portal is surrounded by two sculptural groups, depicting the Killing of the lion of Nemea and the Capture of Cerberus: they are usually attributed to the school of Girolamo Campagna. The back wall of the entrance hall is dominated by the large fanò, the lantern that was located at the stern of Andrea Pisani’s jail. In the room of the ancient library, on the fifth floor, there are two medallions with the profiles of Martin Luther and Giovanni Calvino. In the mezzanine there are some rooms decorated with stuccos dating back to the second half of the 18th century.

The portego on the first floor featured a collection of paintings depicting the faces of the most famous men of the family: today only those of Andrea Pisani and Alvise Pisani survive. The decoration of the room is instead the work of the painter Jacopo Guarana. The decorations abound in the rooms on the first floor: Francesco Zugno worked among others for the creation of the frescoes that decorate the room on the field and the adjacent one. The same floor also features a chapel with an altarpiece on the theme of the Holy Family and San Giovannino, built by Giuseppe Angeli.

As for the wing that overlooks the canal, it has two rooms that once must have been richly decorated but which today appear bare. Also on the same side there was also a room used as an art gallery, where valuable works were housed. According to an inventory made in 1809, it consisted of 159 works, including two thirds of the sixteenth century, some forty of the seventeenth century and a dozen of the eighteenth century. The inventory also indicates the names of the artists, including Tiziano, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, Bassano,Palma the Elder. Adjacent to this room there is a rich white and gilded stucco, attributed to Giuseppe Ferrari who would have made them in 1776. On the right is a chapel dedicated to the Madonna of the Rosary, enlarged and decorated in 1717.

Another particularly important venue is the ballroom, now used for concerts. Its shape was defined by Almorò Pisani between 1717 and 1720. The most valuable artistic piece of the room was once the canvas that decorated the ceiling, made by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini between 1722 and 1723. The canvas was sold in 1895 but was replaced in 1904 by a work by Vittorio Emanuele Bressanin, depicting the Glorification of Music. This work was done for free. At the same time, Bressanin also dedicated himself to the creation of the fresco in the other room towards the central staircase, once decorated with five paintings by Veronese. In the room that now houses the direction of the conservatory there is a bronze knocker, attributed to Alessandro Vittoria.

Nothing remains of the ancient Pisani library apart from a catalog dating back to 1807. Three years later everything went to the auction and was dispersed. The library was founded by Almorò Pisani and was the richest among those available to individual Venetian nobles. During the period of its activity it was open to the public twice a week and had a caretaker. The collection was rich in what were called banned books as they are frequently associated with heresies. The library also housed a large numismatic collection, consisting of 6000 pieces, to be added to the complete series of Venetian coins.

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.