The 57th international art exhibition, titled Viva Arte Viva, curated by Christine Macel and organised by Paolo Baratta, took place from May 13 to November 26 2017. The Biennale present itself as a place dedicated to an open dialogue between artists, and between artists and the public. This year ‘s theme dedicated to celebrating, and almost giving thanks for, the very existence of art and artists, whose worlds expand our perspective and the space of our existence.
The exhibition staged in the historic Pavilions at the Giardini, at the Arsenale and in the city centre of Venice, including the participations of 86 countries and regions. 23 Collateral Events, promoted by non-profit national and international institutions, will present their exhibitions and initiatives in Venice during the 57th Exhibition.
The Exhibition Viva Arte Viva offers a route that unfolds over the course of nine chapters or families of artists, beginning with two introductory realms in the Central Pavilion in the Giardini, followed by seven more realms to be found in the Arsenale and the Giardino delle Vergini. There are 120 invited artists from 51 countries; 103 of these are participating for the first time.
In a world full of conflicts and shocks, art bears witness to the most precious part of what makes us human. Art is the ultimate ground for reflection, individual expression, freedom, and for fundamental questions. Art is the last bastion, a garden to cultivate above and beyond trends and personal interests. It stands as an unequivocal alternative to individualism and indifference.
Viva Arte Viva
Viva Arte Viva is an Exhibition inspired by humanism. This type of humanism is neither focused on an artistic ideal to follow nor is it characterised by the celebration of mankind as beings who can dominate their surroundings. If anything, this humanism, through art, celebrates mankind’s ability to avoid being dominated by the powers governing world affairs. In this type of humanism, the artistic act is contemporaneously an act of resistance, of liberation and of generosity.
Viva Arte Viva is an exclamation, a passionate outcry for art and the state of the artist. The role, the voice and the responsibility of the artist are more crucial than ever before within the framework of contemporary debates. It is in and through these individual initiatives that the world of tomorrow takes shape, which though surely uncertain, is often best intuited by artists than others.
Each of the nine chapters or families of artists of the Exhibition represents a Pavilion in itself, or rather a Trans-Pavilion as it is trans-national by nature but echoesthe Biennale’s historical organisation into pavilions, the number of which has never ceased to grow since the end of the 1990s.
Viva Arte Viva also seeks to convey a positive and prospective energy, which whilst focusing on young artists, rediscovers those passed away too soon or those who are still largely unknown despite the importance of their work.
From the “Pavilion of Artists and Books” to the “Pavilion of Time and Infinity”, these nine episodes tell a story that is often discursive and at times paradoxical, with detours that mirror the world’s complexities, a multiplicity of approaches and a wide variety of practices. The Exhibition is intended as an experience, an extrovert movement from the self to the other, towards a common space beyond the defined dimensions, and onwards to the idea of a potential neo-humanism.
Starting with the Pavilion of Artists and Books, the Exhibition reveals its premise, a dialectic that involves the whole of contemporary society, beyond the artist himself, and addresses the organisation of society and its values. Art and artists are at the heart of the Exhibition, which begins by examining their practices, the way they create art, halfway between idleness and action, otium and negotium.
The Exhibition in Arsenale
The Exhibition develops from the Central Pavilion (Giardini) to the Arsenale and includes 86 participants from all over the world. Initiated in 1980, the Aperto began as a fringe event for younger artists and artists of a national origin not represented by the permanent national pavilions. This is usually staged in the Arsenale and has become part of the formal biennale programme.
From 1999, the international exhibition were held both at the Central Pavilion and the Arsenale. Also in 1999, a $1 million renovation transformed the Arsenale area into a cluster of renovated shipyards, sheds and warehouses, more than doubling the Arsenale’s exhibition space of previous years.
About half of Arsenale’s indoor space is made up by this exhibition – the continuation of Macel’s exhibition that started in the central pavilion of Il Giardini.
The journey unfolds over the course of nine chapters, or families of artists, beginning with two introductory parts in the Central Pavilion, followed by another seven across the Arsenale. Each chapter represents a Pavilion in itself, or rather a Trans-Pavilion as it is trans-national by nature but echoes the Biennale’s historical organisation into pavilions.
The Pavilion of the Common
The first pavilion at the Arsenale, dedicated to community and the role of collective consciousness.
Franz Erhard Walther
Franz Erhard Walther, the winner of the Gold Lion – presents three works from his early 1980s Wallformation series and a selection of Walking Pedestals from 1975, all inviting total involvement of the body.
The installation Zero to Infinity in Venice by Pakistani artist Rasheed Araeen welcomes visitors: wooden cubes in wireframe with fluorescent colours can be freely moved to create always different spaces and architectures: an action against symmetry and formal minimalism.
Anna Halprin, a beautiful ninety-six-year-old woman, invites us to join her circular universal dance: Planetary Dance is a gesture, a common movement that expresses an intention of peace and joy for the whole world.
The Pavilion of the Earth
The Pavilion of the Earth delves into the subjects of environment and ecology. The Pavilion of the Earth bringing together a monumental semi-abstract turtle by Erika Verzutti, monumental performative sculptures of moths made in traditional Kosovar fabrics by Petrit Halilaj, an installation of salt pilars researching the exploitation of ‘the white petroleum’ lithium by Julian Charrière, and a large scale installation by Thu Van Tran including 16mm film, monumental photograms, site-specific painting and a selection of wax cast sculptures.
The Tyranny of Consciousness video installation by Charles Atlas – recipient of a special mention of the jury – shows simultaneously forty-four sunsets marked by a big digital watch during an 18-minute countdown. At zero hour, in the darkness of the room, the famous New York drag queen Lady Bunny appears on the screen singing a disco song: the soundtrack of the end of the world.
Albanian artist Petrit Halilaj – awarded a special mention of the jury – with Do you realise there is a rainbow even if it’s night!? Packs the Corderie with sculptures made of carpets and fabrics from the Balkan tradition reproducing gigantic moths. The nocturnal insect is the symbol of change, of the revelation of one’s identity, and, at the same time, a declaration of love for one’s country.
The Pavilion of Traditions
The Pavilion of Traditions gathers together artists involved in the protection and update of artisanal knowledge. There’s a number of interesting artists exploring not only recent history but also a more distant past, delving into historical references in an urge for legitimacy, rebirth and reinvention.
Teresa Lanceta reinterprets Moroccan embroidery creating surfaces in wool and cotton enriched by very colourful weaves and geometrical shapes: weaving, the result of collective work, is the material and tangible translation of ancestral memory.
Fabric, the true star of this Biennale Arte, is also the favourite support of Francis Upritchard, who upholsters his sculptures with ethnic clothing of excellent quality and impeccable cut: Islamic monks, actors from the Kabuki theatre, Harlequins, Maori warriors, and native Americans. The anthropological collection by Upritchard underlines how the act of collecting means, in reality, the fear of being forgotten in a globalised world swallowing ancient cultures.
The Pavilion of the Shamans
The Pavilion of Shamans, like the following one dedicated to Dionysian, is pervaded by art’s magic and spiritual, cathartic power.
The installation Um Sagrado Lugar (A Sacred Place) by Brazilian Ernesto Neto is a suspended majestic curtain characterised by a twined organic weave in voile of tinted cotton in natural colours that fills the whole space of the Corderie. The work is a moment of sharing – visitors are invited to enter and learn the rituals of Huini Kuin Indians from the Amazon Forest. Recovering the awareness of indigenous people and the trans-mysticism expressed in sacred healing ceremonies becomes the cure of the ailments of contemporary society.
The Dionysian Pavilion
The supernatural dimension is evoked in the Dionysian Pavilion, where sacred and profane blend together elegantly in a series of works investigating erotic provocation and blasphemy in art.
Pauline Curnier Cardin
Pauline Curnier Cardin portrays Bernadette as not so saintly in the hilarious video-installation Grotta Profunda, Approfundita.
Mariechen Danz creates a disturbing space, where the Dionysian essence of the dismemberment of the body – like in the tragic myth of the Greek god – becomes a moment of reflection about the eternal change of nature and geography, the transience of things and the endless expression of languages.
The work by Huguette Caland is instead very ironic; she creates women’s clothing with a poetic and playful style and astute sexual allusions.
The Pavilion of Colours
The Pavilion of Colours was conceived by Christine Macel as the summary of all previous pavilions, before the last chapter. The Pavilion of Colours is an explosion of light, a firework, as Macel herself described it.
The oversize sculpture in natural and synthetic fibres Scalata al di là dei terreni cromatici / Escalade Beyond Chromatic Lands by the American Sheila Hicks dominates the scene: a protean assembly with vivid colours illuminates the Corderie, inviting visitors to touch the fabrics, to lean, and to interact with one another. The work by Hicks is a mix of design, architecture, art, and spontaneous performance produced by voluminous hanks expressing an “impartial weaving”, to quote Hicks, capable to activate, just because of its being imperfect, our inner child.
The Pavilion of Time and Infinity
Metaphysics of art is the core theme of the Pavilion of Time and Infinity. What kind of a time are we living in is the question artists gathered here ask themselves: a continuous present, a past repeating itself, or a near future containing actual events and memories?
Edith Dekyndt with her performance–installation One Thousands and One Night tries to capture the infinity of time: a carpet of dust illuminated by a moving beam of light is constantly swept by a broom to make sure that the fleeting and impalpable particles of dust remain always lit. But time cannot be stopped.
Liliana Porter creates a very powerful scene in El hombre con el hacha y otras situaciones breves, Venecia 2017, where a miniature figurine of a man with an axe seems to start a chain of disastrous events involving the small and the large scale. Gunfights, chases, broken vases, pianos that fall from above: where does the action begin and end?
The poetry of golden ceramic drops lying on black metal plates pervades the whole room dedicated to Chinese artist Liu Jianhua, who, with Square, reduces shapes to the essential and freezes in the solid state the liquid matter stopping the physico-chemical transformation.
Polish artist Alicja Kwade creates a labyrinthine architecture in steel and glass for her WeltenLinie, where sculptures of different materials (stone, bronze, aluminium, and wood) follow each other, and mirror and transform into one another, confusing visitors and making them unable to recognise their position and the logic of the maze: the space–time continuum follows the rules of a limit that inexorably tends to infinity.
At the actual docks, by the water, you’ll find Alicja Kwade’s Pars Pro Toto, composed of several circular natural stones spread out to form their own universe. And the neighbouring Giardino Delle Vergini, the exhibition ends with some very nice projects.
There’s Bas Jan Ader’s historic video Broken Fall, Erika Verzutt’s small sculpture garden alluding to a burial place for pets, Hassan Kahn’s beautiful sound piece Composition for a Public Park – a rightful winner of the Silver Lion, and a beautiful project by Dagestani artist Taus Makhacheva.
The only physical thing you’ll find of this last project is a small label saying there’s a performance happening at coordinates 45°23’30.8″N 12°24’47.7″E, where several performers appear and disappear on a capsized boat transported from the Caspian Sea of Dagestan to the open sea in front of the Venice Lagoon.
Venice Biennale 2017
The 57th Venice Biennale was an international contemporary art exhibition held between May and November 2017. The Venice Biennale takes place biennially in Venice, Italy. Artistic director Christine Macel, the chief curator at the Centre Pompidou, curated its central exhibition, “Viva Arte Viva”, as a series of interconnected pavilions designed to reflect art’s capacity for expanding humanism.
The curator also organized a project, “Unpacking My Library”, based on a Walter Benjamin essay, to list artists’ favorite books. Macel was the first French director since 1995 and the fourth woman to direct the Biennale. A trend of presenting overlooked, rediscovered, or “emerging dead artists” was a theme of the 57th Biennale.
The Venice Biennale is an international art biennial exhibition held in Venice, Italy. Often described as “the Olympics of the art world”, participation in the Biennale is a prestigious event for contemporary artists. The festival has become a constellation of shows: a central exhibition curated by that year’s artistic director, national pavilions hosted by individual nations, and independent exhibitions throughout Venice. The Biennale parent organization also hosts regular festivals in other arts: architecture, dance, film, music, and theater.
Outside of the central, international exhibition, individual nations produce their own shows, known as pavilions, as their national representation. Nations that own their pavilion buildings, such as the 30 housed on the Giardini, are responsible for their own upkeep and construction costs as well. Nations without dedicated buildings create pavilions in the Venice Arsenale and palazzos throughout the city.
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.
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.