La Biennale in Venice
A sporadic collection of thoughts and reactions
I’m in Rome on my way back to Malta from Venice. It’s been two intensive days of absorbing the Venice Biennale and my mind is still active with a million thoughts related to what I have seen and experienced.
With so many things happening in a very small radius, the Biennale di Venezia is a true assault to the senses. Press preview days are especially intense with queues for all the pavilions that got rave press reviews, launch drinks happening every 5 minutes and an endless supply of fascinating things to experience.
My first day, Wednesday, was Homo Melitensis day through and through. As the exhibition that got me to Venice in the first place (I assisted the two curators and am taking care of social media for the campaign), I spent most of the day in and around the Malta Pavilion and later at (fabulous) Malta drinks hosted by Francis Sultana. Differently from all of the other country pavilions I saw, Malta’s two artist-curators, Bettina Hutschek and Raphael Vella, did not focus on one or two artists or commission work specifically for the exhibition. Instead they created a weird and wonderful collection of all things Maltese. A mixture of contemporary artworks from 13 local artists (some from the diaspora), items from museums around Malta and objects from everyday life that came from private collections, flea markets and all around the Islands. The objects were categorised in 19 chapters to form “An Incomplete Inventory’ of what makes Homo Melitensis (Maltese man). The chapters were categorised using the Maltese alphabet, with letters from A to O starting with Il-Mamma and ending with the all encompassing but incomplete Et Cetera.
The result was a pavilion that looked like some kind of cross between a Maltese festa (complete with two Pavaljuni from the Pawlini in Valletta, two cikcifogu wheels from St Philip band club in Zebbug and a video by Adrian Abela, Nebula 002, showing fireworks’ resulting cloud patterns), and a Maltese museum. My favourite objects (among many others) include the list that makes up Ċ: Things We Know About But Haven’t Seen (including Panama Accounts, The Chapel of Bones, Darren Tanti’s L’Annalisa (G: Physiognomy), a Lidl cap celebrating the Malta presidency of the EU (J: Things People Put On Their Head), Roxman Gatt’s video depicting the complete absurdity that is Maltese swearing in visual language ‘Virgin Mary Love Juice’ (Ġ: Subjects To Avoid When Talking To Strangers).
Homo Melitensis aside, I also managed to sneak a quick peek at some of the other works at the Arsenale. I was literally mesmerised by Ernesto Neto’s Um Sagrado Lugar which he created in partnership with members of an Amazonian tribe from Acre in Brazil. Being inside the space immediately transported me to Brazil and my beautiful experiences there, even before I read it was created by a Brazilian artist and Amazonian tribe. I actually bumped into Ernesto Neto at Giardini on Thursday and got to tell him in person how moved I was by his work.
Thursday I dedicated to roaming Giardini. I had read fleeting reviews of what pavilions to see but frankly I could have just looked out for the queues. Rave reviews = endless queues = avoid till later, so I only managed to see what everyone was on about quite late in the day, almost at closing time. Finland was definitely the wackiest of the lot, with Erkka Nissinen and Nathaniel Mellors’ s The Aalto Natives which included a talking box and egg projector, a story that literally moved around the room and enough humour and absurdity to have everyone come out of there with a slightly perplexed smile. I also absolutely loved both of Lee Wan’s works at the Korean pavilion. Counterbalance followed the story of Mr. K through 1,412 photos and personal items (bought for $50 at an antique market) intricately captioned in handwritten lettering on the wooden wall, as well as Proper Time, 668 clocks with names, occupations and locations of people, each moving at different speeds based on how long it takes that individual to work for one meal. Must sees for me also include Geta Bratescu’s beautiful collection ‘Apparitions’ at the Romanian Pavilion, the curious Hepatitis cure study story at the Greek Pavilion ( I really loved their storytelling), Takahiro Iwasaki’s Turned Upside Down, It’s a Forest at the Japanese pavilion and the crossovers between the watching and the watched in the glass German pavilion.
I didn’t get to see much outside of the two main Biennale locations but I did have my Freesa (Visa for all of Pangea) made at the little passport stall from the Tunisian pavilion ‘The Absence of Paths’ curated by Lina Lazaar which I thought was both brilliant and very timely. I haven’t yet tried to use it while crossing borders though.