Reinventing the World in the 2017 Venice Art Biennale

    The trip to the 57th Venice Art Biennale was off to an interesting start. Seated beside me on board the flight to Italy was Len Zuks, an artist and sculptor from Western Australia. Len was exhibiting at the Palazzo Mora on Strada Nova, where the Philippine pavilion had previously been for two years in a row before moving to Arsenale. The recently retired fitter of the University of Western Australia Facilities Management maintenance workshop was part of cross-section of international artists, who had been invited by the GAA Foundation to be part of the “Personal Structures—open borders” exhibition.

    Len took it upon himself to write his story on six pages of lined paper when it became apparent that sleep was claiming my attention. His handwritten manuscript included sketches of his sculpture pieces, one of which he dedicated, “To Anne on the aeroplane to Venice.”

    Filipino Artists in Venice

    This was the third visit to the Biennale since the Philippines returned to the international art mete in 2015, largely through the efforts of Senator Loren Legarda. A champion of heritage and art, the visionary legislator worked tirelessly to make the connection and mobilize resources for the country’s representation in Venice. Her efforts paved the way for intermedia artist Jose Tence Ruiz, filmmaker Manny Montelibano and Professor Patrick Flores to Tie A String Around The World and be part of a conversation with the world from the specific viewpoint of the Philippines through art expressions. The following year, the country was back at Palazzo Mora for the 15th Architecture Biennale, the country’s first participation with Muhon: Traces of an Adolescent City curated by Leandro V. Locsin Partners.

    This year, the country moved to Arsenale, one of the main venues for the country exhibitions. Joselina Cruz curated The Spectre of Comparison, bringing Lani Maestro and Manuel Ocampo together to convey a double consciousness of the Filipino situation from the perspective of living abroad. Besides Maestro and Ocampo, other Filipinos were also invited to be part of the arts organization’s exhibition by Christine Macel, the current director of the 2017 Biennale.

    New generation contemporary artists Katherine Nuñez and Issay Rodriguez presented an installation at the Giardini Pavilion that used embroidery and crocheting to engage viewers in a dialogue in between the lines 2.0.  Despite arriving midmorning at the venue, people were already crowding into the interiors of the small room. It was furnished with a desk and books that were entirely stitched together with embroidered and crocheted paper. The artists statement expressed the “value of the work incarnated in the object, going beyond its mere functionality….the soft pages of these stitched books evoke the way the mind must grasp its object of study in order to make it alive and concrete.”

    Threads, Fabrics, Weaves

    Seminal Filipino avant-garde artist David Medalla contributed A Stitch in Time, also an embroidery project that invited participation from viewers. Using scraps to symbolize an experience, people sewed the pieces on a fabric to create a moment of their collective experience.

    Stitching was also the medium for interacting with Lee Mingwei’s The Mending Project. I had previously come across the participatory installations of this Taiwanese American artist a few years ago in Japan and had become a fan. He replicated the interactive conceptual work using threads and sewing to provoke reflection and sharing among strangers. Visitors were invited to have their clothing articles mended at the site. Strands of thread used were extended to spools on the wall, creating airy rainbows across the walls.

    Fabric, threads and rope was everywhere in the Biennale. Ernesto Neto and the Huni Kuin in the Pavilion of Shamans had an open weave suspended from the ceiling to create Um Sagrado Lugar, A Sacred Space of the Cupixawa for social and political gatherings, and the spiritual ceremony of the Huni Kuin, the indigenous people living in the Amazonian forest of Brazil and Peru. U.S. artist Sheila Hicks stacked up big, colored balls against the wall in Escalade Beyond Chromatic Lands at the Pavilion of Colors. Spanish-born Teresa Lanceta sewed and painted on cloth in Rosablancas III, 2014-2016.  Abdoulye Konaté from Mali created a wall mural from textiles while Judith Scott from the U.S. wrapped 20 sculptures in colorful ropes. The textile installation of Sara Al Haddad at the Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates dropped from the ceiling in the piece entitled as you try to forget me.

    Reinventing the World

    Macel, who is also the curator of Centre Pompidou, conceptualized the 57th International Art Exhibition in Venice to promote the artist and their art, naming this year’s art gathering “Viva Arte Viva.” She explained, “Today, 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. (…) 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.

    “Viva Arte Viva is an exclamation, a passionate outcry for art and the state of the artist. Viva Arte Viva is a Biennale designed with the artists, by the artists and for the artists. It deals with the forms they propose, the questions they pose, the practices they develop and the ways of life they choose.”

    During his presentation of the 2017 Art Biennale, Paolo Baratta, president of La Biennale di Venzia said that “…what has always been our primary work method—encounter and dialogue—has now become the theme of the exhibition because this year’s Biennale is 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.”

    It is possible to cover the Arsenale and the Giardini  in three days, adding a couple more for other exhibitions around Venice beyond the Arsenale and the Giardini, but conversations require pause and reflection. I didn’t get to see Len Zuks works in the brief time I was there but possibly another visit before the finissage would provide the opportunity. The 2017 Art Biennale will run until November 26, 2017.

    Guide to the Venice Biennale

    1. The exhibits open at 10AM and close at 6PM.
    2. The main exhibitions are at the Giardini and the Arsenale.
    3. It is closed on Mondays, except on September 4, October 30 and Novembver 26.
    4. The ticket offices are located in Giardini and Arsenale.
    5. Regular ticket prices are 25E.
    6. Two-day tickets cost 30E.
    7. There is a weekly pass for 40E
    8. Giardini is accessed by vaporetto lines 1, 2, 5.1, 5.2
    9. Arsenale can reached by vaporetto lines 1, 4.1. 4.2
    10. There are guided tours, edicational itineraries, laboratories and creative workshops available in italian and other languages

    Text by Anna Sobrepena 

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