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La Biennale di Venezia (Venice Biennale)
Giardini della Biennale, Viale dei Giardini Pubblici, 30122 Venice, Italy
June 1, 2013 - November 24, 2013

The National Pavilions, Part II: Politics vs. Imagination
by Federico Florian

My tour through the national pavilions goes on (see Part I). We have imagined it like an artistic dérive from the material to the immaterial, from the substantial to the ephemeral. But the word ‘material’ has not only to do with the physical consistency of things. The term denotes something concrete, actual and real – a type of pragmatic and exact knowledge. The accuracy of historical analysis as well as the pragmatism of political discourse can both be included into the realm of the ‘material’. On the contrary, the domain of the ‘immaterial’ embraces the mental drifts of an imaginative disposition – this airy territory hovers like a superstructure over reality. Several national pavilions in the Biennale reflect this dialectic between politics and imagination, history and fiction (an alternative way to conceive the material/immaterial antithesis). Some works on show explore the very structure of our own world; while others shape a parallel universe through a visionary attitude.

The German contribution – hosted in the French pavilion after a ‘switch’ of venues between the two countries – is part of the first group (the ‘material’ or rather the political side). The pavilion displays the works of four internationally renowned artists; among the others, powerful is the installation by Ai Weiwei, who assembled 886 three-legged wooden stools in a sprawling and enveloping structure – a critique to the industrial boom in China that has oppressed and alienated the single individual.

As expressions of the same historical-sociopolitical approach, I must mention the British Pavilion – a funny and refreshing inspection of ‘Britishness’ carried out by Jeremy Deller – and the Greek contribution – a three-channel video installation by Stefanos Tsivopoulos investigating the meaning of monetary value. Above all I loved the Lebanese Pavilion: it displays a film by the Beirut-based artist Akram Zaatari titled Letter to a Refusing Pilot. The video is inspired by an episode which occurred in the summer of 1982 during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon: that year an Israeli fighter pilot, refusing to carry out his commanders’ order to hit a public school in Saida, decided to drop the bombs in the sea. The video mixes historical references with the artist’s biography, political considerations with literary suggestions (the work starts with a framing of Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince): a delicate, dainty narration led in a masterly manner.

Richard Mosse, The Enclave, Pavilion of Ireland, particolari dell'Installazione, Fondaco Marcello, Calle Garzoni, San Marco 3415,  55th International Art Exhibition, Il Palazzo Enciclopedico, la Biennale di Venezia; Courtesy by la Biennale di Venezia / Photo by Italo Rondinella.


Ireland, instead, presents The Enclave, a multiple-screen film installation by Richard Mosse – a very political work about the atrocity and brutality of the conflicts in Eastern Congo. In a sort of attempt to rethink war photography and filmmaking, the artist uses a 16mm infrared film, able to register an invisible spectrum of infrared light, originally designed for camouflage detection. As a result, the video images – showing soldiers, women, children and the beautiful Congolese jungle – are rendered in the colors of magenta, lavender and cobalt. The effect is disorienting, unsettling and attractive at the same time – Mosse subtly explores the relationship between ethics and aesthetics, moral disapproval and artistic pleasure.

And what about the visionary and imaginative flow? How about the ‘immaterial’ side of the coin – that is to say the dreamy, romantic course? I can’t help but call attention to the French Pavilion. It features a video triptych by the Albanian artist Anri Sala, an ambitious project focused on the connection between sound and perception, body and music. The double projection in the main room shows the choreography of the left hand of two pianists while playing the same piece – Maurice Ravel’s Concerto in D for the Left Hand: the fingers’ movements on the keyboard make me think of a passionate, imaginative dialog between two dumb and inanimate interlocutors. An amazing work, emotionally charged and formally refined.

Edson Chagas Luanda, Encyclopedic City, Pavilion of Angola, 55th International Art Exhibition, Il Palazzo Enciclopedico, la Biennale di Venezia; Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia/  Photo by Italo Rondinella.


Referring to the main theme of the Biennale, the Pavilion of Angola – which makes its debut winning the Golden Lion for the best national participation – presents the solo show Luanda, Encyclopedic City by Edson Chagas. His installation, placed next to the collection of ancient art inside the Palazzo Cini, is composed of twenty-three photographic large-format posters: they show pictures of abandoned objects repositioned within the urban context of Luanda, Angola’s capital city. The posters constitute a kind of evocative metropolitan taxonomy; the visitors can interact with the work, collecting the images they prefer and so creating their own urban encyclopedia.

The Italian Pavilion is part of the ‘imaginative side’ too: it hosts a group exhibition curated by Bartolomeo Pietromarchi, focused on the idea of the double and the opposition. The fantastic, surreal element is strong in the show: Luca Vitone, for instance, features an olfactory ‘sculpture’ evoking the smell of Eternit (an immaterial portrait of the place where the first Eternit factory opened in 1907, Casale Monferrato); while in the garden a performance takes place by Sislej Xhafa, consisting in a coiffeur who receives his clients up in a tree (a literary reference to Italo Calvino’s The Baron in the Trees).

Denmark, finally, presents a multi-channel film and an installation by the New York-based artist Jesper Just. The real protagonist of this work is the urban environment: the film – projected on five screens – is set in a suburb of Hangzhou, in China, built like a replica of Paris. There are three male characters in the story; they seem to connect to each other through spatial intersections and imaginary crossroads. The videos of Intercourse evoke a dreamy, fluid landscape that invades the exhibition space with violet lights and isolated ruins – the atmosphere is eerily suspended, tension is kept high. The artist has been able to mold a scene as immaterial as the one that contains the entire Biennale cosmos: the beautiful, kaleidoscopic city of Venice.



Federico Florian 



To read more of Federico Florian's impressions of Venice, follow his Biennale Diary, published on KLAT magazine - Special Venice Biennale:

Biennale Arte 2013 Diario #01
Biennale Arte 2013 Diario #02. Arsenale
Biennale Arte 2013 Diario #03. Giardini
Biennale Arte 2013 Diario #04. Padiglione Italia
Biennale Arte 2013 Diario #05. Francia
Biennale Arte 2013 Diario #06. Libano
Biennale Arte 2013 Diario #07. Gran Bretagne


(Image on top: Stefanos Tsivopoulos, History Zero, Greek Pavilion, 55th International Art Exhibition, Il Palazzo Enciclopedico, la Biennale di Venezia; Courtesy by la Biennale di Venezia / Photo by Italo Rondinella.)


Posted by Federico Florian on 8/14/13 | tags: venice biennale nationalism sculpture installation video-art photography

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