The 2013, the theme of the 55th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia selected a theme based on Marino Auriti’s The Encyclopedic Palace to “realize” metaphorically the unfulfilled dream or imagination of this early twentieth century Italian immigrant in the United States: “An entirely new concept in museums, designed to hold all the works of man, in whatever field, discoveries made and those which may follow.” His conception, proposed in the 1950s, projected his confidence in the future of mankind and reflected the optimism of mankind as the dominant species on Earth, capable of conquering any obstacle. All mankind’s “achievements” could therefore be eternally gathered and enshrined in the repository of museums; but can the imagined 136-floor museum adequately contain endless human ambitions and desires?
The globalized world we live in today is very different from the modern period in which Marino Auriti lived and imagined mankind’s “blissful future.” The capitalist economy’s endless demand for development, progress, profit, efficiency, and all of these “forward-looking” concepts has, on the contrary, become the most virulent enemy of human survival. Mankind’s seeking this unnatural path and demand for resources to fulfill human “progress” have brought human beings to the brink of destruction.
While human society celebrates globalization, the dominance and control of the First World have never been globalized; on the contrary, they are concentrated in the hands of a few. In this situation, globalization is also a means for the First World to convince less powerful nations to subjugate themselves. In order to be incorporated into this global system for survival, weak countries are compelled to obey this new structural reorganization of the First World.
Yet the highly industrialized nations seldom take responsibility for global environmental and climate crises, because any steps taken would jeopardize their own national interests — weaker economic growth indicators, rising unemployment rates, and rising prices, resulting in higher inflation. In this unnatural trend we incessantly look for excuses to continue our “progress,” but in reality, we are destroying our only space for survival.
This exhibition seeks to promote the artist Vincent J.F. Huang’s dialogue to awaken people to the realization that there is only one Earth. All residents of this planet, whether from the First or Third World, large or small nations, or stateless entities, animals, plants, the North and South Poles, the Equator, the continents and islands, are all going to end up victims of this calamity resulting from incessant greed. We represent the island nation of Tuvalu in applying for the 2013 Venice Biennale, and aim to bring home the notion that our destinies are intertwined.
Tuvalu itself is a nation with the lowest carbon output on Earth—there are only two flights from Fiji to Tuvalu per week, and each flight is a small 42-seat airplane. But Tuvalu will be the first nation to be swallowed up by the rising sea level. In order to explicate the relationship of intertwined destinies, we chose animals from habitats in the South Pole, North Pole and Tuvalu. From this threat to their survival, we demonstrate that from the South Pole to the Equator, and to the North Pole, no place on Earth will be spared this calamity. When this destruction peaks, there will no longer be a distinction between the First World, Third World, developed nations and underdeveloped nations.
The animals we chose include polar bears from the North Pole, the sea turtles of Tuvalu, and penguins from the South Pole. In the work Oil Rig, we reveal that this climate calamity is a result of human greed. In order to sustain a comfortable lifestyle, humans incessantly consume and seek new energy sources, which have affected the climate and endangered the polar bear’s survival. In recent years, it is no longer shocking news that polar bears, due to a lack of food, have begun to eat their own cubs. The habitat of Tuvalu’s sea turtles will also be destroyed when the sea level rises. Unless this species of sea turtle has the wisdom to seek other habitats, it will be gone with Tuvalu itself. The oil rig, emblematic of human greed, the polar bear, and Tuvalu’s sea turtle have intertwined destinies.
In the work Naked Truth, we use penguins, feathers plucked out, passing out papers or enjoying sunbathing on beaches, to challenge viewers’ conventional wisdom that penguins don’t belong here – but indeed they are here – and to generate crisis-consciousness. The penguins hanging from nooses throughout the exhibition will enhance this psychological impact.
Using a composition derived from an ancient Chinese painting, depicting government officials indulging in wanton excesses and debauchery, we use penguins partying and disregarding the melting ice beneath them to reveal the crises humans face today. In the last work of the series, we place the remnants of human civilization (present-day iconic landmarks) in a fish tank, where they are eroded by seawater and overgrown with coral reefs, to foretell the outcome of human civilization.
Marino Auriti’s granddaughter B.G. Firmani told a thought-provoking story. She described her mother’s dream many years after her grandfather had passed away. In this dream, Marino Auriti appeared as a young man, holding in his hand a tree whose root ball was still intact. Looking at his daughter, Auriti said, “Io vivo (I live).” If Auriti’s Encyclopedic Palace was an illusion of overconfidence in human destiny, then his appearance in a dream, holding a fragile plant in his hand, seems to question whether human destiny and the Earth will escape from this self-inflicted calamity.