National Pavilions at Venice Biennale Cultivate Awareness in 'Interesting Times'

  • VENICE, Italy
  • /
  • May 08, 2019

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Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir / Shoplifter. Chromo Sapiens, Installation view at the Icelandic Pavilion for the 58th International Art Exhibition - la Biennale di Venezia, 2019. Photo: Ugo Carmeni. © the artist

The 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia officially opens to the public this Saturday, and the 2019 edition is set to draw over a half million visitors through November 24 to ogle the world's biggest contemporary art extravaganza.

Artistic director Ralph Rugoff's theme of “May You Live in Interesting Times" for the main exhibition, suggests Phillip Kennicott in the Washington Post, is "a reference to a supposed ancient Chinese curse, but also a dog whistle to people who are feeling apocalyptic about the state of the world — environmentally, politically and spiritually."

Larissa Sansour and Søren Lind. A Monument for Lost Time, Installation view at the Danish Pavilion for the 58th International Art Exhibition - la Biennale di Venezia, 2019. Photo by Ugo Carmeni.

National pavilions, curated separately, include Martin Puryear: Liberty / Libertà representing the U.S. with massive sculptural works that reference across cultures, continents, eras, and perspectives. Other national pavilions offer a swath of artistic viewpoints, from the prospect of eco-disaster to our need for nature.

For the Danish Pavilion at Giardini, Danish-Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour created Heirloom, an otherworldly rumination on memory, history and identity. Curated by Nat Muller, the exhibition comprises of a two-channel science-fiction film, a sculptural installation and an architectural intervention, inviting the viewer into a dark universe.

The film, entitled ‘In Vitro’, is staged in the town of Bethlehem decades after an eco-disaster.  The dying founder of a subterranean orchard is engaged in a dialogue with her young successor, who is born underground and has never seen the town she’s destined to replant and repopulate. Inherited trauma, exile and collective memory are central themes," explains Sansour.

Curated by Birta Guðjónsdóttir, the Icelandic representation has Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir / Shoplifter using hair, her trademark material, to create a large-scale multisensory environment called Chromo Sapiens. The pavilion transforms a former warehouse in Giudecca into an immersive, cavernous environment where color, sound and irresistible textures guide the visitors through a journey that aims to heighten their senses and awareness.

Charlotte Prodger, SaF05, installation view Venice Biennale 2019, courtesy of the Artist; Koppe Astner, Glasgow and Hollybush Gardens, London. Photography: Cristiano Corte.

Chromo Sapiens is a visceral work: it evokes one’s desire to return to nature in a modern culture that is overwhelmed by artificial matters. The installation is accompanied by the specially commissioned sound work by Icelandic metal band HAM.

Scotland + Venice presents SaF05, a new single-channel video installation by 2018 Turner Prize-winning artist Charlotte Prodger. This commission - the artist’s most ambitious to date -  is curated by Linsey Young with Cove Park and takes place from May 11– November 24, 2019, at Arsenale Docks in the utilitarian workshop of a boatyard, repurposed for Prodger’s installation.

Much of Prodger’s work looks at subjectivity, self-determination and queerness. SaF05 is the last in a trilogy of videos that began with Stoneymollan Trail (2015) and was followed by BRIDGIT (2016). This autobiographical cycle traces the accumulation of affinities, desires and losses that form a self as it moves forward in time. SaF05 draws upon multiple sources – archival, scientific and diaristic – and combines footage from a number of geographical locations (the Scottish Highlands, the Great Basin Desert, the Okavango Delta and the Ionian Islands).


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