Visiting the 57th Biennale di Venezia

Exhibition Reviews

May 15, 2017

This year’s Biennale di Venezia not only showcased a modest display of the current state of contemporary art, but created attention through a lack of qualitatively curated and presented satellite shows, which unfortunately drew attention from the strong body of works that were shown simultaneously.

Despite the well-deserved Golden Lion for Anne Imhof and Franz Erhard Walther, some shows deserve a more in depth look, due to their excellent inherent quality of the artists’ works.


Venice Biennale 2017, entrance to the main Pavilion

Nika Autor at the Slovenian Pavilion, Arsenale

The News belongs to US! Newsreel 63 - The Train of Shadows consists of two main segments: a dedicated publication containing scholarly texts and visual elements, as well as a narrated black and white video work depicting the struggle of refugees traveling on the Belgrade-Slovenia rail line. The captivating archival footage of these journeys references the current situation of refugees, traveling not in coaches but between the wheels of trains to pass unseen through Europe. The connection between the publication and the video piece derives from Nika Autor’s ambition to communicate social criticism via an assimilation of regular news and a diversity of media, to introduce a distinctive narrative studying the line between the traditional informative form of “news”, a context driven and experimental multimedia-based communication approach to guide viewers through the narrative of reality, while leaving them to fill the blanks with their individual and unbiased thoughts.

Nika Autor - The News Belongs to Us!
Nika Autor - The News Belongs to Us!

Takahiro Iwasaki at Japanese Pavillon, Giardini

Takahiro Iwasaki’s discrete confrontation with the malaise in Japan after the accident in Fukushima and the aftermath of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, are precisely mirrored in his delicate sculptural work, documenting rural decay. This notion of decay is directly referenced in Iwasaki’s Out of Disorder series, creating architectural structures from towel fibers and strings, arranged in piles on the floor. The landscape that the artist refers to in this series, the Setouchi region, embodies a reminiscing providence of nature.

His Reflection Model, Ship of Theuseus, based on the Itsukushima Shrine, displays this notion of decay via the architecture of the original shrine itself, that has been designed to support intentional damage through nature to protect the center of the shrine, the main hall. By harnessing unavoidable damage, the main hall can continue to restore the identity of the object itself, a sense of continuous evaluation of cultural identification and upheld tradition in a disruptive environment.

The display in the Japanese pavilion allows one to draw the assumption that a theoretical and aesthetic reappraisal of Japan’s recent history, and the reference to a more traditional form of vocabulary, do not necessarily exclude each other within a contemporary artistic interpretation. More precisely, you can find a distinctive expression of historic fragility within Iwasaki’s formal language, as well as his defined and regulated manner of presentation.

Reflection Model (Perfect Bliss), 2010-2012
Takahiro Iwasaki - Reflection Model (Perfect Bliss), 2010-2012. Japanese cypress, wire, 150 x 280 x 194 cm. ©Takahiro Iwasaki, Courtesy of URANO. Photo by Keizo Kioku

Geta Brâtescu at the Romanian Pavillion, Giardini

The display of Geta Brâtescu’s oeuvre, which she extensively developed since the 60s, showcases her interdisciplinary approach to the depiction of female intuition in modular societies, as well as it modulates a conceptual arsenal of modernism. The exhibition focuses on two major aspects of the artist’s work: The Studio and the Reflection of Female Subjectivity. The most fascinating depiction of the theme of the studio, is being presented by a video work titled The Studio from 1978. The film comprises of human acts such as sleeping, walking and playing, which are used as the chapters of the film, and analyses the artist herself as an object in her most familiar artistic surrounding, while describing a framework of action that limits the physical capabilities of expression within an artificial setting, such as a studio.

The second topic of the exhibition, the Reflection of Female Subjectivity, is not only a consistent aspect in the works shown, but is being clearly articulated in the fascinating journey through Geta Brâtescu’s drawings and their relation to the artist’s concept of replacing the physical space with an intimate inner space, in which the societal depiction of female subjectivity becomes part of the sphere of art. Via the consequent restriction of her engagement with reality and the simultaneous reduction of her artistic expression to a singular phenomenological form, she ends up reducing the physicality of her works solely to the image of her hands – her last encounter with the world surrounding her.

Left Geta Bratescu - Myself and the Bird, 1993 Right Geta Bratescu - Hands, 1974-1976
Left: Geta Brătescu - Myself and the Bird, 1993 / Right: Geta Brătescu - Hands, 1974-1976

A Few Downs

As mentioned in the beginning, the general image created by this year’s Biennale might have suffered from a repetition of seemingly harmless displays within the main pavilion show Viva Arte Viva, and a notion of dominant satellite shows, that were not able to articulate a meaningful contribution or display of current contemporary artistic discourse, as the Biennale has historically embodied.

Nevertheless, some pavilions managed to promote avant-garde positions and extraordinary shows such as Intuition in the Palazzo Fortuny or Tehching Hsieh’s Doing Time in the Palazzo delle Prigioni, which allow one to overcome the few downs that accompanied this year’s Biennale.

Featured image: Venice, via Wikipedia.