Philadelphia-based art historian Deborah Barkun talks about the pleasure and critical thinking that she discovers each time she explores the Venice Art Biennale and collateral events. Through her eyes, we understand that the venerated exhibition never fails to bring together a complex constellation of art encounters—always stimulating the senses and challenging the mind, always offering a glimpse into our contemporary psyche.
The 58th Venice Art Biennale: For the 2019 international art exhibition, London-based American curator Ralph Rugoff chose the title May You Live in Interesting Times. This is a phrase of English invention that has long been mistakenly cited as an ancient Chinese curse. The words ‘interesting times’ invoke periods of uncertainty, crisis and turmoil. Rugoff invited 79 artists from around the world who, in his words, “challenge existing habits of thought and open up our readings of objects and images, gestures and situations…entertaining multiple perspectives…holding in mind seemingly contradictory and incompatible notions, and juggling diverse ways of making sense of the world.”
The 2019 exhibition includes 89 National Participations in the historic Pavilions at the Giardini, at the Arsenale and in the historic city center of Venice. Four countries are participating for the first time: Dominican Republic, Ghana, Madagascar, Malaysia, and Pakistan. Twenty-one Collateral Events taking place across the city widen the diversity of voices that characterizes the Biennale.
Sound Editor: Anamnesis Audio | Special Audio recorded in Venice May-June 2019 | Photography and Instagram Take-Over: Deborah Barkun
See Deborah Barkun’s posts from the 58th Venice Art Biennale on instagram @freshartintl. Featured in this episode:
May 15: Congratulations to Lina Lapelyte, Vaiva Grainyte, Rugile Barzdziukaite, and curator Lucia Pietroiusti for Lithuania’s National Pavilion, “Sun & Sea (Marina),” winner of the 2019 Golden Lion Award. The tableau vivant, which unfolds on an indoor beach made from genuine Lithuanian sand, laments the effects of global warming in a weighty operatic performance.
May 18: Berlin-based Hito Steyerl’s “This is the Future” conducts viewers along a multi-tiered garden path lined with pulsating digital blooms, whose extracts promise to “poison autocrats” and to render the brain “unsusceptible for hate speech and austerity propaganda” by attaching to “political endorphin receptors.” Steyerl’s futuristic propagation of numbness questions assumptions about AI’s abilities to accurately predict outcomes. The critical complexity of this seems to derive from the transparency with which the work assumes AI to be a manifestation of humanity’s dubious prognosis of itself.
June 1: The dimly lit space of Shilpa Gupta’s sound installation, “For, in your tongue, I cannot fit” (Arsenale), compels viewers to navigate a dense field of upturned spikes, each of which displays a page of verse by a poet imprisoned for her or his works or political beliefs, and hanging microphones, which broadcast recitations of the illicit words, creating a resonant chorus of dissonant languages. Gupta’s title references the work of Imadaddin Nasimi, a 14th-century Azerbaijani poet.
Related Episodes: Art Historian Playlist: Deborah Barkun Listens to Joana Choumali, Samson Young: Songs for Disaster Relief, Mark Bradford Connects Art with the Real World, Lisa Reihana on Reversing the Colonial Gaze, Monument to Decay: Israeli Pavilion in Venice
Related Links: Venice Art Biennale