james debate
james debate

Sunday, 26 June 2022

Are you surrounded by water? Is the sun shining? Does the year end in an odd number? No... but, let's pretend that it does. It can only mean one thing. It's time for the Biennale!


ephemeric venice biennale 2022 art
Every two years, or three in this most unusual of circumstances, the Venetian Lagoon becomes the centre of the artistic community for six months. Quite why it was determined that the intense lagoonal humidity made an ideal setting for enjoying fine art in large crowds is lost to time, but it doesn't matter. All the big names in the world of art are here. So, after a late morning cicchetti and a quick vaporetto from the Zattere, we find ourselves at the Arsenale.

Superyachts line the canal as we approach the Giardini. Every corner of this town is burnished with special exhibitions and installations during this period, but it is here that one finds the main event: the national pavilions, permanent structures owned and managed by each of the participating nations, each housing the representative artist chosen by that nation's ministry of culture. 

There is much to see, more than can reasonably be done justice here. These are the highlights of what La Serenissima has to offer this year.


Republic of Korea

venice biennale korea 2022










Top of everyone's must see list at the 2022 Biennale is the Korean pavilion, exhibiting the work of Yunchil Kim. It's easy to see why, comprising a dazzling array of creations and machines that harmoniously blend the mechanical and biological. The centrepiece is Gyre (pictured), an undulating, mechanical snake-like contraption covered with articulated panels of iridescent fluid that honestly needs to be seen in motion to be appreciated. Other installations include a chandelier of liquid canisters, pistons and tubules that pumps Venetian water, a cascading tower of lights that reacts to subatomic particles, and a kaleidoscopic series of light-bending panels that uses special lenses to create a beautiful pattern effect around the movement of fluids. Korea's pavilion is a marvel both of engineering and aesthetics, a room of living, breathing sculptures that is everything a Biennale installation should be.

France

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Taking a very different approach is Zineb Sedira's French pavilion. An ode to the activist filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s, the pavilion is transformed into a film set, an editing room and a screening room, with cameras even set up to allow guests to briefly appear on screen. As an immersive setting, this is quite interesting to explore, albeit somewhat undermined by the many thousands of other Biennale guest cluttering all of the show spaces, occupying what interactive elements exist.

Malta

malta biennale venice 2022










Another one that really needs to be seen to be appreciated, Malta representatives Arcangelo Sassolino, Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci, and Brian Schembri have created an installation that utilises induction technology to create a shower of molten steel droplets falling into cold water, before hissing and fizzling out of existence. This is, believe it or not, intended to be a kinetic reimagining of Caravaggio's The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. As a visual effect it is quite eye catching and oddly haunting, although I wonder if it would still be so without the ominous music playing over the room's speaker system.

Hungary

venice biennale hungary 2022










This one you either love or hate. In this solo exhibition, Zsófia Keresztes uses tile mosaics to create some truly unique images. Moulded surrealist sculptures with an organic feel to them representing metamorphosis of the body. It's like someone tried to bring the imagery of Dali and Kafka to life in a Gaudi-esque form. Some people react with revulsion, others with fascination. In either case it's certainly worth seeing.

Austria

venice biennale austria 2022










With Austria's pavilion, Karola Kraus explores body consciousness through the imagery and tastes of our pop cultural history, drawing on the aesthetics of television, fashion and music to create a psychedelic dreamscape that. For something a bit lighter and more ironic, this is worth a look, as well as for its clear visual charm.

Uzbekistan

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Uzbekistan's pavilion is likely to fly under the radar somewhat, due in part to its location away from the main event space in the Giardini, but their Garden of Knowledge, created by Charlie Tapp and Abror Zufarov stands out to me as one of the more visually memorable spectacles. Floral sculptures and a fully reflective stainless steel floor create the illusion of walking on water in this most serene exhibition space (no shoes allowed though). There is something sublimely refreshing about this room, so long as you can get over the immediate sense of vertigo one gets from looking down.

Italy

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No round up of the different national pavilions can be complete without a mention of the home-team, Italy. By far the largest exhibition space, Gian Maria Tosatti has used the pavilion to reflect on the state of the nation and economic ennui. Divided into two sections, the first allows guests to explore a series of dusty warehouses filled with disused machinery and operational spaces, evoking the economic depression and stagnation that has become endemic. "The rise and fall of the Italian industrial dream". The second then turns to the balance of humanity and nature with "the destiny of comets", a dimly lit space filled with harsh, mechanical sounds astride a seemingly endless corridor of water, with the only visual landmark a series of moving, twinkling lights. Obtuse? Sure, but interesting.

The Central Pavilion

venice biennale central pavilion 2022










Of course, no visit to Biennale is complete without seeing the central pavilion, an expansive gallery space that features hundreds of different artists spread across multiple buildings. There's something for everyone, from fluorescing flowers to digitised cosplay that expertly blends computer and practical effects to create scenes that become difficult to separate reality from imagination. Precious Okoyomon has turned one gallery space into an expansive butterfly garden. Bogota-based artist Delcy Morelos turns another into maze of soil and farming equipment as a representation of cocoa and cinnamon farms. Most bizarrely, one room consists of a giant strange of what looks like human hair that fills the room. This one made me uncomfortable, not going to lie. The content here doesn't always succeed, but there's enough spectacle and ambition to justify the price of entry and make for an entertaining day out.

Other

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But Biennale extends far beyond the boundaries of Giardini and the Arsenale and worthwhile exhibitions can be found all over Venice. My pick this year was British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor, known for his ambitious, often surreal installations. This year he has taken up space in his own workshop at Palazzo Manfrin, as well as some gallery space at the Gallerie dell'Accademia. There are some old Kapoor favourites here. His wax catapult (unfortunately inactive here), his room of mirrors, and all manner of mind-bending optical illusions including recessed carvings that look to be floating and sculptures that appear 2D from some angles and 3D from others. Always worth a look.


So there you have a whistle-stop tour of this year's Biennale. This is, of course just a sample of all that there is to see around town this year. But for now, I need to find a place to cool off with a drink and some gelato. See you in two years' time!















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