56th Venice biennale (2015) is over and now it’s voting time. Using format of Eurovision song contest voting I will now share my thoughts about which national pavilion I as a representative of Finnish nation would choose to win the Gold Lion this year. Unfortunately I was not able to see the real winner, Armenian pavilion, since it was closed already when I visited the biennale (18-21.11).
When I was rating the pavilions, I was focusing for example which pavilions represent the cutting edge art (=ideas I consider a bit more fresh and new), which pavilions the audience seemed to like and which pavilions where mentioned in professional reviews. I also put high emphasis on curating and preferred clear, harmonious pavilions focusing on single work or theme instead of pavilions representing 10 different artists having loose connection to each other. And finally, it was also important that the art work(s) would give some insights/feelings already in few minutes since majority of the visitors spend only maximum few days in the biennale and are already exhausted coming to the pavilion. Sometimes it can be relaxing to spend hours in one exhibition, but in biennale every pavilion can’t demand to watch 2 hours of videos and read 20 pages of text that demand slow digestion.
Since all of my readers might not have the patience to read my entire post, I can already reveal that if we were to change the biennale place every two years, the next Venice biennale would be held in Reykjavik. Yeah, I know we Scandinavians love to vote for each other, but you can see I didn’t choose Denmark or Sweden to my list even though Denmark were very visible in professional reviews. Personally I found Danish pavilion too exhausting to grasp with it’s poetic complementary material (pity anyway that I missed Dahn Vo’s exhibition in the city, since it was not in the biennale guide).
12 points goes to Iceland
I was not able to see the Iceland pavilion since it was closed 2 weeks after opening, but I was anyway passing by and this was all that was left (was not sure was this rusty construction part of the pavilion).
So the artist of Icelandic pavilion this year was Christoph Büchel, who is creating installations that simulate normal environment/internal spaces that often convey extreme psychological mindsets. In this case he transformed a Venetian church to a mosque (Santa Maria della Misericordia, that has been closed for 40 years). The installation is called “The Mosque: The First Mosque in the Historic City of Venice” and is made together with muslim communities of Iceland and Venice. Sadly, it was closed by authorities after 2 weeks from opening, but on the other hand it makes the installation even more epic.
What I find here interesting that it was indeed not a Charlie Hebdo’s soulmate. No, it was mosque built together with muslims themselves and to a chuch that has been out of use more than 40 years, in a city that has 149 churches. Rarely art work is so painfully contemporary: peaceful acts of normal people are considered too political because of the small aggressive minority (ISIS, Breivik etc. Authorities themselves didn’t consider installation unholy, but were afraid of the risk of violence).
I would say the soulmate of Icelandic pavilion this year was the pavilion of Indonesia that was installation called Trokomod, combination of Indonesian dragon Komodo and Trojan horse, by artist Heri Dono, that was also in the spirit of combining different cultures and same time ironically refering to the fear/threat (depending how the spectator wants to interpret it) of multiculturalism.
10 points go to Switzerland
I found the Swiss pavilion intellectually most profound and inspiring work, maybe one reason is that the artist Pamela Rosenkranz is studing wide area of disciplines independently including natural science and then applying the knowledge in her artistic work. And what I specially liked was her way to explore things as a scientist, not rushing to make value statements, that could be very easily made when we talk about human’s effect on nature. Here in biennale in her installation “Our Product” she has created a huge pool of pink water that resembles average skin tone of north European. In the water we can see bubbling and at least I get the feeling this is the pool, where evolution starts (artist comments it’s something what you either feel like to drink or where you feel like to dissolve). In the entrance there’s a book, that has listed all the ingredients the pool contains, many of them synthetic chemicals. Entrance is filled with bright green light having artificial feeling.
The skin tone refers how in marketing they often use the colour to attract more consumers, since on average people are attracted by it, and then she wants to explore whether there is nowadays clear border between synthetic and organic, since in the nature we can already find manmade leftovers from different manufactured products. She has used water many times in her installations, since in people’s mind it’s something transparent, pure and purifying, even though practically it’s containing huge variety of different molecyles beside H2O. Also the fluidity of water symbolizes the current multidisciplinary idea about personality’s nature as something that fluctuates instead of being solid.
No comments is it bad or is this good to have manmade chemicals in the nature beside the ones made by other species, it’s just practically what we have at the moment. P.S. I wonder if anybody swam in Swiss pavilion. Hopefully Pamela will allow that in her next installation.
8 points go to Serbia
I wanted to give high position to Serbia, since I liked the irony to have work “The United Dead Nations” in the pavilion with writing “Yugoslavia” and because on the other hand in the city there were unofficial pavilions refering to those who are not citizens of any country or unable to live in the country they have citizenship, and on the other hand still in many artworks there are references to these dead nations, especially Soviet Union. The artist Ivan Grubanov has done abstract painting on the floor with the old flags of these nations and left the flags on the floor like cleaning rags.
7 points go to Japan
The work of Shiharu Shiota in Japanese pavilion was not maybe the most cutting edge art (conceptual level is quite traditional), but it should share one of the top places if the opinion of audience would be considered. At least it’s one of the most visually impressive installations in biennale. What I find interesting in this installation is it’s “innocent” boat/key metaphors, that turn much more political if you consider the events in the Mediterranean this year and before. I already stated that Japan should receive the Hypocrisy Prize, because of the location far away from major refugee countries and the not so open immigration policy of Japan.
6 points go to Poland
I didn’t honestly spend long time in the Polish pavilion, but I very much liked the idea J.T Jaspen and Joanna Malinowska, that have brought Poznan Opera House to a village in Haiti to perform Halka, the national opera on Poland, also recruiting local participants for the dancing. Poland and Haiti have common history in 19th century when Napoleon recruited Polish soldiers to help with the Haitian rebellions, but instead of their initial task they ended up helping the rebellions and therefore makind Haiti independent. The work is inspired by movie Fitzcarraldo, that tells about madman’s fixating to bring opera to Amazon.
5 points go to Mexico
The artists are Tania Candiani and Luis Felipe Ortega, who have created installation “Possessing nature” exploring the similarity between Venice and Distrito Federal (capital city) of Mexico. Where Venice is sinking to its lagoon, Mexico City is sinking to the ground (while groundwater is pumped up, the ground sinks). Both cities you can find crooked buildings, but practically Mexico city is sinking faster. The installation in biennale is consisting of steel wall containing hydraulic plumbs that draws water from the Venice lagoon. The water moves inside this sculpture ending up finally in a reflecting pool that returns water to it’s original place. The trajectory mirrors the way Mexico City’s hydraulic system operates. In the reflecting pool are images from past and present of Mexico and Venice.
4 points go to Netherland
The artist of the pavilion of Netherland was this year Herman de Vries with his installation “To be all ways to be”. I chose Netherlands in my list since it’s representing one of the essential “movements” in contemporary art: collecting and assorting. The artist himself has a background in natural science. I wouldn’t say that “from earth, everywhere” is unique, since I saw the same idea when I was visiting Echigo Tsumari triennale in Japan, but who knows who were to person to invent that different soil colours would make a intresting artistic installation. The Netherland’s pavilion is in a way partner of Swiss pavilion, also the message is to explore the nonexistent border between nature and culture.
3 points go to Slovenia
I wanted to take Slovenia to my list just to support different ways of doing the pavilion. In this case it’s 28 weeks long scheduled performance organized by JASA, containing bunch of performers doing repetitive actions expressing solidarlity and unity. It was interesting to stand inside the construction and observe who is part of staff and who is audience. I don’t know how many representatives of audience participated as a surprise, at least I had for a moment a desire to do something absurd I wouldn’t normally do in a public place.
2 points go to Norway
I was first thinking to keep Norway out of my list, but more and more I explore the concepts behind the work, more and more I start to like the installation of Camille Norment “Rapture”. In many works of Venice biennale you can see some stereotypical elements of Venice and I think “Rapture” is by far one of the best example I have seen, combining the water and the glass (that has a structure of solid liquid). The wall of the pavilion is filled with broken windows and glass and inside you can hear music made with glass armonica, that has curious history with loads of rumors that women get aroused listening to glass armonica or that people go mad. That makes to think about whatkind of effects music can have in society and in private lives. During the biennale there have been several musical shows in the pavilion.
1 point goes to Iran
Since there have been many pavilions that have many artists, I think I have to mention at least one and Iran seemed to please many. I would say they had a nice balance of so called universal works and works that have more middle east spirit. The exhibition itself was consisting beside Iranian art also art from the nearby countries.