The Venice Biennale 2017. National Pavilions

Xavier Veilhan’s Studio Venezia in the French pavilion (Image: © Giacomo Cosua)
Xavier Veilhan. Studio Venezia. French pavilion. Photo © Giacomo Cosua

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Part I – Venice Art Biennale

Every odd-numbered years, like this one, the eyes of the entire art world are directed to the Venice Biennial of Art. 

The 57th edition of the world’s oldest biennial — first edition dates from 1895 — and biggest art festival opened its doors past Saturday, May 13th and for the next six months, till Sunday, November 26th, will offer a cluster of 85 national pavilions, 29 of them hosted by the Giardini, 24 by the Arsenale, the former Venetian military dockyard, the remaining 32 pavilions and a vast number of other pavilions and fringe events located in churches and palaces all over the city.

In 2017, the central exhibition of the 57th Venice Biennale is titled VIVA ARTE VIVA, curated by Christine Macel, chief Curator at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, VIVA ARTE VIVA offers “a journey from the interiority to infinity” through a sequence of interconnected “Trans-pavilions” spread through the Giardini central pavilion and most of the Arsenale.

Carolee Schneemann, American painter and performance artist best known for landmark pieces in the feminist art canon, is the recipient of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. The jury of this 57th edition of the Venice Biennial is chaired by a Spaniard, Manuel Borja-Villel, director of the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid. On the 13th of May, during the inauguration, the award-winning pavilions were announced: Germany with Anne Imhof — featured in this magazine early this year, check the article here — has been awarded the Golden Lion prize for best national pavilion. In the international exhibition, the Golden Lion for the best artist has been adjudged to the 77-year-old German artist Franz Erhard Walther. The Silver Lion for a promising young artist in same group exhibition went to the Egyptian artist Hassan Khan for his Composition for a Public Park.

The exhibition includes 85 national participationseach with its own curator, which bring pluralism of voices to the hallmark of La Biennale. Also for this edition, selected collateral events promoted by nonprofit national and international institutions, present their exhibitions and initiatives in Venice. This publication will be dedicated to the national pavilions whilst the central exhibition and collateral events will be featured in a second part.

Following a small list of our favorite national pavilions sorted in alphabetical order and by location.


My Horizon by Tracey Moffatt, AUSTRALIA

Tracey Moffatt presents a set of open-ended narratives on migration, asylum, identity, and memory. My Horizon comprises two series of large-scale photographs and two new video works, which use carefully constructed scenarios while drawing upon inspirations as diverse as television news reports, poetry, Surrealist painting, documentary photography, Hollywood cinema and her personal memories.

Brigitte Kowanz + Erwin Wurm. AUSTRIA

The Biennale always manages to produce staggering images and experiences and in this year edition, with no doubt, is the observation tower in the form of an upended truck by artist Erwin Wurm at the entrance of Austrian pavilion. Wurm expanded the sculptural concept, converting the art objects into forms of action by producing sculpture performances, sculpture installations, space and architecture sculptures. Curator Christa Steinle linked Wurm’s Sculptures of One Minute to Brigitte Kowanz’s light installations which re-defined public space and architecture in an intangible way. Their participation in La Biennale extend the pictorial and sculptural medium towards architecture and the participation of the audience.

Chão de caça by Cinthia Marcelle, BRAZIL

In the installation Chão de caça/Hunting Ground developed by Cinthia Marcelle, an inclining floor made of welded grating occupies the interior of the two connected rooms of the Brazilian Pavilion. Ordinary pebbles, like those found in the surrounding Giardini, are squeezed into the grid. Interlaced with the grating and the pebbles, there are additional sculptural elements, a series of paintings and a video. The film is a one angle shot onto a tiled roof, gradually being dismantled from the inside by men whose bright-coloured uniforms suggest they might be prisoners. The men are creating an opening big enough to work on their escape or preparing for protest, remembering decades of prison uprisings all around the world.

Studio Venezia by Xavier VeilhanFRANCE

Known for his sculptural architectonic interventions in well-known modernist buildings, Xavier Veilhan turns the French Pavilion into a recording studio with an interior landscape of wood and fabric and which appearance that takes from Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbau — destroyed by the WWII. Together with curators Christian Marclay and Lionel Bovier, they have invite musicians and artists from around the world to play in the recording studio for the 173 working days of duration of the Biennale. The lists of musicians will only be partially unveiled in advance so it can remain a place for experimentation. Studio Venezia will be a collaborative stage where Veilhan has incorporated into the design numerous instruments that allows artists from different genres — from classical to electronic and from new compositions to folk styles— to work onsite.

Faust by Anne Imhof, GERMANY

German pavilion winner of Golden Lion with Faust, a performative live work by Anne Imhof that combines installation, scenography, choreography, dramaturgy, sound, painting, and sculpture over the pavilion where a completely transparent glass floor has been installed. Underneath the glass, you can see figures moving in the cavity between this specially installed surface and the actual floor a metre or so beneath. Unique-looking Imhof’s loyal crew of performers wear hoodies, sports clothes and jeans and their moves appear to take place almost entirely below the floor whilst the spectators provide another choreographed dimension as they follow the performer’s movements and a couple of dogs that are also lurking down there. According to curatorial statement, Faust has an extensive rationale about the flow of capital and the “world as a kennel”.

Laboratory of Dilemmas by George DrivasGREECE

Drivas’s Laboratory of  Dilemmas is a narrative video installation presented piecemeal through multiple films and sounds inside a labyrinth. Based on Aeschylus’ theatre play Iketides (Suppliant Women) dated from 464-463 b.c., which is the first literary text in history that raises the issue of a persecuted group of people seeking asylum, the work focuses on the play’s dilemma through the excerpts of a found footage of an unfinished documentary about a scientific experiment that was also never completed, and the hopes of the professor who envisioned it plus the disagreements with his co-researchers. Acclaimed actress Charlotte Rampling and other well-known Greek actors have roles in the play. The immersive video installation addresses contemporary sociopolitical issues and offers a peripatetic audiovisual experience that may create various different dilemmas to every visitor.


Mirrored, group show. NORDIC PAVILLION

Nordic Pavilion houses a collaborative exhibition between the three nations — Sweden, Finland, and Norway — that normally occupy the space by turns. The show presents the work of six artists from different generations and includes the spectacular Onda Volante, a dove-grey fibreglass installation by the septuagenarian Norwegian sculptor Siri Aurdal who has been making these ondulating modular systems since the 1960s. Nina Canell, Charlotte Johannesson, Jumana Manna, Pasi “Sleeping” Myllymäki and Mika Taanila complete the line up of Mirrored.

¡Únete! Join us! by Jordi Colomer, SPAIN

Understood as a continuity of his initial interests in sculpture and theater, Jordi Colomer’s exhibition at the Spanish Pavilion curated by Manuel Segade, director of CA2M in Móstoles (Madrid) is conceived as an installation of installations. The video series are concatenated short narratives that relate actions happening in different places. Each one of the video pieces, distributed through the transit and standing spaces at the exhibition, shows a collective exchange that represents an urban movement. “¡Únete! Join Us! is a vindication of nomadism as a collective agency” as explains the curator, Manuel Segade. “Lead by three women, this community in continuous displacement — understood as political, cultural or physical — belongs to the time to come and to the space to arrive”.

Women of Venice, group show. SWITZERLAND

Alberto Giacometti, probably the most famous Swiss artist of the 20th century, never represented his country at the Venice Biennale, not even in 1952 edition when the pavilion was designed by his younger brother Bruno. He declined repeatedly because he considered himself to be an international artist. Titled Women of Venice, after a group of plaster figures that Giacometti consented to be displayed in the French Pavilion in 1956, the exhibition sets seven royal-blue sculptures by Carol Bove in the yard. Inside, a new film by the Swiss/American duo Hubbard and Birchler, draws on their research into the now largely forgotten American sculptor Flora Mayo: the lover of Giacometti in Paris in the 1920s. Hubbard and Birchler have also reproduced a Giacometti bust by made originally by Mayo.

Folly by Phyllida BarlowUNITED KINGDOM

Phyllida Barlow’s sculptures and installations— built from plywood, cardboard, plaster, cement, fabric and paint — playfully challenges audiences to explore their own understanding of sculpture. The word folly has several meanings and the exhibition also explores dualities, such as fun and foreboding. Barlow enjoys juxtaposing familiar objects with abstract sculptural forms: outside the pavilion, an assembly of large-scale round sculptures spill over. Inside, there are towering gray columns and an enormous barricade drives you through to the rear gallery where a plasterboard-patchwork wall features a birdcage-like balcony that looks out to the lagoon. The dark gray used in these sculptures, reminiscent of the urban environment, is offset by bold colours, with pinks, reds, and oranges punctuating the works.

Tomorrow Is Another Day by Mark Bradford, USA

Mark Bradford, one of the key artists of the moment, transforms the US Pavilion’s Palladian elegance into a kind of cave with ravaged surfaces. On an almost cosmic scale, the first installation leaves visitors with a narrow pathway to enter the exhibition. In the central atrium, the walls have been papered over in black and then white, whilst coils of yellow and black climb to the domed cupola. The artist renews the traditions of abstract materialism painting, demonstrating that freedom from socially prescribed representation is profoundly meaningful in the hands of a black artist. Tomorrow is Another Day is a narrative of ruin, violence, agency, and possibility and also the belief in the capacity of art to engage people in urgent, profound conversations and action. For Bradford, abstraction is not opposed to content; at the contrary, it embodies it.


Werken by Bernardo Oyarzún, CHILE

Werken by Chilean artist Bernardo Oyarzún curated by Paraguayan Ticio Escobar, consists of the installation of 1000 Mapuche masks Collón made by 40 artisans from the Indigenous Mapuche community — of which the artist is a member —, located in the center of the room, shaping a figure with irregular contours that occupies approximately 10×11 meters. These are supported by rods of natural iron, around the walls there are led signs that show 6906 Mapuche surnames, corresponding to the total of the currently existing, despite state efforts to erase them.

CHILE. Werken. The 57th Venice Biennale – Photo: Italo Rondinella

Tremble Tremble by Jesse Jones, IRELAND

Jesse Jones has created a strident film and sculpture installation that intertwines the biography of a woman from three million years ago, stories of 16th-century with trials and contemporary debates around abortion — still illegal in Ireland.

Il Mondo Magico, group show. ITALY

The apocalyptic darkness of the Italian pavilion curated by Cecilia Alemani and titled after the book Il Mondo Magico/The Magic World written during WWII by anthropologist Ernesto de Martino, deals with magic, rituals and faith and its appearance in society in response to times of crisis. Artist Roberto Cuoghi has transformed the gallery into a workshop that produces life-sized models of naked men inspired by the devotional medieval figures laid out in sinister plastic igloos. Climbing a set of stairs one can see the reflection of the gallery’s vaulted roof in a lake of black water, Untitled (The End of the World) by Andreotta Calò confuses the border between reality and its mirror. The Adelita Husni-Bey’s video involves a group young people attempting to make sense of the world via tarot cards reading. Using de Martino words, “human worlds, are always ending, one apocalypse after the other” as this same time we are living in.

Life in the Folds by Carlos Amorales, MEXICO

Carlos Amorales’ sculptural ceramic, film and musical installation, Life in Folds/Vide en los Plegues curated by Pablo León de la Barra respond to the idea of failed states. According to the curator, Amorales uses an abstracted language to express traumas that happen around the world, “not just in Mexico or the USA”. What looks and sounds like a fairytale with a folkloric soundtrack is a much darker affair: the angular black shards are clay pipes, which musicians play at regular intervals, their strange shapes form an encrypted alphabet reproduced in framed wall texts. On the screen, they become figures in a forest. These figures represent a family that flees and appear lynched instead of welcome. The work is inspired by Henri Michaux’s namesake book that is about “being between things … between countries and cultures, and between opposed ideologies, between oneself and the other”.

Emissaries by Lisa Reihana, NEW ZEALAND

Emissaries features the artist’s vast panoramic video In Pursuit of Venus [infected], which is a reinterpretation of the French neoclassical wallpaper Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique/The Savages of the Pacific Ocean, which valorized Captain James Cook’s expeditions into so-called “primitive” cultures when he travelled to the southern hemisphere in 1769 to document the Transit of Venus. In the 26-metre panoramic film installation thought by Lisa Reihana, the wallpaper is transformed into an encounter between Polynesians and Europeans that visualizes the complexities of colonization via songs, dance, and performance.

NEW ZEALAND.Lisa Reihana:Emissaries. 57.Biennale di Venezia. Courtesy: The Arts Council of New Zealand

NEW ZEALAND.Lisa Reihana: Emissaries.Detail “Pursuit of Venus [infected]”,2015–17,Ultra HD video,64 min.

Candice Breitz + Mohau Modisakeng. SOUTH AFRICA

The exhibition explores the disruptive power of storytelling in relation to historical and contemporary waves of forced migration. Breitz’s seven-channel installation Love Story works on the conditions where empathy is produced. On a media-saturated global culture, strong identification with fictional characters and celebrity figures runs parallel to indifference with those facing major adversities. Featuring Hollywood actors Alec Baldwin and Julianne Moore, the work is based on and includes dense interviews with six refugees.The original interviews are screened in a room nearby. Modisakeng’s three-channel installation, Passage meditates on slavery’s dismemberment of African identity and its erasure of personal histories. Informed by a coming-of-age during South Africa’s violent political transition, Modisakeng practice grapples with black male identity, body, and place within a postapartheid context.

The Absence of Paths by Anonymous, TUNISIA

I successfully applied for a “Freesa (FREE VISA)”, a universal travel document in form of a small blue booklet issued in wooden cabins located across Venice that represents Tunisia at the 57. Biennale. The Absence of Paths shows via de booklet delivered, sobering statistics about the refugee crisis — 3.2 million people are currently in limbo — and information about passports — as for example the German one, the most powerful in the world, with visa-free travel to 176 countries.

ÇIN by Cevdet Erek, TURKEY

Cevdet Erek fills the Turkish pavilion with his architectural and sound work, ÇIN, an onomatopoeic Turkish word that translates as the reverberation of sound in an architectural space, as tinnitus and as the sound of a bell. In other words, resonance, pain, and ambiguity. On the 5th of May, Erek wrote a brief text with his thoughts about the making of the work that includes: fabricator of tales / distant past / war and death / reset with new jolt / ear pain … it’s a noisy disturbing experience indeed.

Off-site pavilions around the city of Venice

Murmuri by Eve Ariza, ANDORRA

Murmuri/Murmur is an installation of more than 9500 ceramic pieces filling the exhibition space one by one hand made by Eve Ariza. Placed in calculated patterns, the different tonalities of the clay suggest the different human skin color. Murmuri is a whisper that surrounds the pavilion, made of multiple other whispers, a mix of races and population fluctuations. The installation becomes a sensory experience as each bowl reveals its own natural resonance. Liberated from the burden of any explicit narrative content, the work first provokes an intense physical dialogue with the viewer but the murmurs emanating recall that first purely poetic vibration that originated all human communication. According to the artist “the idea is to transform the noise, the blah-blah-blah into poetry. It is a work on communication and isolation, where everyone has a voice. It is thought to unite not to separate”

Murmuri by Eve Ariza. Andorra Pavilion. 57 Venice Biennial. Photo: Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Alex Tena.

Andorra: Palazzo Ca’ Cappello Memmo inside the Institut de Santa Maria Della Pietà

Archaic, group exhibition + Francis AlÿsIRAQ

The Iraq proposal interrogates the notion of the “archaic” and its dual meaning: it can simultaneously refer to an ancient cultural heritage and a fragile contemporary political entity. Forty ancient objects from the National Museum of Iraq — as medical artifacts, statues, toys, and jugs — dating back over 6100 years will share exhibition space with contemporary Iraqi artists Sakar Sleman and Nadine Hattom installation works, Sadik alFraji, Sherko Abbas and Luay Fadhil video works, and Ali Arkady‘s photos on the ongoing Mosul campaign against ISIS. In dialogue with the alive previous artist are shown Jawad Salim (†1961), considered the most influential artist of the Iraqi modern period and Shaker Hassan Al Said († 2004), his pupil and friend. Mexico City-based artist Francis Alÿs also joins the crew with an installative work that incorporates drawings, paintings, photographs and notes examining the role of the artist in war and themes of nomadism. Besides that, Alÿs, embedded with Kurdish troops in Mosul, presents a video work that features people on the move, against a backdrop of coalition bombing, and in particular, his interactions with children in refugee camps.

Iraq: Third floor of Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, Grand Canal, San Marco

ŠamaŠ by Zad Moultaka. LEBANON

Zad Moultaka, Lebanese visual artist, and composer has created monumental work ŠamaŠ for the Lebanese pavilion in the Arsenale Nuovissimo. Haunted by the idea of joining the shores of East and West in a single voice, Moultaka has erected a mechanic totem dedicated to the Babylonians’ god of the sun and justice, — ŠamaŠ — depicted on the Code of Hammurabi, engraved on a tall, black basalt stele nearly 1750 b.c. By having a monumental bomber motor, that in the darkness diffuses chants and litanies, set against a sparkling wall cover in golden coins that evokes the Golden Calf, the piece confronts barbarism using a synergy of forms, materials, and sounds that combines musical invention with visual research in a radical approach in which technology is born from the archaic.

Lebanon: Arsenale Nuovissimo, Tesa 100
After this long review of supposedly the best of each country, we can conclude that the Venice Biennale has emerged as the place where all art scene: dealers, collectors, curators, advisors, artists and even museum people come to a consensus on what art is important. Anyone who is anyone in the art world has to be here. New artists are anointed as stars, and the status of existing art celebrities is reinforced. Whereas, this year cohabitant in time, documenta is often impenetrable avant-garde, and art fairs are by definition strictly commercial, Venice manages to find a spot between the two.

The 57th International Art Exhibition – The Venice Art Biennale 2017
May 13th  – November 26, 2017

Text: María Muñoz. Photos: Paco Neumann
Images: Courtesy of theVenice Art Biennale

Front featured photograph: FRANCE, Studio Venezia by Xavier Veilhan57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, Viva Arte Viva. Image: © Giacomo Cosua (for the artnewspaper)


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