The 2019 Biennale of Venice, with its successful and less successful artworks, undoubtedly achieved its aim of involving viewers by provoking our senses, challenging us with difficult installations, testing our intelligence and sometimes even bringing patience to a limit. In the French, Venetian, Philippines and Italian pavilions, to name just a few, one feels disoriented.
Laure Prouvost in the French pavilion has created a “liquid” installation, Deep Sea Blue Surrounding You (Vois Ce Bleu Profond Te Fondre), where from the entrance objects that look as though they come from a shipwreck are scattered on the floor. Entering a dark room where a video is projected, the heart of the installation, again one feels a sense of precariousness, due to the sinking of the carpet on which visitors walk (the liquid universe of the sea) and the images of the film: a sprawling octopus is a recurring figure, a representation of a fluid and globalized world in which different realities meet and mix. The actors, of various ages and each with different abilities, begin their journey from Paris to reach northern France and finally Venice, the floating and sprawling city par excellence. The pavilion offers an immersion in the blue of our deepest being in search of our own identity.
The Venice pavilion also represents the city on the water: visitors are invited to walk through a tunnel on the “liquid” floor of an inflatable structure. An enveloping experience that (almost) solicits all five senses: while walking on the water visitors are immersed in the fog (a very frequent element in this lagoon city), the sense of smell is stimulated by a mix of smells accompanied by background music. The characteristic mooring poles of the boats are deceptive like the fog: they are made of marble, not wood. At the end of the tunnel, a film by Ozpetek allows visitors to savour once again the nuanced and ever-changing beauty of Venice.
In the Philippines pavilion, Island Weather, through a series of mirrors and LED lights, visitors feel as if they’re free flying over the islands that make up the country’s archipelago. Standing on a glass platform and looking inside, one sees a sort of infinite depth with objects such as lighthouses, marine vegetation, wrecks, bottles, images of life on the islands, worlds moving between land and sea. Just like the islands, art keeps us afloat, says the artist who created the work; it supports our spirit.
Neither Nor: The challenge to the Labyrinth is the intriguing title that the curator of the Italian pavilion, Milovan Ferronato, chose for the works of three young artists: Enrico David, Chiara Fumai (who recently died at 39) and Liliana Moro.
The labyrinth, which subtends a non-linear exhibition path, lets the viewer choose the direction to take and offers multiple interpretations. It is a challenge; Ferronato refers to the illustrious precedents in Calvino and Borges, among the greatest scholars of labyrinths.
Venice itself is a great maze, where people easily get lost in its calli (streets), in alleys that do not lead anywhere; visitors are forced to retrace their steps, and perhaps focus on a particular bridge, sub-portico or channel to orient themselves.
Trying to untangle myself in this pavilion: at the beginning a sign indicates the choice of a left or a right pathway; each direction is good, and there’s no need to hurry. I take the left path. The music of “Bella Ciao”, symbolic song of the fight against Nazi fascism resonates at the entrance in 15 different languages: the work of Liliana Moro shows us the values that we must not lose sight of, especially in these dark times.
In front of a mirror Enrico David’s sculptures are placed and reflected: unstable shapes, they search for support points in the surrounding world. Precarious figures, bent over arched architectural motifs, bodies that seem to liquefy, small heads that suddenly appear, archaic, primordial forms that speak to us about the body and its metamorphosis.
The curator has reconstructed Chiara Fumai’s mural interrupted by her premature death and exhibited for the first time. Ferronato compares it to the Antro della Sibilla in a cave of artists. The work runs along all the walls, like a common thread of the journey, like Ariadne’s thread that guides us in search of symbols, maps, words like mysticism, magic, power, enigmas drawn and written by a restless artist, who loved disguise, esotericism and mystery.
On a curve of the labyrinth are works of Liliana Moro, made using different techniques and materials. She uses paper, foam rubber, glass, as well as neon lights. Avvinghiatissimi (Very Clingy): two foam rubber mattresses tied together with red straps to the structure of a bed tell us of an enveloping passion, a stringent and suffocating love. Tango music is played by Piazzolla. The Sword in the Stone is a blown glass composition on the ambiguity of political power, never completely transparent. Finally, the neon installation Né in cielo né in terra (Neither Heaven nor Earth) seems to allude to a third possibility, as the title of the exhibition suggests.
The affirmation of Jimmie Durham, awarded the Golden Lion, seems to best exemplify the spirit of this Biennale: “If I make a piece, I don’t want it to say what I would say, because then it becomes me talking through the piece. I want to understand if I can make the object establish a conversation with anyone who observes it. … to see if I can make the object talk, on its own, with me, and with the audience. Not to have a prerecorded speech for the audience, but to engage in a kind of conversation.”