Why the Venice Biennale 2019 was the perfect inspiration
3 days in Venice, 24 hours looking at, interacting with and analysing art. What an experience! I feel like I have only just begun to process the things I saw in those last few days. So many inspiring, powerful pieces of art! And at the perfect time - I am in the middle of preparing for my graduate exhibition. Here are my personal highlights and my most important insights and inspirations for my own art practise.
First of all, I loved the number of LGBTQ+ art and artists. As I am currently researching on representation of trans* people in art, I was beyond excited to be able to find so much I could probably base my whole Bachelor Thesis on this one exhibition. As a queer artist myself it was a very empowering experience and I am feeling more confident than ever about the video installation I am currently working on. I've been worried about it being too bold, too provocative. Now I'm actually looking forward to it, as it seems like I am in good company.
Artworks at the Biennale included nonbinary dance performers, trans rights, personal stories, portraiture and so on.
Pavilions/Art pieces addressing Trans* Topics or starring Trans* people
On trans day of remembrance 2018, the numbers showed 167 trans people killed in Brazil. That’s roughly two thirds of the worldwide number. With their right wing government, it will probably not get any better, although the country is actually known for being very LGBTQ+ friendly. The Brazilian video by artists Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burc doesn't fail to make every viewer smile. It is called “Swinguerrea”, named after swingueira, a dance movement in Brazil, and the Portuguese word for war. It is shown on two large screens and includes mostly nonbinary and black dancers. Scenes of dance rehearsals alternate with people imagining their own music videos with themselves as the star. The words of the songs are overly sexualised. Curator Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro says: “At a moment of significant political and social tension in Brazil, the predominantly black bodies on the screen, many of them nonbinary, are in many ways at the center of contemporary disputes on visibility, legal rights and self-representation.”
We definitely need more representation of trans people everywhere. In my opinion it is equally important to see people who just happen to be trans without their gender identity being the main topic, and to have the main focus on trans topics in other places.
This pavilion has been converted into a hospital. Visitors have to pick a number and wait while watching a video work by artist Aya Ben Ron who established “Field Hospital X”. The video informs about the hospital’s ideology, the care-areas and care-kits. When your number is called you choose a care kit and go on to a safe-unit, where audio instructions teach you a self-contained shout inside a soundproof room. In the next care area, you have to sit on the care-chairs, put heaphones on and watch a video on a personal screen. Which video you are seeing depends on the care-kit you chose.
The project was originally created a as a safe space to watch a video by Aya Ben Ron where she tell her story of abuse in the family. The artist built a place where people would see and listen to her story, as well as to other stories that need to be heard.
After watching the video you can get “a second opinion” by “experts” in their field (lawyers, psychotherapists, etc.), talking about the video you just saw.
I went through the process a few times and finally watched “block of clay” by Roey Victoria Heifetz and Zohar Melinek-Ezra, a video about gender identity and alienation from the body. The artist speaks very openly about her internal struggles during her coming out and about her fears and thoughts concerning hormone and surgical treatment. A very honest and emotional video that I could relate to so well I could feel it in my own body. I’ve had the same thoughts and feelings she mentioned and I’ve heard about them from so many trans people. The second opinions were a little disappointing though. Unlike the opinions for the other videos I saw they remained rather vague, while I would have wished for them to get the point/make a clear statement. I could understand their points as a therapist and someone who is working with trans people while also being trans myself but what I heard from some other students, they were mainly confused or even related them to transphobic thoughts. I talked them through it of course, but still.
The whole pavilion was a brilliant idea, especially interesting for me as a starting art psychotherapist, but also as an artist, as I am working with a similar setup for my upcoming graduate exhibition.
Artist Martine Gutierrez poses next to plastic mannequins in “fashion photos”. Her photos are aesthetically perfect while at the same timepoking fun at digital perfection. Inspiring to see someone playing with their own transition process and gender roles in their art while managing to create something that works wether you do or don't know about her being trans.
Another work with dance, again a group of nonbinary performers. The video by Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz is called “Moving Backwards” and addresses current political and social topics, like a lot of people and governments apparently regressing, becoming more conservative, which makes the situation for LGBTQ+ people more difficult and dangerous. The whole dance was performed backwards and then the recording is played backwards so it looks like they are moving forwards but you somehow completely lose any feeling for what is backwards and what forwards. The dancers are all wearing interesting combinations of sparkly pants, wigs and double toed shoes. It's fascinating.
The Chilean pavilion at the Arsenale focuses on the topic of decolonisation, by reversing stereotypes. I left out all the parts of agressive feminism attacking all men, because it's pointless and I just couldn't be bothered, and moved right on to the third part: the “Emancipating Opera”. It is a 20 min video by artist Voluspa Jarpa starring trans actress Daniela Vega. The singer ends up in a library where she rips out the pages of a book about white supremacy and eats them. While the fact that the actress is trans isn’t the main topic of the video, in my opinion including a trans person in this video not only intensifies the point the artist is making with the connection to the basically nonexistent rights of trans people in Chile but it also works towards including a larger variety of people in art.
The artworks mentioned above are not all the art by and with trans people at this Biennale, but they are the ones I came across and that somehow resonated. There is also Peru for example, which makes a connection between transitioning and the rain forest, but I haven't quite understood that one (yet).
Video and video installation artworks
The amount of intense video art was almost overwhelming. I am currently working on a video installation, so I came back to the Giardini on the third day to see some of the artwork again and especially to study the composition, camera movements, lighting, colour and so on. Brazil and Switzerland have already been mentioned above, so I will leave it at that.
Videos that kind of pulled me in immediately were in the French and the Danish pavilions.
Laure Prouvost takes us on a journey into the subconscious in her film "Deep See Blue Surrounding You". The sequences are cut extremely fast one after the other, bright colours, happy people, a dead bird, someone squishing a pair of fish eyes, burning Notre Dame and so on - you just can’t stop watching. A group from Paris goes on a journey which takes them through a forest, teleports them to a cafe, to the coast of Marseille, and, at last, reaching the French pavilion in Venice. Some parts are HD, some smartphone video and it still works. The room is designed to look like the belly of an octopus, apparently. I will never again be able to look at an octopus without remembering this video. I remember being scared, overwhelmed, happy and unable to look away all at the same time while first watching it.
The room before the one where the video is shown is very impressive as well. It looks like liquid glass has been poured on the whole floor, wherein glass objects and animals as well as single shoes, gloves, smartphones and other things have been enclosed.
Again an artwork that gets psychological. Danish-Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour shows a black and white sci-fi film called “Heirloom” on a split screen. It’s all about memory, identity, inherited trauma and the subconscious. The trauma is turned into a physical large scale object in the installation “A Monument for Lost Time” which can be seen opposite of the film. It’s accompanied by sound and when I watched it for a while it looked and felt like a black hole outside of time and without form. Very captivating work and the film is really worth the ~ 20 min it takes to watch it. I remember seeing the work ‘In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain’ by the same artist in Cardiff and being captivated by that too.
Other Fascination Art that I have to mention
Sun Yuan & Peng Yu
These two objects were so fascinaing and creepy! They are of course moving and in both cases I was so glad to have protection through the glass. The scratches in the glass you can see in the picture with the "throne" happen because of the movement of the hose The robot arm in the above picture seems almost human in its movements, like it is dancing, before it continues to pull the "blood" towards it.
Saudi Arabia & Ghana
Both worked with so repetitive elements in such a huge number, it was absolutely fascinating. There were some other works at the Biennale as well that worked because of the sheer amount of work that was visible in them.
In the pavilion of Saudi Arabia, Zahrah Al Ghambi has arranged thousands of little leather sculptures that remind me of seeds. I can't even begin to imagine the amount of time and work that went into this installation.
This huge art piece is made of the small metal parts you can see in the right photo. Imagine walking through this room and having a wall of these on each site.
I'm tempted to experiment with repetitive structures in a future artwork, as this is something I have never looked into before.
So these are my top 10 from the Bienale 2019. It was so hard to narrow this down, because there was so much amazing art! I could have menioned Turkey, Scotland, the Netherlands, and so on.