New art: the 57th Venice Biennale

By Anna Lucchinetti

Since May, when the 57th Venice Biennale opened, thousands of people have flooded to see the major contributions of various new artists to the world of art and expression.

The exposition is spread between two locations, Giardini and Arsenale, which together host over fifty pavilions. Each pavilion is dedicated to one country where different artists aim to show to the public the art that has influenced their national art production in the last two years. This year, the pieces of work presented are extremely experimental and interactive with the public. It is obvious to see that during the creating process the artists broke the conventions of what it was normative to show at the Biennale; if in the past, most of the art shown was constituted by paintings and sculptures, now the audience can assist to performances, videos and interact with the works of art. For example, Kirstine Roepstorff’s performance influenza. theatre of glowing darkness for the Danish pavilion explores darkness as a condition of healing and reconciliation with the natural cycle of death and earth.

Influenza aims to immerse the spectator in an environment of total darkness where he or she can heal from his or her anxieties and become empowered to dream again. Video also had a major role in the Biennale this year. Videos are often used as part of larger installations; however, some countries center their performances on a single film. One of them is Egypt, that staged its space to present Moataz Nasr’s film The Mountain, a fiction story that talks about courage and fear. Before entering the screening room, Nasr wrote on the wall ‘Life starts when fear ends’, which sums up the positive message that the artist is trying to spread. The Netherlands was another nation that best embraced the use of video; the Dutch artist Wendelien van Oldenborgh created a video installation called Cinema. Cinema offers glimpses into the Dutch society, which is underpinning a fast transformation, and recalls to a conception of solidarity so that a better future together will be possible. For what concerns interactive art, the Austrian pavilion created one of the most stimulating installation. Erwin Wurm explores the use of objects of everyday life and invites the audience to use those objects in an unusual way. For example, in the entrance, there is a truck put upside down and the spectators are invited to go up to the top and admire the view. To represent the UK, Phyllida Barlow created an installation called folly. With her sculptures, Barlow explores the entire site, starting from outside until the very last room of the pavilion. As the word ‘folly’ has an ambiguous meaning, so does the installation; Barlow displays a series of sculptures that, on one hand, are joyful, colourful and give a sense of happiness. On the other hand, their height and immensity creates a sinister and claustrophobic feeling.

Overall, it is possible to claim that the 57th Venice Biennale’s success not only depends on the variety of topics that the artists treated, but also on the optimistic way the artists have looked towards the future. Now, art does not only denounce the problems of the contemporary world, but it drives the audience to look over the failure of the past and create new models to follow. For example, Hungary displays Gyula Varnai’s installation, Peace on Earth, in which the artist explores the necessity of utopias and invites the audience to keep believing in new ideas and better conditions, even though the past has disappointed us.


Anna Lucchinetti

Featured image: Kirstine Roepstorff “influenza. theatre of glowing darkness” at Danish Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 2017. Courtesy Mousse Magazine.

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