Media Coverage

Associated Press - Political art floods Venice

A boat in which over 700 migrants died, sculptures that focus on unity, and art work that gives migrants a voice, are all on show at this year's Venice Biennale.
The politically charged pieces are the artists' attempts to teach lessons for a better future.

An art installation at the end of a dock. It moves with the wind, accompanied by music and the sound of the water beneath it.

Tomas Saraceno's piece 'On the Disappearance of Clouds' is not an optical illusion, but a warning about climate change.

Global warming has long been a theme at the International Art Exhibition, but for the artist Lorenzo Quinn, more needs to happen than just sending a message.

He wants 'Building Bridges' to be a call to action: six pairs of arching hands creating a bridge over a Venetian waterway, symbolic of the need to build bridges and overcome divisions.

They are being erected in the Arsenale former shipyard against the backdrop of a city that stands as an historic East-West gateway. It is also being constructed as Europe prepares to vote in an election that is shaping up as a battle of populism against more open social democratic traditions.

The sculpture isn't meant to be a campaign platform, Quinn says. But his ideals are clear.

"This sculpture is more about taking action, and actions are stronger than words, and that's why building bridges, we need people to actually do something about it and we need to bridge cultures, humanity has always worked best when they work together, we've achieved incredible things together, never by closing us off with barriers but actually opening up to the rest of the world and that's what I want to transmit with this sculpture, so six (sets of) arms, five represent each continent and one love, the hand of love" he explains.

For the 58th edition of the Venice Biennale tone gallery entrance is covered with mist and fog.

It is not a sudden weird weather event.

"It's a work called 'Thinking Head' by Lara Favaretto' and it's suggesting the activity of thought that occurs in an exhibition like this. Not just thoughts by the artists but by all the visitors who are coming and engaging with this work, explains Ralph Rugoff, Curator of the 58th International Art Exhibition.

"It also is a work that dissolves in a cloud of smoke the fa├žade of the institution and so I think it somewhat questions the authority of that institution," he adds.

In her own way Shilpa Gupta is also questioning authority by literally breaking the walls.

Untitled is a mechanical residential gate, the type installed in front of private driveways for seclusion and safety.

As it swings back and forth it destroys the gallery walls.

In this edition of the Biennale, Curator Ralph Rugoff has asked artists to produce two pieces, one for each exhibition location, Giardini and Arsenale, in order to show different facets of their work.

Gupta, in fact, presents another piece at the Arsenale where she addresses the violence of censorship through a symphony of recorded voices, which speak the verses of 100 poets imprisoned for their work or political positions.

The verses, in different languages, are also printed on paper beneath hanging microphones.

Angelica Mesiti ,who was chosen by the Australian Pavilion, has also created a piece about bringing people together to give them a voice.

Her piece 'Assembly' is shown across three screens in a small amphitheatre, where visitors are invited to sit wherever they choose.

Mesiti uses performances that take place inside the Italian and Australian Senate chambers to represent the way a society assembles and builds upon itself.

"Rather than looking at the sort of upper levels of power, I'm looking at us, and so then environments that the film is shot within are very formal, political parliamentary environments, but they're being used in kind of unusual ways, they're being kind of occupied by people who are using the space for creative expression for suggestive and abstract at times expression," she explains.

In the Indian pavilion, artist Jitish Kallat, has instead chosen very concrete elements to make people reflect about the future.

His installation presents a letter written by Mahatma Gandhi to Adolf Hitler before the beginning of World War II in which he pleas for peace in seven lines.

The letter begins with the words 'Dear Friend' and ends with the word 'friend', making friendship become a parenthesis that hold a message asking for self reflection, according to the artist.

The installation called 'Covering Letter' projects the words on a stream of fog and mist that evaporates when a person walks through it.

"Most Gandhian messages may travel beyond it's own delivery date and intended recipient. Most of his gestures I think can reinvent, can reincarnate in other eras and I think our times calls for a reflection of words such as Gandhi's, which I go against the grain of this larger oxymoronic messages that we see in our world, you know, war and terror, there's nothing but terror on terror, that's the kind of messages that pollute our world and I think there's a certain radical shift in the kind of message that Gandhi holds maybe for us to rethink at this time," explains Kallat.

And, perhaps in an even bolder manner, some pieces on display invite visitors to rethink current events.

A ship carcass that was hauled off the sea floor four years ago with hundreds of bodies of dead migrants inside is now an exhibit at the Biennale.

The ship is part work by Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Buchel called "Barca Nostra" (our ship), a play on the latin "Mare Nostrum", our sea, the term used by the ancient Romans to refer to the Mediterranean.

The fishing boat packed with hundreds of migrants capsized and sank off the coast of Libya four years ago.

Teresa Margolles has also used a real wall for her piece 'Muro Ciudad Juarez'.

The artist transported sections of a concrete wall that had stood in front of a school in Juarez, a city with one of the highest murder rates in Mexico.

The wall is a memorial to victims of drug-related violence.

Salma Zulfiqar, a British artist who is on display at a collateral event of the Biennale, has created 'The Migration Blanket' made up of patchwork canvas containing stories of the problems women faced in integration and their hope for the future.

"I wanted to be able to give them a voice so it's really their stories showing what their struggles are, the problems they faced and what they want in the future as well, and when I started to ask them about what they wanted in the future they really didn't have any ideas, they were so caught up in a lot of the problems and the day to day issues that they're facing, like accommodation, not having any documentation, not having any rights for some of them who are asylum seekers, that they really didn't think that they had any kind of future so we worked together to talk bout what they could do in the future, and really help then have some kind of ambition in life, so it helped realize their dreams as well," explains Zulfiqar.

Korakrit Arunanondchai has created a sculptural installation presenting 'post-natural' tree like forms constructed from metal and plant debris.

The apocalyptic theme is also used in Alexandra Bircken's piece 'ESKALATION' which presents a dystopian view of what the end of humanity might look like.

Different black figures are seen attempting to climb to the top, sometimes falling.

For the artist, the drive to climb higher is the only certainty, and yet sustaining exponential growth comes at a cost.

The 58th International Art Exhibition "May You Live In Interesting Times" runs from 11 May to 24 November 2019 in Venice.