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Newcomers make their mark at Venice

A record 89 nations have official pavilions with four, including Bangladesh and Haiti, making their debut

By Gareth Harris and Charlotte Burns | Web only
Published online 3 Jun 11 (News)

Sisters Raja and Shadia Alem created

Sisters Raja and Shadia Alem created “The Black Arch” for Saudi Arabia’s first biennale pavilion

VENICE. Four newcomers are among the record 89 national participants at this year’s Venice Biennale with Andorra, Bangladesh, Haiti and Saudi Arabia showing for the first time, while a number of nations have returned after some past participation: Costa Rica, Cuba, India, Iraq, South Africa and Zimbabwe.


Two sisters born in Mecca have created a work referring to Al-Ka’aba, the most sacred site in Islam, for Saudi Arabia’s pavilion. Writer Raja Alem and artist Shadia Alem have built a large black elliptical wall, behind which hundreds of stainless steel spheres are locked into place. They support a cube filled with pebbles used during the Hajj pilgrimage. It is “revolutionary for Saudi Arabia to invest in art and address the world this way,” said Raja, adding that it is a “good moment to create an opening”. The work aims to challenge preconceptions between east and west, said Raja, with the idea that visitors must move past the black wall of ignorance to see the complexities, and cultural similarities, that lie beyond. However, it could refer to the biennial art world pilgrimage to Venice just as much as the Hajj, say the artists.

Meanwhile, “I am hopeful that Bangladeshi art may make its mark at this year’s Biennale,” said Tayeba Begum Lipi, the commissioner of the Bangladeshi pavilion as well as one of the five artists representing the country at the biennale. The other artists showing in the pavilion are Kabir Ahmed Masum Chisty, Imran Hossain Piplu, Mahbubur Rahman and Promotesh Das Pulak. Husband-and-wife team Lipi and Rahman, leading lights of the Bangladesh scene, both fuse painting with performance art and installation.

Surprisingly, Haiti, a country still struggling after the 2010 earthquake, is represented by two projects. “Death and Fertility” is being held in two shipping containers in Riva Sette Martiri with artists Jean Hérard Celeur, André Eugène and Jean Claude Saintilus. Meanwhile, “Haiti Royaume de ce Monde” at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia features artists such as Serge André, Elodie Barthelemy, Mario Benjamin and Maxence Denis. Leah Gordon, the deputy curator of “Death and Fertility”, said: “I think that the work of Atis-Rezistans [a Haitian art collective] is very challenging, and for some shocking, as it deals with sex and death, Eros and Thanatos, through the lens of voodoo, poverty and social exclusion.”

Of the returning nations, Ranjit Hoskote, the curator of the Indian pavilion, said: “Three artists – Zarina Hashmi, Praneet Soi and Gigi Scaria—and a collective [The Desire Machine Collective] have been brought together in a pavilion that I’ve titled ‘Everyone Agrees: It’s About to Explode’. This pavilion is meant to serve as a laboratory, testing out the meaning of cultural citizenship and what it means to be Indian today…to be a cultural producer who stretches the idea of India.” Hoskote added: “The trajectory I sketch out is distinct from the course of contemporary Indian art as it has been presented during the past decade, through the art market and through the periodic exhibitions of Indian art curated by colleagues based in western Europe, East Asia and North America.” While India has participated previously in Venice, this is the country’s first official pavilion.

As more and more nations establish pavilions in Venice—today will see the signing of an agreement for a permanent Argentine pavilion between the country’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and the biennale organisers—some people sound a note of caution. “I am not especially political but I merely note that it is interesting, at a time when the democracy of certain nations is collapsing around us, they are welcomed with open arms by the Venice Biennale,” said former biennale curator Francesco Bonami.

Penelope’s labour

Tapestries ancient and modern are the toast of Venice

By Anna Somers Cocks | Web only
Published online 3 Jun 11 (News)

Lara Baladi's

Lara Baladi’s “Sandouk el Dounia”, 2008

VENICE. One of the best shows in the Venice Biennale is on the Island of San Giorgio (don’t be put off: it is one stop by vaporetto two from San Zaccaria). “Penelope’s Labour” is highly intelligent, and beautifully displayed by the artist Adam Lowe for the Fondazione Cini. He has woven together tapestries contemporary with the dawn of the computer and modern digital weaving. The show contains astonishing objects, starting with a true Wunderkammer piece, a golden shawl woven from the silk of Madagascan spiders, which is as strong as steel. But the main thread of the exhibition connects the early 19th-century mathematical prodigy Ada Lovelace with the Jacquard loom, invented in 1801, which wove complex patterns on a punch card system, and Charles Babbage, who first devised the concept of a computer in the 1820s: “The analytical equation weaves together algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves”, wrote Lovelace. Weaving led to the computer, and today the computer has transformed the potential of weaving, making patterns of minute detail and shading easy.


This has been exploited to the maximum by artists such as Marc Quinn, whose tapestry of vast red flowers is shown opposite a 16th-century large-leaf tapestry. Grayson Perry has made a brilliantly rich, story-telling Three Ages of Man, The Walthamstow Tapestry, and Lara Baladi, a Lebanese-Egyptian whose work will be in the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, is the author of a collage of girly scenes made up of 900 photos, a studding of micro-details on a black ground.

When one says made, it is of course the case that the artists had devised the work, but the actual weaving has been carried out by Flanders Tapestries, a company that has invested in the advanced technology to be able to do it. As in the days of the Sistine Chapel tapestries, its work is expensive (£50,000 for the Grayson Perry) but still less than half the artist’s “fee” for having had the idea. Why are artists turning to such collaborations? Perhaps because the age of “design” is back, perhaps because some work simply looks better in a different medium that invites awe and admiration. Upstairs in the show are the awe-striking tapestries by Carlos Garaicoa woven to look like terrazzo floors with mottos found in Cuba. Every crack and shadow is shown, and perfectly framed by the lights, they appear to be floors floating in black space, another one of Adam Lowe’s display inventions. So here on San Giorgio you have an exhibition that links naturalia (mathematics in this case, and the spider) with artificialia (man’s artistic sense). Don’t miss it.

Penelope’s Labour: Weaving Words and Images, San Giorgio Maggiore, Centro Espositivo, Le Sale del Convitto, Cini Foundation (until 18 September)

Pirates of the Venice Biennale

Artist-run campsite is the place to stay—if you don’t mind life al fresco

By Iona Whittaker | Web only
Published online 3 Jun 11 (News) at The Art Newspaper

Venice Bienniale - Stateless Artist Camp

Pirate Camp at the Stateless Pavilion

VENICE. The Pirate Camp, is a work of art that serves a vital practical function, providing free accommodation in Venice for 16 international artists during the biennale’s opening week. The initiative, part of the Stateless Pavilion, is the idea of Italian collective Coniglioviola founded by Brice Coniglio, who is also the pavilion’s “curator”. Included at the last minute as part of the Italian Pavilion project organised by Vittorio Sgarbi, the camp “is a metaphorical representation of being midway between the land that belongs to the ‘system’ and the sea that is the domain of the ‘pirates’, an essential condition for contemporary artists, “ said Coniglio.

Participants were chosen from over 120 applicants through an online competition judged by seven of Italy’s leading artist-run spaces, including the DNA project space in Venice and Milan’s Lucie Fontaine. “Like international [art] fairs and major exhibitions, art biennials force young people to invest often large amounts of money in travel and lodging. That’s why we came up with the idea of a pirate camp that would enable young artists to stay in Venice for nothing.” Coniglio calls the nomadic life of many contemporary artists “extra-territoriality”, adding that despite its cost and uncertainties, it is “a privileged vantage point for observing and representing the world.”

The Stateless Pavilion has been funded by the City of Turin and the Gai Association for the Circuit of Young Italian Artists, and also received support from the city of Venice’s department of youth policy and the Venice-based foundation Art Enclosures.

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