Viva Arte Viva: The Recurrent Themes of La Biennale di Venezia and Why They Matter

To understand how a child feels, you should look at what he draws. To understand how the world feels, you should go to La Biennale di Venezia, an emotional thermostat that translates the way people feel, as seen and felt through artists from all over the world. This year the theme is ‘Viva Arte Viva’.

The city of Venice becomes a white canvas for artists to experiment and play while giving you, among other various visual treats, a unique access to all the palazzos that are often closed to the public.

‘The recurrent themes that grabbed my attention this year were:

1. Ode to books. Books are officially a vintage item with interesting design, that can be used as a canvas, be torn into pieces, turned into a collage, painted, burned and even depicted in paintings as the main protagonist in the Grand Pavillion. Sometimes you can even use them as reading devices.

2. Light and darkness. Playing with light is still one of the strongest resources to create emotions and move you away from your comfort zone. The Greek Pavilion through its ‘Laboratory of Dilemmas’.

3. Searching for Utopia. The pursuit of Equality, Fraternity and Liberty didn’t take us to where we were expecting to go as a society, and we have no idea of what to do next. The Hungarian Pavilion Explores the concept of peace and the shattered expectations of what today was supposed to look like from the views of futurologists of the past.

4. Rituals and traditions. Given the uncertainty the world faces, we feel the need to return to our roots yearning for constancy in a world driven by change. In the ‘Pavilion of Shamans’, Ernesto Neto presents ‘Um sagrado lugar’ (A Sacred Space) recreating a space for spiritual ceremonies, where people can take off their shoes and take a breath as they explore the need for spiritualism.

5. Social Media. A new society with an unwritten legal system has emerged in the digital world, and no one has any idea on how to manage it.

6. The accident of birth. We are facing the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. While I was siping Bellini’s and complaining about the heat, an awful lot of people are being forcibly displaced from their homes. In 2015 the official number was 65.3 million people to be precise. The Tunisia National Pavilion created a ‘freesa’ (paraphrasing visa) as a universal travel document that serves as a silent protest under the name ‘The Absence of Paths’ shedding light to how absurd it is to be defined by the place we are born in, and how liberating it would be to be judged as ‘only human’.

7. The end is near. Ok, not quite but the Russian Pavilion gave me goose-bumps. The first part, ‘Scene Change’ consisted of white sculptures of soldiers, drones, bombs and various war elements mixed with projections of yet more soldiers carrying a not so optimistic message referencing international terrorism in a ‘transparent’ world that leads to the close monitoring of society. The second part, a depiction of a hell for digital spammers, fake celebrities, and viruses based on Dante’s Divine Comedy under the title ‘Blocked Content’, didn’t make me feel any better.

8. Fantasy vs reality. As a collateral event for the Biennale, Damien Hirst created  ‘The Wreck of the Unbelievable’ an inmersive experience that plays with your mind making you realize the weakness of the concept of ‘truth’, what constitutes a lie, and the way we live reality. As you enter the first part of the exhibition, you are presented with videos and pictures that show you the discovery of a treasure beyond compare. As you walk through the exhibit and see the sculptures of magnanimous proportions that were ‘found’ it becomes confusing: what does Damien Hirst have to do with this, and how come you hadn’t heard about this discovery?

The sculptures represent mostly historical characters from mythology from all over the world, and the titles of the pieces are what you would expect from a history museum, so are most of the objects.

Probably after looking at a sculpture of Mickey Mouse, you realize that it’s all a lie. There was never a shipwreck, in fact it was a multi-million dollar production, and it’s all a product of Damien Hirst’s imagination… But so is a great deal of what we call truth, isn’t it? Are these pieces lesss worthy than the depictions of ‘real’ mythological gods found in Ancient Greece or Rome?

Well then. That’s where we stand, for now. ‘If the world were clear, art wouldn’t exist’, just like Albert Camus famously said.
And the journey continues.

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