Venice Biennale Arte 2022 (Aprille Tijam, Philippines, ITP 2019)
Written by Aprille Tijam, Senior Manager, Exhibitions and Collections, Ayala Museum (ITP Fellow 2019)
I love visiting Venice, Italy. There seems to be some kind of mysterious yet familiar connection with this city that keeps pulling me back. The rhythm of the movements of the vaporetto that takes me from one place to another around the city. The sumptuous yet affordable large slices of margherita pizza, pistachio gelato, and spritz aperol. Not to forget the many kinds of accessories made of leather in the labyrinth of shops all over are some of my fond experiences in this city. And of course, Venice will not be complete without the Venice Arts Biennale.
This year, the 59th Biennale Arte 2022 celebrates the theme The Milk of Dreams, taken from Leonora Carrington’s (1917-2011) book. Their website describes: “Cecilia Alemani (the curator) stated – the Surrealist artist describes a magical world where life is constantly re-envisioned through the prism of the imagination. It is a world where everyone can change, be transformed, become something or someone else.” It is surprising to note that this year’s international art exhibition hosted 1,433 artworks by 213 artists from 58 countries, with 180 artists participating for the first time.
Surfacing from the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s biennale treated me to a surprising array of expressions and interpretations of the theme in the more than 40 different pavilions I visited at the Arsenale and Giardini. While the thought of the number of pavilions alone to visit leaves me a bit exhausted already, the experience of taking the steps in chilly 16◦C weather from one pavilion to another with so many people, of different nationalities, has made the experience both refreshing and challenging. It was refreshing because of the huge, experiential art installations that filled up the large exhibition spaces, engulfing my being, my presence—making me part of the installation, and sharing these moments with other viewers. I thoroughly enjoy large art installations, and humbly reminding me of this rare and wonderful opportunity to experience art expressions, once again, from different countries, after experiencing the harrowing pandemic.
Digital animations were a common feature in greater number of presentations. These broke the monotony of two-dimensional renditions, as well as enhanced the experience, and captured the attention of those drawn to technological interventions in art and art exhibition presentations. I so fondly enjoyed All is sacred installation by Infinity in the born to love exhibition in the AZERBAIJAN Pavilion located at the San Marco square— “based on the sacred geometric patterns that exist all around us, they are the perfect shapes and patterns and the harmonic sounds of the Universe”.
AZERBAIJAN PAVILION – ALL IS SACRED INSTALLATION BY INFINITY.
The central piece of GHANA Pavilion’s exhibition Black Star—The Museum as Freedom was a beautiful installation, a centripetal force that drew my eyes towards the center connecting the artworks surrounding this. On the text: “This time, three younger artists, future builders, imagining that which we have not yet quite reached, that in which we can create new languages, new mythologies, new ways of expression and of expansion across form. In these new ways of being what we might look like? What might we be?” Biennale Arte 2022 | Ghana (labiennale.org)
GHANA PAVILION- Black Star—The Museum as Freedom.
This year’s biennale was challenging because while I enjoyed “being in the space”, it posed some difficulty for me to understand some iterations. Without reading the introductory text, the Correction exhibition in the SPAIN Pavilion presents itself as a pure (empty) space with walls painted alternately in white and gray only. To put into context, it was described as: “The exhibition takes as its point of departure an apparently simple act: to shift the Spanish Pavilion. Located in a corner of the Giardini, the building appears slightly skewed with respect to its neighbours Belgium and Holland. Ignasi Aballí’s proposal endeavours to resolve this dilemma by replicating the building with new internal walls at an angle of 10 degrees, the required amount to align the building with its neighbours. The intervention disrupts spatial memory and modifies the exhibition space, its location at the Venice Biennale’s venue, and its relationship with the city of Venice.” Biennale Arte 2022 | Spain (labiennale.org)
SPAIN PAVILION – CORRECTION.
Similarly, the Relocating A Structure exhibition in the GERMANY Pavilion welcomes guests in an empty space as well, with only a seeming “excavated” floor featured. In context: “Maria Eichhorn focuses on the history of the German pavilion and its architectural transformation. The Bavarian pavilion, built in 1909, was renamed the German Pavilion in 1912 and was redesigned in 1938 to reflect fascist aesthetics. A new façade, rear extensions, and a raised ceiling contributed to the Pavilion’s intimidating appearance. Despite post-war modifications, the building still embodies the formal language of fascism. Maria Eichhorn uncovers traces of the original pavilion, hidden behind its 1938 redesign.” Biennale Arte 2022 | Germany (labiennale.org)
GERMAN PAVILION- RELOCATING A STRUCTURE
Interestingly, I distinctly recalled that in 2017, this pavilion showcased a contrasting experience then – men and women in black posed in various points amidst the white walls of the building, on top or beneath the floor glass panels, with fierce-looking dogs roaming a gated space outside. It was a performance pavilion. It featured ”some five-hour-long performance of Imhof’s piece “Faust”. Top prizes for Germany in Venice – DW – 05/13/2017
IMAGE SOURCE: Top prizes for Germany in Venice – DW – 05/13/2017
IMAGE SOURCE: 57th Venice Biennale – Today’s Art world (wordpress.com)
The Eden-Like Garden preserved for the Chosen ones exhibition of the EGYPT Pavilion was a surprise and a wonderful experience of huge pink, suspended kitty-shaped balloons animated with projections of scenes and imagery. In context: “The Promised Land… flowing and flooding with milk and honey… Land of extraordinary fertility… A startling image whose core is pantheistic and sexual, as well as both sacred and profane… An eternal being of temptation and desire… A fragile, never-ending struggle… Redefining humanity… Coherent identity and a torn world… Loops of existence… Sceptic consciousness in the infinite time and space… Unpredictability… Uncertainty… In the Installation by Mohamed Shoukry, Ahmed El Shaer, and Weaam El Masry the human being is raptured in an eternal war between instinctive and volitional nature.” Biennale Arte 2022 | Egypt (labiennale.org)
EGYPT PAVILION-EDEN LIKE GARDEN PRESERVED FOR THE CHOSEN ONES.
The presentation of Walking with Water exhibition at the SERBIA Pavilion was mesmerising by simply looking at the beautiful seascape and watching the swimmer traverse the large, vertical screen, and its relevance is explained: “You enter a space that is a fiction. An abstraction of time and space. It is pure modernist painting through which the artist returns reality into the picture. You enter a relationship mediated by technology that the artist inverts. The presentation underlines relations to technology and nature – in this case water as part of our body, but also water as our connection point rather the as a separation.” Biennale Arte 2022 | Serbia (labiennale.org)
Serbia Pavilion, Walking with Water
We Walked the Earth exhibition in the DENMARK Pavilion made me feel like walking into a haunted house in a deserted farm wrapped with grim tales best left unsaid. The text reads: “Step into a hyperrealistic world of unexpected drama. Set in a strange hybrid time period where elements from the historical past of Danish farm life blend with unfamiliar phenomena from the sci-fi future of a trans-human world, the drama revolves around a family of three.” Biennale Arte 2022 | Denmark (labiennale.org)
Denmark Pavilion, We Walked the Earth
And Nigerian-American artist Precious Okoyomon’s To See the Earth before the End of the World (2022) was an experience of going back to the forest of my childhood place in Santiago, Iriga City. However, it presents deeply rooted meanings best described by Madeline Weisburg as “sculptural topographies composed of living, growing, decaying, and dying materials, including rock, water, wildflowers, snails, and vines. For Okoyomon, nature is inseparable from the historical marks of colonisation and enslavement.”
To see the Earth before the end of the world by Precious Okoyomon
I queued in the ROMANIA and GREECE Pavilions. However, the wait alone plus the 45-minute video presentation could not be accommodated by the limited time I had to cover as many pavilions as possible.
Greece Pavilion at the Giardini
I first experienced the Venice Arts Biennale in 2015, wanting to celebrate the moment of reinstatement of PHILIPPINE participation with the exhibition Tie A String Around the World, after a 50-year hiatus. In 2017, I returned as part of the Ayala Museum’s team organizing the Zobel Contrapuntos exhibition, an official Collateral Event. I missed the 2019 experience. So, my enthusiasm to return this year and it did not disappoint me. And I look forward to what the Venice Arts Biennale has to offer in 2024!