10 pavilions to see at the 56th Venice Biennale

May 8, 2015


Art Radar selects 10 national highlights from the Venice Biennale 2015.

The 56th Venice Biennale has opened with an intense programme of events and the enthusiastic participation of international art world figures. We select 10 pavilions that stand out from Asia-Pacific, Africa and the Middle East.

1. Egypt

“Can You See?” was commissioned by Hany Al Ashkar, Creative Director of marketing firm Brandology Egypt, and curated by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture. The result of a collaboration between three artists, Ahmed Abdel Fatah, Maher Dawoud and Gamal Elkheshen, the installation comprises three-dimensional white MDF structures carpeted with artificial grass, which viewed from above spell out the English word “PEACE”.

At various locations, Samsung tablets are installed to allow audience interaction, creating a changing natural environment populated by butterflies, bunnies, cockroaches, spiders and flowers, or engulfing and destructive flames. There is also an augmented reality app that can be installed on smartphones to further interact with the work.

The artists play with notions of peace, which in Arabic is equivalent to ‘paradise’ – a lush green place, necessary not only for climate and environmental preservation, but also for social and economic development.

2. Israel

Curated by Hadas Maor, “Archaeology of the Present” features the work of one of Israel’s most prominent and influential artists, Tsibi Geva (b. 1951). The site-specific installation extends over the exterior as well as the interior of the pavilion. The building is turned into a sculptural work entirely covered with more than one thousand black tyres. All brought over from Israel, the tyres create a grid that functions as a protective layer.

Inside the pavilion, installations of paintings, sculptural elements and found objects occupy the two floors, their interaction and co-existence abolishing the hierarchical distinction between artistic mediums and structures.

Geva expresses his concern with the notion of ‘home’ and the stratified structure of identity through the use of elements such as tiles, windows, shutters, lattices and cement blocks, as well as familiar objects like pillows, TV sets and bicycles, among others. The concept of home in his work remains “an unrealised dream about a coherent, unquestioned identity”. The installation reveals strategies of revelation and concealment, disruption and displacement, repetition and accumulation.

3. Singapore

“SEA STATE” is a project initiated by artist and former Olympic sailor Charles Lim in 2005. The pavilion is curated by Shabbir Hussain Mustafa and commissioned by the National Arts Council Singapore.

The premise of the project is the inversion of the perceptions of sea and land on the island of Singapore. Lim explores the biophysical, political and psychic contours of the city-state through “the visible and the invisible lenses of the sea”.

Featuring four new digital video works, altered marine charts and a real maritime buoy, the installation engages with the histories of land reclamation in Singapore, which since 1965 has grown by more than 50 square miles by bringing in sand from elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Lim extends his reach into the true yet invisible borders that lie out at sea, making it visible and bringing attention to the complexity of transnational maritime spaces that “play host to a dynamic interplay between nature and culture”.

4. Japan

Chiharu Shiota’s (b. 1972) installation “The Key in the Hand”, curated by Hitoshi Nakano of the Kanagawa Arts Foundation, transforms the ambience of the pavilion into a container for memories. Dominated by the colour red, the installation comprises thousands of keys attached to the end of each piece of yarn suspended from the ceiling. Keys are familiar objects, used in our daily lives to protect what is valuable – houses, assets, personal safety. While using them, we embrace them in the warmth of our hands.

Keys are receptacles of countless, multi-layered memories, and at one point in our lives, we entrust them to someone close, who will guard our important things and accumulate more memories together with us.

Two old wooden boats at the centre and back of the gallery move through the sea of memory and collect individual memories. Four videos show small children talking about their memories from before and after birth, sharing them with visitors and allowing them to discover their own hidden memories.

5. Republic of Korea

“The Ways of Folding Space & Flying” by Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho is curated by Sook-Kyung Lee, Research Curator at Tate Research Centre. The duo have created an immersive multi-channel film installation that explores an archaeological quest into human civilisation, featuring a cyborg-like woman inhabiting a futuristic whitewashed space without any direct contact with the natural world. The future-retrospective narrative interweaves history with visions of the future, while also alluding to the institutional structure and historical evolution of the Biennale.

The title was inspired by the Korean words chukjibeop and bihaengsul. The first originates from Taoist practice and refers to “a hypothetical method of contracting physical space”. The second refers to a supernatural power to levitate, fly and travel across time and space. The project is part of the duo’s ongoing inquiry into the fundamental function of art in an increasingly uncertain and precarious environment – a part of our human desire that allows us to imagine, dream, wonder and challenge reality.

6. Indonesia

“Voyage—Trokomod” is a site-specific installation by Heri Dono (b. 1960, Jakarta), curated by Carla Bianpoen and Restu Imansari Kusumaningrum. The pavilion prompts a rethinking of the relationship between globalisation and local culture from historical, social and political points of view.

By intertwining history, myth and legend, Dono provides “an entry point to understand Indonesia’s current position”. The installation comprises Trokomod, a Trojan horse – a recurrent figure in his work – in the shape of a Komodo dragon, and a number of flying anthropomorphic traditional vessels hanging from the ceiling.

The mythical hybrids ironically challenge and subvert the traditional Western view of the East, while at the same time explore Indonesia’s and the artist’s place in the world. The interior of the beast is decorated with batik and rattan and covered with symbols of world religions, suggesting the hope for a peaceful religious co-existence and pluralism.

Through the cannons on the side of the lizard, small assemblages of artefacts and images of cultural significance in the West are visible, while inside the periscope is a video streaming images of the past, present and future.

7. Georgia

Nia Mgaloblishvili (also Project Curator), Ia Liparteliani and Sophio Shevardnadze of Studio Designbureau, with Rusudan Khizanishvili, Dima Chikvaidze, Irakli Bluishvili and Joe Sabia, have created “Crawling Border”, an immersive installation exploring the geopolitical landscape of Georgia and Europe. The narrative makes an analogy to a DNA chain, which exists in its usual environment and remains unnoticed before it is impacted by external factors. The artists draw attention to the stealthy process of drawing borders, which affects many people whose personal tragedy often goes unnoticed.

The pavilion is divided into six zones:

Zone 1, Customs, referencing lost territories
Zone 2 is a mirror installation that deconstructs and reflects images ad infinitum
In Zone 3, The Information Hole, videos and audio flood a black corridor, raising awareness of the events that have imposed borders.
Zone 4, Kunstkamera, is a sandy room, with vessels containing extinct organisms, stories of people migrating and life objects and embryos as symbols of our past, present and future.
Zone 5, The Hole, is a transitional space with crashing sounds
Zone 6, The Final Point, is a room with a grass floor featuring videos and sounds that can be listened to from headphones coming out of toilets

8. Mongolia

The Mongolian Pavilion marks the country’s first participation at the Biennale. Curated by Dr. Uranchimeg Tsultem and commissioned by Ms. Gantuya Badamgarav of the Mongolian Contemporary Art Support Association (MCASA), the presentation consists of a sedentary pavilion featuring the work of Unen Enkh (b. 1958) and Enkhbold Togmidshiirev (b. 1978), as well as a nomadic pavilion with Enkhbold’s performances presented at designated public spaces around Venice. The exhibition explores modern-day mobility and displacement, questioning notions of home and humans’ relationship with nature.

The materials used are natural organic products from the Mongolian nomadic tradition, such as felt, horsehair, horse dung, leather and wood. Enkh’s sculptures are assemblages of natural materials with metal wires, hanging from the ceiling or lying on the floor, some recalling familiar shapes such as that of a megaphone.

Enkhbold challenges the traditional medium of painting, creating sculptural panels that look like movable walls or slabs of weathered concrete. A video shows Enkhbold’s performances, which depict the artist questioning the division between urban forms and his nature-based ‘ger‘ or yurt, the traditional Mongolian tent-like mobile home.

9. China

Curated by the Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation, the interdisciplinary “Other Future” features filmmaker Wu Wenguang, choreographer Wen Hui, composer Tan Dun, new media artist Lu Yang and architect Liu Jiakun. The Pavilion’s setting was designed by Rem Koolhaas’s firm OMA.

The Pavilion explores the role of the masses – seemingly chaotic yet active and spontaneous – in the shaping of our future. While Lu Yang’s impressive 3D animations and installations reference Tibetan deities with a contemporary twist, the big highlight of the pavilion is Tan Dun’s work, which includes a visual and music performance at the opening ceremony.

Tan Dun, one of the most renowned contemporary composers in China today, presents Living in Future, which projects onto traditional hanging scrolls a series of videos he shot in Hunan as well as a live music performance. The videos were shot during his research into Nu Shu, a secret language invented by women for women, and the performance features musicians playing string instruments while moving in a choreographed dance in a round, shallow pool of water in the centre of the pavilion.

At the end of the performance, the instruments are abandoned in a seemingly chaotic yet orderly fashion in the pool, creating a permanent installation referencing the interconnectedness of our past, present and future.

10. Philippines

“Tie a String Around the World” is curated by Patrick D. Flores and includes the work of Manuel Conde, Carlos Francisco, Manny Montelibano and Jose Tence Ruiz. Starting with Manuel Conde’s seminal film Genghis Khan (1950) – co-written and designed by Carlos Francisco and screened at the Venice Film Festival in 1952 – the Pavilion offers a reflection on the world today and its changing configurations – the volatile meanings of territory, country, nation, border, patrimony, nature, freedom, limit and the “present passing”.

Jose Tence Ruiz’s Shoal references the Sierra Madre – a Philippine mountain range – as well as the shipwreck of a Vietnam War Filipino vessel. Inside a dark room is a multichannel video by Manny Montelibano, entitled A Dashed State, about the West Philippine Sea which is part of the disputed South China Sea.

With images and vignettes of tranquil everyday life on the island accompanied by the sounds of nature, epics and radio frequencies, the work invites discussion on the history of world making and the history of the sea, in relation to the histories of empires, nation-states and regions. It also questions how seas are made and frontiers created, and how these affect lives through migration and displacement.

Source: Art Radar