Last week we had the privilege of attending the opening of the Venice Biennale, the first one since 2019 due to Covid. This obviously put a lot of pressure on Cecilia Alemani, the first Italian woman – and sadly the fifth woman ever – to be appointed curator in the exhibition’s 127 years of history. This also meant that Alemani had considerably longer to research for and curate the event, albeit most of her meetings with the artists were carried out via Zoom calls. All these factors contributed to the creation of an exhibition unlike any other; firstly by featuring a range of work spanning across decades rather than focusing solely on the most recents oeuvres; and secondly by deliberately not focusing on the digital world (read NFTs, AR, VR, metaverse) to embrace the much longed for tactile, tangible world.
This conversation about worlds, those we imagine and those we believe to be real, is at the core of Alemani’s curation. A choice inspired by the surrealist movement and which is fittingly framed within this year’s theme The Milk of Dreams. A title meant to encourage us to question our perception of reality, inspired by the eponymous children’s book written by artist, surrealist painter, and novelist Leonora Carrington.
Whenever we attend a screening or an exhibition, we tend to look for the narrative thread linking all the pieces together. Though an effective curatorial approach, this is often too simplistic as it provides the audience with the solution – an answer as to how we are meant to feel. With Alemani’s work this isn’t the case; her curation is not defined by a clear narrative, but does have a trajectory. Her approach lies in creating capsules from the past and the present, inviting us to imagine and wonder over what’s to come. The Milk of Dreams feels like a reflection on the instability of recent years, as well as a way to channel our desire to escape to a different plane of existence in which the boundaries between imagination and reality aren’t so clearly defined.
Over our three days in Venice we let our mind wander, be amazed, shocked, and yes – occasionally also disappointed. Anyone working within the creative sphere should take some time to explore this marevelous playground filled with wonderful creatures, unusual beings, intricate structures and all the mysteries that form our milk of dreams.
Here’s a selection of some of the most outstanding video projects that we came across – stand alone pieces as well video content made to complement the work of the artists. Enjoy!
TOTEM – Wallace Chan
Chinese multidisciplinary artist Wallace Chan, who has pioneered titanium’s unprecedented use for large-scale sculptures, has returned to Venice with his sculpture exhibition TOTEM at the Fondaco Marcello. Curated by James Putnam, the exhibition is composed of multiple unassembled parts of Chan’s 10-metre titanium sculpture (A Dialogue Between Materials and Time, Titans XIV) positioned across the floorspace of Fondaco Marcello. As you enter the rooms, you immediately feel a sense of reverence towards the disassembled bodies. The installation was complemented by the video work of Javier Ideami, an award-winning multidisciplinary artist, creative director, engineer and entrepreneur, working at the intersection of technology and art.
Under the Skin with Anish Kapoor
As expected, Anish Kapoor’s takeover of the Gallerie dell’Accademia and Palazzo Manfrin is impressive. The sheer size and intensity of the work, combining 60 oeuvres in total, including retrospective elements as well as never before seen pieces, is a testament to the artist’s prolific career. Curated by art historian Taco Dibbits, the exhibition is an expression of the amount of research that goes into Kapoor’s work, further explored in Martina Margaux Cozzi’ short documentary, Under the Skin with Anish Kapoor. The short film explores Anish Kapoor’s creative universe and his relation to art. A vertiginous quest into existence, confronting the conditions of matter, the dynamics of perception and the power of ritual.
Desastre – Marco Fusinato
Desastres is an experimental noise project that synchronises sound with images. The work takes the form of a durational solo performance as installation. Performing live in the Australian pavilion, Fusinato uses an electric guitar as a signal generator into mass amplification to improvise slabs of noise, saturated feedback, and discordant intensities that trigger a deluge of images onto a freestanding floor-to-ceiling LED wall. The images are sourced via a stream of words that have been put into an open search across multiple online platforms. The mass indexing is a mess – a morass of disparate and disconnected randomly generated images.
Of Whales – Wu Tsang
Tsang’s films, immersive installations, and performances surface from a visual language the artist describes as “in-betweenness” – states of inseparability and flux that cannot be reduced to fixed notions of identity, experience, or binary understanding. For The Milk of Dreams, Tsang presents Of Whales (2022), an installation based on her feature-length film adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and psychedelic ocean environments generated from XR (“extended reality”) technologies. Of Whales refocuses the source material’s profound meditation on knowledge, exoticism, and eroticism through a postcolonial lens. The immensity of the ocean becomes a symbol of the unknown; reflections gesture to the presence of oblique perspectives and complexify the idea that any point of view is singular or straightforward.
Songs from the Compost: mutating bodies, imploding stars – Egle Budvytyte
Working at the intersection of music, poetry, video, and performance, Lithuanian artist Eglė Budvytytė explores the power of collectivity, vulnerability, and permeability between bodies and the environments they inhabit. In the film Songs from the Compost: mutating bodies, imploding stars (2020), she examines human hubris toward animals, plants, bacteria, and fungi. Shot in the lichen forest and sand dunes of the Curonian Spit in Lithuania, this video depicts shape shifting bodies moving among each other in close proximity. Songs from the Compost is a hypnotic exploration of bodies’ interdependency, disintegration, and decay, demonstrating the necessity of intertwined networks between human and non-human beings for nurturing interspecies relationships.
Le Sacre du printemps – Zheng Bo
Zheng Bo is committed to all-inclusive, multi-species relationships. He makes performance and video art, community workshops, and drawings, in which he pushes standard notions of human-plant coexistence, allowing for imaginative thinking to lead towards what he conceives as a posthuman vibrancy. In his ongoing video and performance series Pteridophilia, which began in 2016, the artist explores the erotic possibilities between plants – specifically ferns – and queer men. Sex occurs in many ways in the works, provocatively moving past the mere sensuous and into climactic acts of pleasure. The eco-sexual curiosities of Pteridophilia were further developed in a film and dance piece, Le Sacre du printemps (Tandvärkstallen) (2021), in which Zheng collaborated with five Nordic male dancers in a forest in Dalarna, Sweden. The troupe cultivated relationships beyond the fern, feeding the collective sexual desires of the pine trees, moss, and one another through touch and movement.
You Are Another Me. A Cathedral of the Body – Adina Pintilie
Adina Pintilie’s multichannel installation emerges from her ongoing research on the politics and poetics of intimacy and the body. Amidst the global resurgence of right-wing ideologies, as well as to the growing polarities between people and between belief systems, Pintilie imagines a space of togetherness, beyond borders and binaries. Departing from a practice of community building, Pintilie’s idiosyncratic methodology explores the central role of intimacy in the everyday. Nurtured by long-term collaboration with the protagonists, the Romanian Pavilion is transformed into a contemporary cathedral that celebrates connections between bodies beyond any preconceptions.
Perpetual Motion – Sigurður Guðjónsson
The Icelandic Pavilion this year is represented by contemporary artist Sigurður Guðjónsson. His work consists of a multisensory sculpture titled Perpetual Motion. The work is meant to offer a poetic exploration of materiality, creating an entrancing, meditative experience for visitors. Perpetual Motion is staged as a split screen installation, with a six-metre-high vertical screen connected to a large-scale floor projection that occupies most of the exhibition space. The screens depict the constant drift of metal dust, amplified and magnified through the artist’s camera lens. Visitors can immerse themselves in the movement of the abstract material, as it warps and distorts, suggesting new shapes and imagery such as the surface of an outermost planet. Perpetual Motion includes a visceral soundtrack developed by Guðjónsson and Icelandic musician Valgeir Sigurðsson, which responds to the granulated texture of the matter in the moving images using stacked electromagnetic sounds that have been manipulated via granular synthesis