‘May You Live in Interesting Times’

The Venice Biennale Arte 2019 theme is supposedly an ancient Chinese curse, with perhaps different connotations in languages other than english. ‘Interesting’ may be translated as chaotic, disrupted, agitated, and seems most appropriate in our present world with climate change, environmental crises, displaced peoples, political and cultural upheaval.

The Biennale aims to involve the public in an expansive experience, and it certainly does that with dramatic installations from all corners of the globe, showing different perspectives and challenging our thinking.

One of the giant cruise ships that bring tens of thousands of visitors to Venice every day.

Venice itself is threatened by climate change, reflected in the street art and water lapping over the pavements.

Street art on Giudecca

The crowds throng here as they do to other unique, beautiful places in the world, taking advantage of cheap flights thanks to subsidies for fossil fuels and lack of tax on aviation fuel. We want to see it before it disappears…

Early morning in Piazza San Marco before the crowds!

The carnival masks in the shop windows seem to be warning us, and even the Murano glass makers are creating whimsical works referring to diving under the water and dripping taps. There is also a nostaglia for times past in the traditional printing workshops and handmade crafts.

Is this a gas mask?
‘Water, water everywhere…’

The Golden Lion prize winner this year is the Lithuanian entry ‘Sun and Sea‘, an opera-performance performed on a constructed beach in a warehouse viewed from above. In the course of an hour the audience is entranced by simple melodies with hard-hitting content emanating from the characters scattered across the beach: sun-bathing, eating, playing ball and trying to control their dogs. They sing beautifully and powerfully of climate change, sun screen, pollution of the seas, the futility of working at a desk and travelling the world. The songs are personal, heart-felt and not meant for others to hear… There is an extraordinary intimacy with the small audience who feel voyeuristic as a result of the viewpoint, and the fact that the singers are ignored by those surrounding them.

Waiting in line to experience the performance was worth it! Look online for short extracts…

Sun & Sea (Marina) in the Lithuanian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019

A group show with the unwealdy title: Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale that Society Has the Capacity to Destroy: Mare Nostrum, was a collateral event worth seeing. The highlights for me were the work by Lauren Bon which included a neon sign depicting the title, and an installation in the crypt with a hole in the floor filled with water Inverted Mediterranean Pine. She had also produced a haunting sound installation for the Chiesa di Santa Maria which responded to the rise and fall of the tides.

Lauren Bon: Inverted Mediterranean Pine

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