Days of future present
- Scott R. Garceau (The Philippine Star) - November 29, 2015 - 9:00am

Munich-based curator Okwui Enwezor made it clear that the reigning color of the 56th Biennale (“All the World’s Futures”) would be red — as in Marxist red, with performers reciting passages of Das Kapital solo and chamber orchestras performing “The Worker’s Manifesto” to a somewhat atonal musical score. All this took place in Giardini’s Arena, surrounded by satellites of political expression from both First and Third World entries.

They say our current world population of seven billion will balloon to 10 billion by 2050, with all the world fighting for dwindling resources: the 89 countries showing at Biennale took on this emerging reality. The inequality of wealth (“Reading Capital”) was one major theme or “filter” through which to view Enwezor’s Biennale; the other two were “Garden of Disorder” and “Liveness: On Epic Duration.” One could see the paths of disorder in the oversized shattered glass windows of Georgia’s exhibit, or the dislocating (but richly layered and somehow soothing) installation of video and text in American artist Joan Jonas’s “They Come to Us without a Word.” (She earned a Special Mention award.) Or you could read disorder in Serbian Ivan Grubanov’s moving exhibit, “United Dead Nations,” with its piles of soiled, bloodied national flags serving as epitaphs for nations that no longer exist (among them Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Tibet, United Arab Republic, USSR).

As for epic duration, France offered a moving sight as well: a series of living trees embedded in roving piles of earth, slowly circulating the exhibit hall like robot vacuum cleaners; in the background, one heard an electronic thrum that was actually the amplified sound of tree sap rising up the tree’s roots. A further coda came outdoors: evidence of a candlelight vigil for Paris laid at the hall entrance, handwritten prayers and signs reading “Nous Sommes Paris” (We Are Paris) speaking even more directly than the moving trees.





While things got quite heavy in many outposts of Giardini and Arsenale (the enormous indoor exhibition hall farther down the Grand Canal), there were light moments as well. Russia’s Irina Nakhova presented a room-sized head of a Russian jet pilot strapped in an air mask, his eyes flickering about in fear. Suggestive of Dr. Strangelove and other Cold War themes, the imposing scale drew people in, even as the occasional eye contact freaked them out.

Whimsy reigned in Britain’s exhibit of cigarette-smoking anuses and poppy, soft sculptures of breasts and phalluses (or both), while Canada went ahead and relocated one of its ubiquitous corner quickie marts — complete with lotto tickets and Chinese lucky cats, aging bags of chips and pastries — to Venice. For those who speak no Québécois, it was a touch of instant Quebec-kitsch (though one imagines if the Philippines decided to install one of its own sari-sari stores at the Biennale — complete with Palmolive sachets and sticks of cigarette and Skyflakes — they’d be accused of under-thinking things).

Korea offered a mesmerizing array of videos (“The Ways of Folding Space & Flying”) suggesting not only a willingness to combine technology and magic, but also the presence of very wealthy corporate sponsors, including Samsung.

Armenia, which won the Golden Lion in competition at Biennale, was sadly no longer available for viewing (housed on a separate island, it was dismantled Nov. 3); but it was Chiharu Shiota’s “The Key in the Hand” that made Japan’s exhibit a crowd favorite: the intricate array of crimson strings from which dangle hundreds of latchkeys from around the world, interweaving two wooden boats, was a winner from any angle, its theme of memory invoked by the opening video of children asked to recall what it was like being born.

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