Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Venice Biennale: The Italian Pavilion

In addition to about half of the curated exhibition, the massive Arsenale building also hosts a cluster of national pavilions: the especially large Chinese and Italian pavilions as well as odd others, the Bahamas, a collective of Latin American countries, Chile, Argentina, the Republic of Indonesia, the Republic of Kosovo, Lebanon, Lativa, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates,and the Holy See. Except for China and Italy, most of the country exhibitions occupy one large room. Passing through this series of rooms that lead directly into, or come immediately after the curated show, is a very different experience from that of finding the individual pavilions in the Giardini or hidden in apartments, churches, palaces  and other spaces throughout the city.. Independent as they definitely are, they feel like part of one large diverse exhibition. Because of some strange problem with Blogger, I've had to divide all these pavilions out and just post Italy here. I'm hopeful that I can get the rest of the Arsenale items, which are really interesting, fixed and up within the next day.

This was the second year that Italy has had a dedicated pavilion, since the erstwhile Italian Pavilion has been used for the curated exhibition for many years. Two years ago the huge space was a mishmash of a sort of "curators' choice" works, too many and not many of much interest, but jumbled together so closely that it was difficult to sort out. This time the exhibition is much more tightly organized and was much more successful. Titled "vice versa" and curated by one person, Bartolomeo Pietromarchi, showed 7 pairs of artists whose works made some sort of dialogue with each other. I was particularly touched by the works in the pairing of Francesco Arena (b. 1978) and Fabio Mauri (1926-2009). Mauri's work was a video from 1973 that I would have thought was brand new. It depicts a performance in which a young woman slowly, item by item, dresses in and undresses from an Italian Youth fascist uniform. The slow change from nude to a uniformed symbol underscores the difference between humanity and ideology, with reference to Italy's past. Francesco Arena's large, seemingly abstract sculptures also refer to history. He researched a goup of mass graves: Burgos, Spain (1935-39), Benedicta Italy (1944), Batajnica Serbia (1992-95) and Ivan Polje, Kosovo (1992-95) to represent the mass executions of the 20th century. After determining the number of cadavers in each grave, he multiplied that number by his own body weight and gathered the amount of soil those bodies would displace, 140 tons, using it to fill the four large pilasters placed in the gallery. The juxtaposition of this large monument with the video of a single woman gives depth to the concept of totalitarianism and atrocity.
Outdoors I might have overlooked a large cement cube by Piero Golia, My Gold is Yours, 2013, which looked like any minimalist sculpture. However, this one contained a kilogram, 2.2 pounds, of gold dust, which could be seen as lovely veins through the cement. Visitors are invited to chip away at the cube, although not many seem to have tried and the likelihood that any significant amount of gold could be retrieved was nil. The combination of preciousness in a mundane material and the inaccessability of it creats a push-pull response, as well as a sense of beauty and loss.

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