Everything you need to know about the 59th Venice Biennale

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59th Venice Biennale

After a three-year-long COVID-induced hiatus, the International Art Exhibition is finally back this Saturday. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss!

Three years since its 58th edition, this year’s Venice Biennale centres around the concept of imagination exploring how, through its prism, life can be constantly re-envisioned, changed and transformed. Curated by Cecilia Alemani and organised by the Roberto Cicutto - chaired Biennale di Venezia, the upcoming International Art Exhibition — The Milk of Dreams — borrows its title from Leonora Carrington’s (1917–2011) homonymous book to “take the Surrealist artist’s otherworldly creatures as companions on an imaginary journey through the metamorphoses of bodies and definitions of the human”.

Cecilia Alemani and  Roberto Cicutto - 59th Venice Biennale curators
Cecilia Alemani and  Roberto Cicutto - 59th Venice Biennale curators

Spanning across the Central Pavilion (Giardini) and the Arsenale and open to the public from Saturday 23 April to Sunday 27 November 2022, the 59th Venice Biennale is set to bring together 213 artists, 180 of these joining the event for the first time, from 58 countries across the world. Through 1433 artworks on display and 80 projects exclusively developed for the Biennale Arte, the much-anticipated International Art Exhibition will address the challenges of our times — from climate change and the precarity of the human species to the shifting notion of identity and the aftermath of COVID-19 — encouraging discussions around a wide array of questions which, up till today, remain unanswered. An example? How is the definition of the human changing? What are our responsibilities towards the planet, other people and other life forms? And what would life look like without us?

As curator Cecilia Alemani explains in a statement, the world emerging from the pages of Leonora Carrington’s book The Milk of Dreams, hence the one taking shape on the occasion of this year’s Venice Biennale, is “a world where everyone can become something or someone else; a world set free, brimming with possibilities.” Reflecting upon the meaning and relevance of this work by the maverick artist, she points out how the volume should be interpreted as “an allegory of a century that imposed intolerable pressure on the very definition of the self, forcing Carrington into a life of exile: locked up in mental hospitals, an eternal object of fascination and desire, yet also a figure of startling power and mystery, always fleeing the strictures of a fixed, coherent identity”. This very rule-breaking vision is what drives the latest edition of the Biennale Arte — a kaleidoscopic analysis of the connection between bodies and their metamorphoses, individuals and technologies, humans and their ‘home’, the Earth.

Wanting to counter man’s centrality in the history of art and contemporary culture, for the first time ever since the birth of the Venice Biennale The Milk of Dreams features a majority of women and gender non-conforming artists. Scattered around several locations including the Central Pavilion of the Giardini and the Corderie, Artiglierie, and the outdoor spaces of the Arsenale’s Gaggiandre and Giardino delle Vergini, the showcase comprises contemporary works, some of which have never been exhibited before, juxtaposed with historic artworks from the 19th century on. As visitors proceed through the exhibition, they are presented with five ‘time capsules’: clusters of artworks, found objects, documents, and more, these historical sections were designed to mark the passage of time and spark reflection on “how the history of art is constructed around museum and exhibition practices that establish hierarchies of taste and mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion”.

Gaggiandre - 59th Venice Biennale
Overview Arsenale - 59th Venice Biennale
Gaggiandre - 59th Venice Biennale

Transformation and emancipation, two key concepts of this year’s International Art Exhibition, permeate the walls of the first of the five capsules. Situated on the lower level of the Central Pavilion, this includes works by avant-garde artists such as Leonora Carrington herself, Eileen Agar, Claude Cahun, Leonor Fini, Ithell Colquhoun, Loïs Mailou Jones, Carol Rama, Augusta Savage, Dorothea Tanning, and Remedios Varo. The human body, conceived in its constant, unstoppable evolution, is the idea at the core of the creations that inhabit other areas of the same exhibition space. Here, contemporary artists Aneta Grzeszykowska, Julia Phillips, Ovartaci, Christina Quarles, and more invite the audience to ponder the possibility of body structures merging the organic and the artificial — a direct response to the increasingly mediated life we have lived over the last couple of years.

the Milk of Dreams-59th Venice Biennale
The Milk of Dreams-59th Venice Biennale

Elsewhere, Agnes Denes, Lillian Schwartz, and Ulla Wiggen as well as Dadamaino, Laura Grisi, and Grazia Varisco dive into the artificial relationship linking humans and machines; a theme that is further explored in the final section of the Corderie, where works by 20th-century artists such as the Dadaist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Bauhaus photographers Marianne Brandt and Karla Grosch, and Futurists Alexandra Exter, Giannina Censi, and Regina introduce visitors to cyborgs and their post-human, post-gender future. Looking at the past to envision a new, unprecedented future, the 59th Venice Biennale presents the audience with an artistic reflection on the fate of the Earth, at once channeling disturbing fears and trailbasing visions of how the world could look like in a matter of years. As human beings gradually lose their control of the planet, new forms of life and organisms — from bacteria and cells to robotic entities — take over it in the artworks exhibited by Jes Fan, Tatsuo Ikeda, Mire Lee, Lynn Hershman Leeson and Geumhyung Jeong to name a handful.

Finally, a glimmer of light shines through the mirage-like interpretations of the future presented as part of this year’s Biennale Arte, one for all the vast entropic garden developed by Nigerian-American artist Precious Okoyomon; a much-needed, poignant ode to the life that is yet to come, to the things that we are yet to see and, more than anything, to a world whose needs can no longer go ignored.

“For almost two years Cecilia Alemani, Curator of the 59th International Art Exhibition, and I met virtually, framed by a computer screen, and it is through that same screen that she has visited hundreds of artists’ workshops and studios around the world, poring over paintings, sculptures, videos, installations and examples of performance art that must have given her a very different view from the one she would have experienced in the flesh,” recounts

Roberto Cicutto, President of La Biennale di Venezia. “Whether all this has greatly influenced the spirit of her exhibition, I cannot say. But looking at so many imaginary worlds through the porthole of her computer, with the aim of physically bringing them to Venice to display them to the world, was most certainly an exceptional and unique experience.”

The Milk of Dreams - 59th Venice Biennale
The Milk of Dreams - 59th Venice Biennale
The Milk of Dreams - 59th Venice Biennale
The Milk of Dreams - 59th Venice Biennale

Reflecting upon the years-long process that led to the conceptualisation of The Milk of Dreams, Alemani, Donald R. Mullen, Jr. Director & Chief Curator of New York’s High Line Art and the Artistic Director of this edition of the Venice Biennale, says: “During these endless months in front of the screen, I have pondered the question of what role the International Art Exhibition should play at this historical juncture, and the simplest, most sincere answer I could find is that the Biennale sums up all the things we have so sorely missed in the last two years: the freedom to meet people from all over the world, the possibility of travel, the joy of spending time together, the practice of difference, translation, incomprehension, and communion.

“The Milk of Dreams is not an exhibition about the pandemic, but it inevitably registers the upheavals of our era,” adds the curator. “In times like this, as the history of La Biennale di Venezia clearly shows, art and artists can help us imagine new modes of coexistence and infinite new possibilities of transformation.”

The 59th International Art Exhibition will open to the public from Saturday 23 April to Sunday 27 November 2022 at the Giardini and the Arsenale. Visit the Venice Biennale’s official website to discover all the artists on display and learn more about the full programme.

https://www.labiennale.org/

Sara Enrico -59th Venice Biennale
Sara Enrico -59th Venice Biennale
Chiara Enzo  -59th Venice Biennale
Chiara Enzo-59th Venice Biennale
Laura Grisi-59th Venice Biennale
Laura Grisi -59th Venice Biennale
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