Almost immediately as one proceeded into the Arsenale exhibition the prominence of politically motivated art was clear. There were film installations, physical/sculptural installations, texts and so on, by various artists, all carrying incredibly important and powerful messages regarding various political themes. A few stood out to me the most which I would like to discuss.
One is Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s Can't Help Myself, which was in the Giardini exhibition. A giant glass cube housed a crane moving in an automatically programmed kinetic sequence. There was a giant brush attached to the crane which would sweep up a red liquid which was always being spilled and always being swept up again, in giant circles, again and again, making a mess everywhere including the glass boundaries. It was acoustically loud, mechanical and screechy, sounding like something or someone being agonised and in discomfort. Some of the movements looked human - sexual, angry, or like the gestures of a person in protest. The amazing thing about a piece like this is everyone will read something entirely different into it. For me it was politically charged in a very bold sense. I had a very powerful flashback experiencing the work, and since that recollection, it is what I think I will always think of when looking back at the piece. I recalled a report that I saw once on the Channel 4 news. The middle east conflict was being discussed. It was being said how the British government was engaged in two contradictory acts. On the one hand support was provided to Israel’s administration who were at the time bombing Gaza. On the other, the British government was also supporting aid efforts to the people of Gaza who were being bombed. Someone discussing this said something along the lines of ‘we help support the bombing of civilians and then we support trying to patch them up again afterwards’. This work encapsulated that entire sense for me. I thought it was brilliant.
Shilpa Gupta’s work was another work that stood out to me. Her installation, in a dark space, included quotes from over 100 poets who have been detained for their work, on pages pierced through with spikes, one for every poet. Microphones were suspended from the ceiling. Accompanying acoustics allowed us to hear the poetry. At a moment in time where our freedom of speech: civilians, journalists, artists, activists and even politicians, is becoming more and more fragile, I found this piece to be powerful and highly topical.
And the final, poignant image I would like to share is a photograph that I took outside the Venezuela pavilion, which this year did not participate in the Biennale. It is a reminder of the fragile state of the Biennale itself, that depends on some level of peace around the world in order for participation to be ongoing, from every pavilion, from every country, every two years that come around.