Exhibitions Fairs Venice Biennale Switzerland

A tale of two cities

Three artists’ works in Venice and Basel

Matt Mullican's Learning From That Person’s Work, 2005, is on show in Venice

Matt Mullican
Venice: Learning From That Person’s Work, 2005
Basel: Two Into One Becomes Three, 2011

Matt Mullican describes his current Venice Biennale installation as “a crazy body of work”. It was partly informed by his experiments with hypnosis and performance. Massimiliano Gioni has described it as a labyrinth, which Mullican suggests relates to the sheer abundance of imagery and material: one part of the installation has 42 bed sheets hanging from wires, with each sheet containing nine separate drawings. “It really becomes labyrinthine, because of the amount of stuff in there,” Mullican says. “But you’re not going to get lost.” His dense Basel work uses a technique similar to brass rubbing to render images from Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie alongside Mullican’s personal pictograms: symbols for the elements, life and death, heaven and hell, among much else.

Akram Zaatari
Venice: Letter to a Refusing Pilot, 2013
Basel: “Bodybuilders” series, 2011


Based on an open letter he wrote, Zaatari’s video in the Biennale tells the story of an Israeli pilot, Hagai Tamir, who, during the 1982 Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon, refused to bomb a school in Saida, which Zaatari’s father had founded. “The video is constructed as a letter addressed to him, as a mythical figure, but also it’s indirectly addressed to any individual in the military who has the courage to refuse an order,” Zaatari says. “It’s about deferring to humanist or moral values against the idea of obeying a military institution.” In Basel, alongside erotic drawings, Zaatari shows the “Bodybuilders” series; found archival images that are damaged, their fragility at odds with the poses of their protagonists.

Alfredo Jaar
Venice: Venezia, Venezia, 2013
Basel: Sound of Silence, 2006


In Venice, Alfredo Jaar shows a huge model of the Giardini that emerges every three minutes from a pool of water before disappearing again. “The Biennale, with its obsolete structure of national pavilions, reflects an era of the past,” he says. In the Unlimited section at Art Basel, he shows a poignant eight-minute film, focusing on Kevin Carter’s devastating photograph of an African child gripped by famine under the sinister glare of a vulture. “That image is quite extraordinary. It is, for me, perhaps the most extraordinary image ever taken from reality,” Jaar says. “[It] reflects in the most perfect way the issue of hunger in the world and the issue of the relationship of the so-called developed world to hunger.”


Alfredo Jaar is showing Venezia, Venezia, 2013, at Venice
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