Klara Kemp-Welch: Alfredo Jaar drowns the Giardini

Walking into what should be a flat room, we climb a series of unnecessary steps, only to have to climb down another set as we exit - a reminder perhaps that this abnormal routine has swiftly become one we barely notice in Venice. At the summit of the mock bridge we see what it is that has been casting the shadows of rippling water onto the ceiling. Not much, really. A square of murky Venetian khaki water in a metal frame. The surface ripples but nothing happens for a while. Then, slowly, shapes emerge; the familiar pavilions of the Giardini and its trees come dripping from the green depths. I wonder if this a post-apocalyptic Europe survived only by the same old 28 pavilions, but no. I’ve experienced the installation backwards. Jaar is more invested in drowning the pavilions than watching them rise out of the deluge. This is all intended as a comment on the uneven politics of the Biennale and the interminable controversies surrounding national pavilions. His take is that these “have lost their meaning in the fluidity of today’s culture”.

Is this the fate of Venice?

In case we are wondering what this has to do with the light box with a photograph of Lucio Fontana descending a pile of rubble in a ruined tenement block that once housed his studio in Milan, which we walked past on our way in, Jaar’s interesting notes makes the link to this flashback of the disaster of war. He’s making a point about cultural renewal. Italy emerged from the rubble of war to appear again on the cultural globe after the war. The implication is that others can do the same, globally, today. If all this may be a bit predictable it is nevertheless heartfelt. Jarr was one of those invited to participate in the Aperto section of the Biennale in 1986 —astonishingly for those of us too young to remember the Biennale then —making him the first Latin American artist ever to take part in the event and lending weight to his poetic gesture of drowning the Giardini.

Klara Kemp-Welch is a researcher at the Courtauld Institute, London

Published Fri, 31 May 2013 16:50:00 GMT

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