Aaron Cezar: Rebuilding Utopias in Venice

Draped across the exterior of Teatro Fondamenta Nuove, with views down the channel towards San Marco airport, Emily Jacir's hand-painted banner Untitled (SOLIDARIDAD), 2013, welcomes visitors not only to the Emergency Pavilion but also to Venice itself. Jacir's sign may bewilder the hoards of tourists arriving to Venice by boat and ruin their "picture perfect" first glimpse of the city but it is an important intervention. The former Golden Lion winner's work is a call to action, to unite and to also look deeper beyond seemingly utopian façades. This is the central premise of the Emergency Pavilion’s "Rebuilding Utopias", a collateral exhibition of the 55th Venice Biennale.

The writing on the wall greets unsuspecting tourists

The exhibition's written statement of intent is confusing but the curation of the show and the collection of artworks has a resounding voice and sense of urgency. The transition from the outside to the inside is a dramatic one, as visitors are plunged into near darkness upon entering the main space. The curator, Jota Castro, creates an element of tension within the exhibition that is fitting for this theatre. Each of the works is magnificently lit and their spatial arrangement leave dark voids throughout the exhibition; this contrast has an equally powerful impact.

The expert use of lighting creates a dramatic display

Sound is also a strong element within the exhibition, and Jacir’s work continues with a recording of re-enacted speeches from the opening of the 1974 Venice Biennale, which was dedicated to Chile in protest against Pinochet’s bloody dictatorship. The different versions in Italian, English, Spanish and Arabic occupy the space, sometimes as a murmur and, at times, nearly cacophonous. There is also a pleasing interference with the sound from Cinthia Marcelle’s film Leitmotiv, 2011, in which faceless sweepers fight to control a violent puddle of rushing water.

Wilfredo Prieto, Fear of Emptiness, 2012, in the foreground

More subtle works feature in the show like Wilfredo Prieto’s Fear of Emptiness, 2012, made up of used bubble wrap, laid loosely along the floor alongside artworks that more directly reflect on systems of control and power, such as the curator’s own work Here comes the rain again, 2013, and documentation from Santiago Sierra’s provocative performance The Trap, 2007.

Jota Castro, Here comes the rain again, 2013

As the re-enacted speeches in Jacir’s Untitled (SOLIDARIDAD), 2013, rally for the end to dictatorships and for human solidarity, visitors are left reflecting on the current global state of political and economic affairs. It would be remiss not to point out that on the first public day of the Biennale a large crowd of Turkish and international artists, curators and other cultural workers made their own banners for Piazza San Marco and marched from the Arsenale to the Giardini. With calls of ‘Resign Erdoğan!’, they walked in solidarity for their friends and the citizens in Turkey and to raise awareness of the ongoing brutal police crackdowns on peaceful protests stemming from Istanbul’s Gezi Park and now spreading to many other Turkish cities.

Solidarity in action: Venice supports Turkey

Worth seeing

Aaron Cezar is the director of the Delfina Foundation

Published Tue, 04 Jun 2013 16:43:00 GMT

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