“If we, as white capitalists, would not have killed all rites – I mean the forms of symbolic and sacred practices – we would not have a biennale full works looking for authenticity”, remarks French artist Pauline Curnier Jardin when we meet at the Arsenale. One can indeed wonder about the many references to faraway traditions, reminiscent of the early years of the 20th century when artists like Picasso or Gauguin were looking for authenticity in other cultures. In 2017, though, a lot of artists from these ‘other cultures’ are actually making their own work. Or, as in the case of Curnier Jardin, artists are inventing mythologies or stories of origin themselves, rather than looking for them elsewhere. Her work Grotta Profunda, Approfondita leads the visitor into a Platonic cave where an all-seeing eye walks round and reflects on the big questions of life and creation: What if nature made art, made paintings...? says a voice. “I invent mythologies and stories about origins because I think my mission is to invent things, to invent forms of catharsis and fantasy, and then to invent origins that are other than ours...”, states the artist.
Apart from the main exhibition, there are of course the national pavilions situated in the Giardini and throughout the city. In the Brazilian Pavilion, Cinthia Marcelle has created an interior that transmits a feeling of instability. She made a second, inclining floor formed out of welded gratings. Several sculptural and painterly elements have been added and contribute to the feeling of being out of balance. A video shows a scene with men climbing off a roof, carrying mattresses. They seem to want to escape, or are they looking for shelter? They don’t actually manage to get away. In her art, Marcelle finds it possible to create a zone “between imprisonment and freedom”, as described in the video. A similar feeling of being in-between can be gathered in Mark Bradford’s U.S. Pavilion. In this case, an installation of abstract, collaged paintings functions as the passage from an oppressive situation to a more hopeful future scenario.
In the South African Pavilion, Alec Baldwin and Julianne Moore are on screen performing text fragments collected from refugees, improvising and introducing elements of alienation in their act. In the neighbouring room, one can view the full interviews with the refugees – the source material. Artist Candice Breitz apparently did not want to choose between documentary and fiction while touching on sensitive political actuality. Yet, the best works in the biennale step into fiction with full conviction. A particularly ingenious example is to be found in a collateral event at the Prada Foundation, where Alexander Kluge, Anna Viebrock, and Thomas Demand have created a show that merges their respective works in the mediums of film, photography, and set design, into one big installation spanning three floors of an old palazzo.