Venice, mid-July. I've just arrived by train from Milan and I decide to walk to the Giardini. After 40 minutes of trying to come to terms with Google Maps and the hordes of tourists, the last stretch of road is killing me. My destination is still far and there is not a single tree or shelter to retreat from the burning sun. As I walk, I have apocalyptic thoughts about the future of the planet – thoughts more frequent since I've become a mother. When at last I reach my destination, I sit down and breathe in the Giardini only to be attacked by a swarm of mosquitos. I dash into the Nordic Pavilion of the 58th Venice Art Biennale, where organic forms of different shapes and colours surround me. Some giant seaweed blends with the old trees that define the architecture of the pavilion. The floor is scattered with round forms that look like soft rocks or large unicellular life forms. To the right, three glass cabinets in pink, white, and violet are open to show their undefined, organic content. ‘Personally I see them as bodies,’ explains their author, the Norwegian artist Ane Graff, ‘bodies whose entanglements with others are far more complex than we have understood traditionally in Western thought.’

Graff’s site-specific work, States of Inflammation, reflects the artist’s main focus on the interconnectivity of everything material. ‘In our time, this carries a specific meaning, as it means our bodies are part of this gigantic material experiment, where new substances are being added to the mix through industrial production and pollution and we are losing some of our companion species – namely the bacteria that live on and with us. All of this changes our bodies into something new, something unknown.’ The sculptures are filled with a variety of materials such as minerals, metals, food stuff, and pigments made by bacteria or industrial waste, including trans fats from microwave popcorn, phthalates from Dove Sensitive antiperspirant sticks, and silica from road dust.

Graff started experimenting with microbiology in sculpture during her practice-based PhD at the Academy of Fine Arts in Oslo (2015-19). ‘Inspired by feminist material thinkers,’ she recounts, ‘I view human beings as part of an expansive material network, stretching inside and outside of our bodies. The new research in microbiology can show us how our bodies and behaviour change with different microbiota, and how our bacteria can affect our genetic material. Through everything we come in contact with, we change. With my work I try to increase the awareness of humans never being separate from their surroundings.’

An investigation into the non-human world around us can also be found on the organic sculptures lying on the ground by nabbteeri, the Finnish artist duo of Janne Nabb and Maria Teeri. ‘We wanted to acknowledge the non-humans who share their spaces with us, starting from the materiality of Giardini and other places we've been inhabiting during this process,’ they explain. ‘We collected a variety of flora surplus from the Giardini, like decomposing organic matter, branches both dead and alive, and some saplings, as well as almost five cubic metres of sand, and local tap water. We wanted to focus on the movement of this matter and slow down the flux of maintenance that the humans have constructed around it.’ The installation includes a video in which a narrator describes their territory, which is about to shrink because of the approaching winter. Minor and major events, both fictional and autobiographical, are given equal consideration. The narrator conveys a sense of weltschmerz, and would be ready to dig themselves in the clay of the garden when winter comes. ‘The ongoing accelerated disconnection between humans and practically the rest of the known world is apt to arouse anxiety,’ the two artists state. ‘In recent times we've tried to find our way through it by doing focal practices, working with in-situ materials, working less, retreating. Through limitations and adapting we've been actually able to diversify our working palette, though most questions remain unanswered.’

The third group of works in the exhibition arise from the same need to slow down and reconsider. A Great Seaweed Day by Swedish artist Ingela Ihrman is a selection of handmade seaweed sculptures in red, brown and green. They hang silent and slack, as if they were recently lifted out of the sea. ‘I have made them in a scale that relates to my body, and I like that they are a bit too big to be carried around – slipping through my arms and fingers,’ says the artist. ‘I think of them as emotional watercolour sculptures. The colour is important. Algae of different colours grow on different depths depending on how deep the wavelengths of the light they need for photosynthesis reach.’

A Great Seaweed Day is part of the project The Inner Ocean (ongoing since 2016), which arose from the premise that liquid found in mature ovary follicles of all terrestrial animals has the same salinity as the water the primal ocean once had, where the first life on Earth originated several million years ago. Today we all still carry this water of life within our bodies. All the works express this link between humans and the universe. ‘The green one is the gut weed (Ulva intestinalis),’ Ihrman handily explains, ‘a tubular green algae that is common in both Venice and Malmö, where I live. It is one of the first algae to settle on new shorelines and has small bubbles of air from photosynthesis inside, which enables it to float just below the water surface. If the gut weed is an intestine and the body is a marine landscape, the small air bubbles becomes the inner wind of the belly – flatulence.’

I leave the Pavilion and head to the train station, this time by vaporetto. I am still thinking about climate change and the future of the planet when we cross a boat on the Giudecca in which a crowd of people are celebrating. There is music and food, they are dancing and laughing, and waving at us. In contrast to what I have just seen, the whole scene looks a bit surreal and it reminds me of a Fellini movie, and also of the musicians on the Titanic performing while the passenger liner was sinking. Unlike them, we might still have time to save ourselves, but we must act now.