Cited as the "Olympics of the art world", the 58th installment of the Venice Biennale (or Biennale Arte), set to open in May 2019, has already made substantial waves in the art-sphere. It recently announced its curator—Ralph Rugoff, director of the Hayward Gallery in London since 2006. Rugoff then announced how next year’s Biennale would carry the title ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’, whilst elucidating its relation to “an ancient Chinese curse”, later admitting that it had been wrongly understood when members of the public were quick to correct its fallaciousness.
In a later statement he states, “In this case it turns out that there was never any such ‘ancient Chinese curse,’ despite the fact that Western politicians have made references to it in speeches for over a hundred years. It is an ersatz cultural relic, another Occidental ‘Orientalism,’ and yet for all its fictional status it has had real rhetorical effects in significant public exchanges.”
This inherently sparks the discourse surrounding translation mishaps, our unfortunate era of fake news, et cetera, but we do have to hand it to Rugoff’s angle in how he thinks the biennial should reflect the times we live in rather than force in overlooked or rediscovered artists just because they're trying to “re-write art history.”
We eagerly anticipate the announcements of some big countries and their involvements in this coming Biennale (USA, we’re looking at you). For now, here’s what we know about the Asian pavilions that have announced their teams and what the public are to expect:
Title: Music for Everyone: Variations on a Theme
Artist: Song-Ming Ang
Curator: Michelle Ho
Expect: A presentation spanning various media, drawn from experimental music practices and a certain spirit of amateurism so as to portray a counterpoint to Singapore’s state-driven vision of Music for Everyone. Ang’s practice consistently examines the contexts in which music is produced, disseminated and consumed. Look out for Recorder Rewrite, a new work based on a main component of Singapore’s music education in schools since the 1970s where children are taught how to play the recorder as part of music classes from a young age. Another work of Ang’s entitled You and I will be featured, where he requested for handwritten letters and mailed back personalised mix tapes on CD-Rs as a response.
Country: Hong Kong
Artist: Shirley Tse
Curator: Christina Li
Expect: A pavilion of ‘firsts’. Tse is the first female, as well as the first overseas Hong Kong artist and sculptor to represent Hong Kong at the upcoming Venice Biennale. Both artist and curator were born in Hong Kong but lived elsewhere in the later parts of their lives. They accredit their formative years to influences from Hong Kong, with Li stating how she wants viewers to “think about Hong Kong art without being restricted to where the artists physically live”. Los Angeles-based Tse’s work pulls its focus towards societal changes within the age of globalization and she represents this through the scope of plastics and polymers and their roles within urban development.
Title: Island Weather
Artist: Mark Justiniani
Curator: Tessa Maria Guazon
Expect: Immersive large-scale installations and site-specific art—after all it’s what Justiniani is most well known for. Presented as a three-pronged installation, the artist sheds light on the notion of perception and place; how an island seeks to be a point of reference for a nation. It seeks to explore the nature of physicality as manifested by a geographic space. These notions will be distinctively split across the aforementioned three segments, into ‘Island Voyage’, ‘Local Forecast: Turbulent Weather’ and ‘Piers and Ports’, with all divisions drawing back to the factors that affect one’s geographical home, be it environmental, political or metaphysical.
Artist: Shu Lea Cheang
Curator: Paul B. Preciado
Where: Palazzo delle Prigioni
Expect: Multimedia works that will shake the platform of net art to be felt around the world; a pavilion that brings together “underground traditions, from transfeminism, queer and anti-racist politics, as well as science fiction narrative, video art and installation”. The first female to represent Taiwan since it began hosting single-artist presentations, Cheang has been described as a pioneer of net art itself. Her work BRANDON (1998-99) was the first web based work that the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York has collected and recently restored. Since then, Cheang’s works have consisted of new media works, net installations, mobile games, performance, and film. Notable mention goes out to this pavilion’s curator, Paul B Preciado – philosopher, head of research at the Museum of Contemporary art of Barcelona, a leading voice on queer, trans- and gender issues, and additionally a former student of Jacques Derrida.
Artist: Motoyuki Shitamichi, Taro Yasuno (composer), Toshiaki Ishikura (anthropologist), Fuminori Nousaka (architect)
Curator: Hiroyuki Hattori
Expect: To question your place and existence within the Earth’s ecosystem. The press release by the Japanese Foundation states, “The aim of the exhibition is to create a space where people can turn their thoughts to and ponder the question of how we can live together with plants and animals and the land within this spatiotemporal environment”. They seek to highlight how the existence of humans is an insignificant blip in the context of the world’s 4.6 billion year old history. As a country that feels significant impacts of both natural and manmade disasters, it is no wonder that Japan has made it their prerogative in forcing us to reconsider a co-existence rather than the mere existence of humans and non-humans in our growth oriented society. Their perspectives highlight how the Earth’s limits are beginning to be exposed, which in turn emphasizes the need to present new ways of living.
Artist: Inci Eviner
Curator: Zeynep Öz
Expect: A brand new installation that is likely to explore the formation of subjectivity. Eviner’s works usually explore the notion of power and politics of representation. She also does this in relation to the female body. What might already seem like a complex set of relations is formed through video technologies and the traditions of painting, proposing disparate perceptions to her viewers. Eviner’s works can additionally be read as analyses to Turkey’s political climate at the point of its given exhibition.
For more information on the Venice Biennale 2019, click here.