Treasures of the Venice Biennial 2017

During the opening days of the Venice Biennial, the same small talk repeats itself about the highlights and the must-not-sees of this immense contemporary art exhibition. Of marginal importance in the conversations seems to be the overall theme—VIVA ARTE VIVA, conceived by Biennial curator Christine Macel—which sounds reasonable to forget, considering the massive size of the event and it’s myriad artworks from all across the globe. However, the quality of the works is highly volatile, thus arousing heated discussions while drinking the obligatory wine or spritz during the numerous openings.

Anne Imhof, Faust, Performance, 2017, German Pavilion, Biennale di Venezia 2017, winner of the Golden Lion.

This year’s most discussed Pavilion is the German one, that finally won the Golden Lion prize for the best national pavilion of this year’s Biennale di Venezia. Anne Imhof’s intense several-hour performance Faust involves several performers. A transparent inlay with a superior floor was built in the pavilion for the visitors to walk around on a higher level above the regular floor so that a lot of the monumental power of the building is taken away. The inlay also prevents the spectators to walk in to several spaces they are now just able to look at, whereas the performers move around “freely” and with their movements and powerful poses control the surge of people. However, all participants, the performers, the spectators and also the Doberman dogs outside in the cage were in fact incarcerated.

Cody Choi, Venetian Rapsody, 2017, Core

In the premises of the Biennial, or in Venice in general, many artistic treasures are hidden—and I am not speaking about Damien Hirst here. Cody Choi (*1961 in Seoul) who participates in the South Korean Pavilion “represents a generation of Korean artists who, in the 1990s, responded to Western cultural domination through appropriation and parody. Such strategies enabled Choi to process his own culture show as an immigrant to the United States—a nation that had infiltrated his own through aggressive socioeconomic maneuvers. On the roof of the Pavilion, Venetian Rhapsody creates a dense, glowing forest of neon signage that borrows feely from the visual ambiance of casinos in Las Vegas and Macao and reflects on the spectacle of global capitalism and its most desirous and mediated locales.” (Text by LEE Daehyung, Curator of the Korean Pavilion, 2017)

Alicja Kwade, WeltenLinie, 2017, Biennale di Venezia 2017

Weltenlinie at the Arsenale deals with the materiality of the physical world and the non-haptic image or mirrored reflection of it, a parallel world. Both realms intertwine and can hardly be distinguished especially when looking from the outside towards the installation of mirrors, thresholds and stone-like sculptures. The work seems to be a parable for the ties between the haptic world and the visual one, both clearly and inevitably stated as being real, because we can grasp and perceive both of them with different senses. Further, Alicja Kwade’s work is constantly reminiscent of the inadequacy and deficiency of the human cognitive ability that here is unable to distinguish the so-called “real” and its illusion.

Tracy Moffat, Passage, 2017, Australian Pavilion, Biennale di Venezia 2017

The Australian Pavilion presents the exhibition My Horizon with two new series of large-scale photographs by Tracey Moffatt, Body Remembers and Passage, as well as two new video works. “Passage is a suite of 12 vivid large-scale photographs staged in raking late-afternoon sun or at twilight in a mysterious port. The composition is atmospheric and strongly reminiscent of film noir, while the painterly colour and omnipresent haze achieve a Turneresque effect. The cast of characters – a mother, a baby, a policeman with a motorcycle and a slim, sharply dressed, cigarette-smoking character whom Moffatt calls ‘the middleman’ – act out a story of furtive encounters in a deserted port. In the opening photograph, Mother and Baby, the young mother enveloped in yellow fog nurses a squirming baby and points to the horizon – perhaps representing the baby’s future, with or without her. In Passage, Moffatt alludes to the current global crisis of displacement and its impact on the human condition. We are reminded of mass human movement across borders and terrain: the timeless narrative of forced migration.” (Source: press text)

Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen, exhibition The Aalto Natives, Pavilion of Finland, Biennale di Venezia 2017

The artists Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen collaborated for the Pavilion of Finland that presents the exhibition The Aalto Natives, curated by Xander Karskens. Both artists are known for story-driven and comedic work focussing on clichés of Finnish history and national identity. The title refers to the famous Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto (1898-1976). “Conflating ideas and tropes from archaeology, anthropology and science fiction, the work re-imagines Finnish society through the eyes of two messianic outsider figures, Geb and Atum, who are represented by talking animatronic puppets. The story presents Geb and Atum as terraforming higher beings, who re-visit the Finland they have created millions of years earlier, and who try to make sense of the culture that has developed in the meantime. They are engaged in a dialogue in which they introduce a series of video vignettes on Finnish creation mythology, contemporary Finnish society and their vision for the future of Finland.”  (Text by frame – contemporary art Finland)

Katja Novitskova, Installation, 2017, Estonian Pavilion, Biennale di Venezia 2017.

Katja Novitskova takes over the Estonian Pavilion, curated by Kati Ilves. “The exhibition title If Only You Could See What I’ve Seen with Your Eyes addresses the relationship between the domain of seeing, big data-driven industries, and ecology in times of biotic crisis. It is a quote taken from a conversation in Ridley Scott’s cult sci-fi film, Blade Runner (1982), between the replicate Roy Batty and designer Hannibal Chew—who created his eyes. Currently, vast aspects of human and nonhuman lives are being registered and modeled on an environmental scale. Collection and processing of data has become a tool used to map all possible surfaces, moments and spectra on Earth and beyond—from faces to biological cell walls to dust on Mars. This is performed by human, and increasingly, robotic agents, and is directed at people, both wild and captured creatures, and nonliving processes. Seeing has become an expanding extractive industry. In the process new visual languages, commodities and life forms are being generated reflecting back to us our often violent entanglement with the world: patterns of embryonic development in mutated lab-test worms, live-streamed flows of CO2 gas across the planet, or a group of near-extinct animals passing by a tree and noticing the tracking camera.”

(Text from )

All photos are (c) Tina Sauerlaender

Antartic Pavilion, Biennale Venezia 2017
Kiki Smith, works at the Biennale di Venezia 2017
Lee Wan, Proper Time, 2017, Korean Pavilion, Biennale di Venezia 2017
Hajra Waheed, Our Naufrage 1-10, paintings, 2014, Biennale di Venezia 2017
Mariechen Danz, mixed media installation, Biennale Venezia 2017
Gal Weinstein, Sun Stand Still, 2017, Israeli Pavilion, Biennale Venezia 2017
Jana Zelibska, Swan Song- Don’t be naive, installation, 2017, Czech Republic and Slovakia Pavilion, Biennale di Venezia 2017
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Tina Sauerlaender

Tina Sauerländer is an art historian, curator and writer based in Berlin. With her label peer to space she has been organizing and curating exhibitions in different fields of contemporary art for several institutions and galleries since 2010, e.g. PORN TO PIZZA—Domestic Clichés (2015), Dark Sides Of… (2015), Across the Lines (2014), Visual Noise (2014), Money Works Part 2 (2014) or Entering Space (2013). She is the author of many texts on contemporary artists for catalogs, magazines or journals, e.g. Taryn Simon, Alicja Kwade, Carsten Nicolai or Anselm Reyle for the Kritisches Lexikon der Gegenwartskunst. Her website is

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