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ActuallyMag’s Guide to the 54th Venice Biennale: Part I

Every two years, the international art world falls upon Venice to create an ever-expanding affair that overlaps the streets of the Floating City and the surrounding lagoons. In its 54th run, the title of this year’s Venice Biennale is ILLUMInations.


The Venice Biennale features both independent exhibits as well as National Pavilions, where artists representing their country showcase their work. The best national pavilion is awarded a Golden Lion, the first runner-up a Silver Lion, etc. It is for this reason that the Venice Biennale is also known as the Olympiad of the Art World.


Having lived in Venice for a month now, I have visited all the National Pavilions, and been to several of the external collaborations. If you are planning a trip to Venice, the La Biennale di Venezia is definitely worth a visit. Here are the pavilions that left the strongest impression on me:


The Singapore Pavilion


Sitting here for eight hours a day as a ‘guardian’ of the Singapore Pavilion, it is impossible not to constantly seek further understanding of the work. Artist Ho Tzu Nyen has created a 30-minute length film, titled ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’, as an exploration of the artistic metaphor of clouds. Clouds are depicted in Chinese artwork as a representation of faith and spirituality. The film questions the source of spirituality, the cloud who embraces the different individuals is a man. Relying on a comprehensive surround sound system, giant screen, and smoke machines, the film takes on a sensory nature, which overwhelm the senses: it ends with a gushing of smoke, creating a cloud, suspended in silence above the heads of the visitors.


The USA Pavilion


In “Gloria”, Allora & Calzadilla bring performance art to the American Pavilion. A 52-ton military tank is turned upside down and topped with a treadmill, on which an Olympic gold medalist runs on, though the tank goes nowhere, suggesting the futility of an arms race. In one of the rooms, a custom-made pipe organ spirals out of a fully-functioning ATM, which plays notes every time money is withdrawn. Ironically, the pavilion seemed like a mocking critique of U.S. culture and consumerism.


The France Pavilion


Walking in, one is immediately greeted with the clinical sight of a production factory. Christian Boltanski fills the Pavilion with complex scaffolding around which spools images of newborns at a frightening pace. The faces of babies flash before your eyes, whirling around the room, as if born each second, into a world without thought. In another wing of the Pavilion, images are spliced up and conjoined with facial features of adults. Press a button and the images pause, so the viewer may look upon a kind of exquisite corpse, the amalgamation of death and life.


The Israel Pavilion


Titled ‘One Man’s Floor is Another Man’s Feeling’, the Israel Pavilion left the largest impression on me. Drawing from three universal elements, water, land and salt, Sigalit Landau weaves the tale of the interdependence of human beings. The political commentary on Israel’s close proximity to its neighbors takes a poetic direction in a video projected on the floor, where three boys draw lines on the beach, marking their own space, while messing over and ignoring their friends’ lines. This seemed to me, a clear reference to the struggle for territory and identity in the region. Water pipes pumping water out of the exhibition run along the Pavilion. Fragile fishing nets are crystallized in a salt statue, dangling down in ethereal light. A time-lapse film shows the slow dissolving of Salt Crystal Shoes on a frozen lake, till the pair of shoes sink into the water.


– Natalie Chin, an intern at the Singapore Pavilion, currently living in Venice.

The 54th International Art Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday, June 4, to November 27, 2011, in the Giardini and the Arsenale in Venice, Italy. labiennale.org

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