The Art Biennale has a wish for everyone as its main theme in 2019. ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’ was chosen by artistic director Ralph Rugoff's and can be found boldly emblazoned on the programme and marketing accompanying the Venice Art Festival this year.
A resolution most of us probably would not sign up to. To live in interesting times sounds ominous. Interesting how exactly? Interesting politically sounds almost threatening. Do we not strive to live in peaceful and cooperative times? But then again, that could of course also be included under the ‘interesting’ umbrella. If the opposite of interesting were to be defined as boring rather than the absence of thrill, as in danger lurking behind us, then the Art Biennale can certainly help with that.
Bored is probably the last thing the half-million visitors, who are expected to see this show between now and November, will feel. So far, the reviews have been enthusiastic about what artists are presenting this year.
Over the six months that the exhibition will be running, from its opening on May 11th until the last day on November 24th, pavilions will be spread out over the venues Giardini, Arsenale and Forte Marghera. The Giardini (gardens) host 30 permanent national pavilions, including the Central Pavilion, which was built in 1894, and another 29 which were added later in the extended park area. Each pavilion is owned and curated by a different country. Besides these permanent pavilions, other countries are exhibited in the other venues, and across Venice.
The Art Newspaper, which covered the event extensively, decided on a list of six must-see pavilions for the 2019 show, including the pavilions curated by the UAE, India, Turkey, the Philippines, Slovenia and Ghana. The latter was also echoed as “extremely strong” by art critic Matthew Collings in the British newspaper Evening Standard. Collings highlighted artist John Akomfrah’s video installation about African life for countering “pleasure with intimations of finality.” By showing overwhelmingly beautiful animal species who are threatened by extinction, Collings says, we are reminded of the dangers our own species is facing.
Said endangerment and the general issue of climate change and pollution is a recurring theme at the Art Biennale 2019. Laura Cumming, art critic for the Guardian, captioned the “main message” from the Giardini in Venice as being, “The tide is rising. The ice caps are melting. The oceans are awash with trash.” But luckily, hope should not be abandoned. As, according to Cummings, there is also birdsong, dancing and colour in abundance.
For example, Iceland’s pavilion, which represents works by artist Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir, is said to combine colour, sound and textures to offer an “immersive, cavernous environment,” according to ArtfixDaily, and was praised as a “spectacular cave of glowing multicoloured threads descending like iridescent icicles” by the Guardian.
The British contribution was made by Cathy Wilkes this year, who filled the pavilion with filigree little figures. Her sculptural installations bring an “enigmatic human body element” that are “certainly ghostly,” wrote Collings for the Evening Standard.
It comes down to the fact that the theme for the 2019 show hit the nail on the head. We need interesting times for inspiration and experience. And just as the wish reads, we may just live in exactly those interesting times, as inspiration certainly seems to be everywhere at this year’s Art Biennale in Venice.