An Artist Investigates the 57th Venice Biennale
Imagine one-hundred artists closed in a conference room with a single task: Save the world with a new meaningful and mindful political and social system. What would you get? That same room full of screaming individuals of different convictions, methods, and positions, one-hundred solutions with hardly any artist fully agreeing with the other. One thing they would undividedly agree upon, without any doubt is the intention; something has to be done.
And that, when it comes to art, is enough.
Now imagine the same situation in contemporary politics. Let’s narrow it down to the Greek tragedy as the starting point, and continue drawing the arch across the entire meltdown of the past few years. Syria, the refugee crises, terrorist attacks, Brexit, the new flags of nationalism all across Europe, Turkey, and well, of course, the new American administration, or what the 8th of November did to all of us. But hey, this shit show is present politics.
So who is giving the meaning, the content to it all? Unfortunately, the answer is more than obvious. And that is why I invite you into an alternative version of our reality, the one that you can experience now in Venice, through the 57th Venice Biennial. My intention is not to zig-zag critically through the individual projects, point out the highs and the lows, try hard to decipher either this is a good, great, brilliant or bad, terrible version of what Venice Biennial is supposed to be. Many things were thought and said about the imperialistic layout of the Giardini, and the more "democratic" drawing of the Arsenale; one thing always stands, it is a showcase. It is the grand stage for all the countries to show their might. That can be criticized, and seen from so many different angles, but witnessing the world competing in its artistic, creative might, well…I honestly don't mind that. I much prefer it to all the other realistically damaging fields of competition.
Of course, the production discrepancies can poke you in the eyes. But at the same time, everyone can see through the tons of marble, brass and all the other expensive materials, equipment and blinking effects that try so hard to overshadow the lack of idea and vision. Art is still the process of embedding a particular idea into a medium. The more diverse, colorful, conflicted, beautiful, ugly, clumsy, dark or funny, the closer it is to the notion of “truth.” From my point of view, the main thing missing in today’s politics is reflection; time to think, time to create a distance from the matter that is being shaped. It seems that neurosis makes us manifests, or better utter, any kind of a mind fart that springs forth, on a daily basis. This forms what is relevant for five minutes, or four, or even less. Immediacy is a virtue; it is a manifestation of a certain flexibility of the mind, and its resilience. But at what cost? This brings me back to the timeless question of the egg and chicken, what started what.
Is it art in the age of politics or politics in the age of art?
If you look at the organizational timeline of the Biennial, this year's projects were selected in 2015. Now, going back to my opening arch, which collides with the Greek’s tragedy and the beginning of the refugee crises; the two severe issues can be seen in some of the works in the Biennale. But there is a widespread discrepancy, a feeling that the current atmosphere is not present in the most representative works. Another argument is that the artists are intentionally drifting away to create alternative realities, which can be relevant to a typical visitor for an average of five to ten minutes (the time one usually spends in a pavilion). Every edition of the Biennial grows larger, to the point that it seems that the whole city of Venice is becoming an art show, and that Venetians are mere enablers of basic needs for the infinite flow of visitors. But then again, this is a whole new issue. One thing is for sure; much of what is on display, especially the quantity, the infinite number of artists, all with different agendas, not only styles; the scale, the number of venues, can be more than overwhelming. It creates a dizzy feeling, the oh-so-familiar nervous pressure that all of it has to be consumed and nothing should be missed.
An alternative I propose is this: For a fact, it is impossible to see all the pavilions, venues, special events, performances, side projects… there are simply too many. Instead of doing what we usually do, run manically through, thinking that a simple glance will do and somehow put at ease our mind with a false idea that we managed to grasp a work which was probably in the making for a lifetime of reflection, research, and materialization. A walk through, breathing the air, the charge that works have, all those different voices, letting them sink in without constructed expectations. Art in its bases, either you share the idea or not, is constructive and positive, even if it intentionally shatters everything in front of your eyes to wake up a part of you. For this matter, Venice right now is charged with so much creative power, ideas and materializations of human sensibility and visions of existence, that one cannot but wonder how the f*ck can we live in such a bi-polar word? How is it possible that, despite all the progress in technology, communications media and the bare facts of the damage humanity has done on all levels, it seems we cannot but slip, every time, into a new form shallowness and idiocy.
Therefore, it seems that all the good intentions merely occupy parallel realities of our lives, in which we step only for a slice of time. Usually, when confronted with good art, it becomes an experience, a memory. But can then a memory of something fleeting prevail over daily obstacles and stupidity? Imagination needs fuel, and art is certainly a great generator of that.
If we go back now into the imaginary conference room, with numerous artists passionately debating all the options and looking for a way to push through personal solutions for all the reasons that define man as a highly-conflicted, unreasonable and emotional being, it is pretty close to what one experiences walking through the Biennial. Let’s be frank: Art, despite all of its honest intentions, is the fastest-growing business right now. The amount of money that is being fueled by projects these days is shamelessly sky-high, which in many cases is more than questionable, if not borderline immoral. On the outside, it lures vast floods of people from all over the world with its unquestionable ethical and moral stand, as only art per se can, to simply get away… but at the same time, knowing what is going on behind the curtain of every artist’s project, or the opportunity to participate on a grand scale, is to detonate your own career, to take the next big step. If you think the art world, the big art-fairs-big-bucks environment is any nobler when it comes to any kind of transactions, well, look again. For the very reason of its “higher than everything façade” it’s probably one of the dirtiest and most uncontrollable business running. But then again, I am speaking as an active participant in this very system, and I am sure that not all of this can be visible to a non-art-world spectator.
At the same time, if you are building any kind of a sustainable stand as an artist, a modus operandi that reflects your codex of values, as an agent and operator of your own art, you need to go down into the mud and wrestle. Within all of this, Venice in the press-preview days can be an exception, to feel like the day before Christmas, when you forget all that divides us, consciously putting aside the business and concentrating on what unites: The feeling that something has to be done. Day by day. That we all go through tough times to get those shining moments. When you see a colleague who achieved today what you achieved two years ago, you only want to go further; in and with your work. You get a chance to let it go and get immersed in the thoughts of the others.
For me, this is an incredible source of inspiration and motivation every time; to keep on trying, harder and with no excuses. So let me throw you back into that room packed with screaming artists. What is given is a chance to listen, to participate through thinking and feeling. We are being pushed (artist or not) into forming our convictions and positions through a continuous process; that is the freedom and ultimate responsibility of art, today, yesterday and tomorrow. Sadly, we can hardly say that of the socio-political reality show that we are facing now. The omnipresence and constant source of distress and disappointment, to say the least. The problem is that one seems to be contained in enclosed sectors, as some “other” is invading every area of our lives. The solution still lays in the perception and active concessions of each individual shaping the now, as abstract as that might seem. The trust in that slice of time that can flip our perception, inspire an experience and mold a memory which stays with us. In this case, we actively mold the space, in the only space where we can mold: Consciousness.