56th Art Biennale di Venezia
Late considerations on the 56th International Art Exhibition of the Biennale di Venezia

review by Jizaino, 10 January 2016

56th International Art Exhibition
All the World's Futures
09.05 - 22.11 2015
Venice, Italy - Giardini, Arsenale and various venues

Entrance: 25 €



By the time this review has been published the Biennale was closed more than two months ago. I did not wanted to finish this review, since I eventually came to the consideration that this Biennale was quite weak and trite. Anyway, looking at the heap of notes I wrote, I decided to put together something, at least to motivate my opinion and to point out the artworks deserving attention.

Besides, diverse interests prevailed on my hope that someday a free, genuine and, in good sense, naïve Art would ever gain wide attention to reach its very aim: to overcome this materialist society, the distorted and obtuse world devoted to profit, based on slavery, that is the exploiting of others.
So, this Biennale did not gave to me more hope. After a period when I ceased to visit the Biennale, I went to the previous two editions attracted by the prevalent presence of metaphysical subjects, which are at least helping a spiritual evolution; but now all turned back to the usual scheme, supporting the many propagandistic interests of lobbies and politics: from Pan-Europeanism to the farce of global warming, to the bogus revolutions driven by a power against another power, to the false party-system conflicts acted only to deceive people, the only eternal loosers.

The “art system”, as much boisterous as fearful, instead of nourishing art, feasts on it, thanks to artists who can afford to finance their own careers. Let also outsiders know: nowadays contemporary art exists mainly thanks to artists funding it, the wealthiest ones spending their own fortune, others doing another job, some even preferring poverty. Society is what must change, that is the individual thought, it has to leap ahead and emancipate itself from the slavery of money and profit. That should have been the aim of the true contemporary Art but, sadly, an increasing multitude of exploiters want to chain the soul of the Artist down to a boulder, so we see the proliferation of exhibitions and biennials by paid admission, art critics who write pompous texts on a pay-per-word basis like translators, seminars teaching how to frame the artists within a professional system. No, they missed it all, Art is not a profession; it may have been so before Renaissance, but they would like to chain down the Artist and turn it to a mute servant making art to praise and glorify its master. The virtue of the Artist that frightens more the power is its freedom, its intolerance to rules and marketing, that is prostitution of Self.

It would be wonderful if a real rebel movement would wake up, maybe from students, artists and outsiders, who instead to languish dreaming to get in the bandwagon, would dismantle it, manifesting the ideal opposing a system which attracts the masses toward an art that is just a screen for propaganda and profit.
But, as said before, I see few chances to be successful against a society that is perhaps desperately tainted, where everything, starting from the public exhibition facilities that are held as hostages by “controllers”, is subordinated to the trivial requirements of profit. That is a sclerotic system, static and immutable, designed to help the wealthy and to hinder the needy.

What I liked, thus what I did not

It seems to me that the succeeding editions of the Biennale are becoming always more a fun fair, a shantytown with many artworks that superficially surprise the visitors, like an adventure playground, with interactive or bizarre toy-installations, essentially to entertain. Art should be not considered entertainment; its task should be instead to spread thought, so to foster the intellectual evolution, not to have a funny holiday.

As I expressed since its launch, the improbable optimism expressed by the title All The World's Futures of this Biennale seemed to be quite out of place and cut off from our times, that unfortunately has been even followed by more and more socio-political issues, terrorist attacks, international quarrels, spreading untold wars, along with the interminably inflating global financial crisis, so that all good auspices are sinking into the pool of hate and destruction.
This is the reason why I decided to be part of the Venetian biennial mess, in the attempt to counterweight that vision with the exhibition FUTURE AND BEHIND organised by CON-TEMPORARY Art Observatorium.

I have found this Biennale limp, and its theme specious, even embarrassing considering also the repetitive blind compliance defending the rights of migrants when nobody deals first with the causes that are pushing those people to run away from their homes, especially when the curator is African. Okwui Enwezor, the curator of this edition, was more interested in complaining the obsolete nationalised structure of the pavilions, anyway he did not boldly changed this model, breaking it like a Gordian knot.
Perhaps, you know, exposing the plots of rulers who perpetuate endless wars against people is dangerous, while covering them up is even profitable.

Indeed, many exhibitions were against war, but as always dealing with it only rhetorically and in general terms, not exposing specific causes and culprits, like the large installation at Ca’ Pesaro by Federica Marangoni entitled “Il Filo Conduttore” (the leading thread), very enticing and choreographic at night, surely laudable for remembering the victims of war, but too generalist as everybody knows that wars do exist and cause sufferings and deaths.
But, who could deal with the real causes if not artists alone? Artists, reading between their personal lines, can differ from the power system in the virtue of being able to risk as individuals, while power, being a system, will never be capable.

At the Iraqi pavilion, entitled Invisible Beauty, the topic of war has been examined more specifically, developing a very interesting and rich canvas of individual experiences from real people and artists belonging to the country that has suffered most, searching the causes by exclusion and unfolding the cultural aspects of this nation.

Traces of survival
Drawings by refugees in Iraq selected by Ai Weiwei

Series “Case nr. …”, 2014-2015, Haider Jabar
Watercolours and pencil on paper, various sizes

Latif Al Ani, "Music Lesson", 1962
B+W digital print on paper, 25 x 25 cm

Latif Al Ani, "US couple in Ctesiphon", 1965
B+W digital print on paper, 25 x 25 cm

Also at the large and very beautiful Iranian pavilion, curated by Marco Meneguzzo and Mazdak Faiznia, war obviously was a recurring theme in many artworks, intelligently selected for their ability to portray vices, flaws and virtues of an entire culture from which to deduce the big picture in the middle-east basin.

History”, 2012, Parastoo Ahovan
Installation, paper, metal and leather, 44 x 27 x 12 cm

Sara Rahbar, "Irreversible Violence" (War series), 2012
Mixed media on vintage military bags, 104 x 132 cm

Sara Rahbar, "Stay", 2014
Collected vintage chains and waxed bronze, 86.4 x 22.8 x 10 cm (each)

Rashad Alakbarov, "Try to Save", 2013
Metal, light, 120 x 100 x 100 cm

Ghodratollah Agheli
From the collection "Venus in the tragic land", 2012
Silver plated brass-video lcd, 50 x 35 x 52 cm

T.V. Santhosh, "Effigies of Turbulent Yestardays", 2011-2013
Fibreglass, steel and LED screens, 223.5 x 256.5 x 101.5 cm

Shadi Ghadirian, "Nil, Nil #8", 2008
Digital print, 76 x 114 cm

Newsha Tavakolian, "Blank pages of an Iranian photo Album", 2014

At the Arsenale, also the Albanian pavilion, featuring Armando Lulaj and curated by Marco Scotini, has dealt with war very cleverly, revealing this human idiocy by exposing collateral consequences on nature: the skeleton of a sperm whale killed accidentally for having been confused with a submarine. Another video has unfolded a story about the megalomania of rulers that at last yields to a humble but inexorable nature.

Armando Lulaj, Albanian Trilogy: A Series of Devious Stratagems
A partial view of the pavilion

Anyway, I also think that it is too easy for a victim to condemn war; it would be more bold for someone who has never been a victim, like artists from warmongering countries.

Other important issues of our society are mass control and individual freedom. The Estonian pavilion has faced the latter very trenchantly and smartly, I consider it one of the best pavilions, honestly serious and at times somehow bitterly amusing but at last dramatically touching. Entitled Not Suitable For Work – A Chairman’s tale by Jaanus Samma and curated by Eugenio Viola, it was a large multiple installation of evidences and videos telling the tragic story of an Estonian citizen, persecuted and finally killed for being homosexual.

Jaanus Samma, Not Suitable for Work, Estonian pavilion
Some views of the exhibition

Jaanus Samma, Not Suitable For Work, Estonian pavilion
Some excerpts from the videos

The New Zealand pavilion featured Secret Power by Simon Denny, an impressively complex installation, extremely educational and enlightening, on the colossal and yet hidden structure of secret services and “think tanks” that are controlling most aspects of our society and lives.

Simon Denny, Secret Power, New Zealand pavilion
Some views of the exhibition

Simon Denny, Secret Power, New Zealand pavilion
Global views

On the same topic, also the large installation “Shared Soul” by Joan Xandri for the Andorra pavilion has raised the question on how we should now behave to protect our privacy, proposing a composition of painted canvases stacked so that many can not be seen.

Joan Xandri, “Shared Soul”, Andorra pavilion
Installation, 800 x 250 cm

The modern art section of Azerbaijan pavilion at Palazzo Lezze has been surprisingly interesting, displaying a large retrospective on Azerbaijani modern art during USSR censorship, while the Lithuanian pavilion has been a great occasion to deepen and reread the artistic panorama during soviet repression.

Azerbaijan pavilion, Rasim Babayec
"Dictator", 1976
Oil on cardboard

Azerbaijan pavilion, Fazil Najafov
"Echo of Epoch", 1979

Azerbaijan pavilion, Javad Mirjavadov
"Cleaning Works", 1974
Oil on canvas

Azerbaijan pavilion, Ashraf Murad
"The Girl in Sunglasses", 1972
Oil on canvas

Lithuanian pavilion, Dainius Liškevičius, Museum
Some views

Lithuanian pavilion, Dainius Liškevičius, Museum
Global view and “A video performance in memory of Romas Kalanta, 2010, 7 min

Back to my preface about the despicable human habit of profit, another really worthy exhibition has been the Luxembourg pavilion, featuring Paradiso Lussemburgo by Filip Markiewicz and curated by Paul Ardenne, sarcastically and harshly dealing with tax havens, socio-economic vices, agendas of the elites, politics and finance interfering with art and culture.

Filip Markiewicz, Paradiso Lussemburgo
Luxembourg pavilion
A pencil drawing

Filip Markiewicz, Paradiso Lussemburgo
Luxembourg pavilion
Fake protest songs karaoke

Filip Markiewicz, Paradiso Lussemburgo
Luxembourg pavilion
A detail of a pencil drawing and an installation

Filip Markiewicz, Paradiso Lussemburgo
Luxembourg pavilion
More views

Unfortunately, much less were the exhibitions dealing with the as much important issues of ecological sustainability, pollution and environmental safeguard, arguments I particularly care.

The big and very interesting contemporary art section of the Azerbaijan pavilion at Ca’ Garzoni entitled Vita Vitale was entirely dedicated to the many environmental issues: the bee's Colony Collapse Disorder in “Rockswarm” by Bill Woodrow and in “Apple Tree” by Julian Opie dealing with the geoengineering pollution also called chemtrails, or the fauna dying for swallowing plastic sargassos floating like new continents on the oceans (a topic we too featured in 2014 in the exhibition OIKOS) in the video “Midway” by Chris Jordan, and plastic trash forming bio-synthetic compound reefs under the sea, the interesting depictions of statistical researches on human vs wildlife population by Paul Huxley, then the shocking IDEA Laboratory with Leyla Aliyeva and curated by Rachel Armstrong revealing the horrible things you may find into the water canals of Venice.

Julian Opie, "Apple Tree", 2012
Continuous computer animation
LCD screen, 121 x 68 x 13 cm

Leyla Aliyeva, "Life", 2014
Printed wallpaper, mixed media, sculpture and sound track
Various dimensions, installation

Bill Woodrow, “Rockswarm”, 2001
Bronze, stone and gold leaf
203 x 86 x 120 cm

Chris Jordan, “Midway”, 2012

Paul Huxley, “Wall 1”, 2015
Acrylic, 430 x 570 cm

Diana Thater, untitled (Butterfly Videowall 2), 2008
Flat screen monitors, DVD and player, distribution amplifiers, fluorescent lights

Azerbaijan pavilion, The IDEA Laboratory, with Leyla Aliyeva
Some views

A call to respect the environment has been launched without minced words by Andrea Morucchio in his exhibition The Rape of Venice exposing the consequences of mass tourism which can  be considered the culprit of that ecological decay.

Andrea Morucchio, “The Rape of Venice
Two views

A great empathy with nature characterised the lyrical and sensible exhibition …the rest is smoke by Helen Sear, with very beautiful and technically exemplary artworks holding a wise message.

Helen Sear, …the rest is smoke
Excerpts from some videos

Helen Sear, …the rest is smoke

Helen Sear, …the rest is smoke
Photographic installation

Helen Sear, …the rest is smoke

A very impressive exhibition for quality and emotional impact has been Highway to Hell by Jiang Heng: eye-catching and yet philosophical.
Also Never Say goodbye by Wu Tien-chang has been very charming: the magical atmosphere of a lullabying musical capable to convince the viewer to be the dreamer of a nostalgic dream about an ambiguous land.

Jiang Heng, Hightway to Hell
Paintings and installations

Wu Tien-chang, Never Say Goodbye
One of the installations

Personal Structures has been an exhibition so vast that it could be alone considered a biennial, and advisable for many interesting artworks, like the ones by Sebastian Schrader and Glen Clarke, or Herman de Vries, who has been also the protagonist of the Dutch pavilion at the Giardini and in my opinion should be considered the artist par excellence in our times characterised by a world in serious danger.

Sebastian Schrader at Personal Structures

Glen Clarke at Personal Structures

Herman de Vries at Personal Structures

Also the big installations and sculptures by Jaume Plensa at the cathedral in the isle of San Giorgio Maggiore have been amazing and a pleasant stop where to feel lightweight serenity.

Jaume Plensa, Together
Sculptures and drawings

Finally, I award my prize for the best artwork of this Biennale to 001 Inverso Mundus by the group AES+F, not for the incredibly wide multi-screen wall projection, the cinematographic special effects nor the singular atmosphere in the Magazzini del Sale dark tunnel, but for the story: an extremely lucid analysis of the human society across archetypes through visual metaphors capable to rouse deep feelings. It is just a pity that it has been created by a group, getting it closer to a product rather than to an artwork.

AES+F, “001 Inveso Mundus
7-channel HD video installation

Goodnesses at the Giardini

Although I have found more interesting exhibitions meant as a whole around Venice, taken singularly many were the artworks inside the two main venues of Giardini and Arsenale that has roused my admiration.

Entering the central pavilion in the Giardini, the visitors were welcomed with the short film “L'homme qui tousse” by the ever appreciated Christian Boltanski, that I see as an allegorical representation of the nihilistic idiocy of mankind.

Christian Boltanski, "L'Homme qui tousse", 1969
16mm film, color, sound, 3’

The “Nyau Cinema” by Samson Kambalu was a mesmerising installation of small videos under one minute of length representing casual urban performances recalling surrealistic or dadaist actions with a vintage touch, for which creation Kambalu compiled a manifesto of rules, as in other filmmaking movements like Dogme 95: a captivating game.

Samson Kambalu, Nyau Cinema

The large installation of “Demonstration Drawings” by Rirkrit Tiravanija showed the too often forgotten power of people: force concentration. Nowadays people have risen to a higher level of consciousness about the ruling elites thanks to connection, and dissent is the buzzword of our times. People is 99%, elites 1%, why the first still believe to be weaker than the latter? All is in our mind.

Rikrit Tiravanija, “Demonstration Drawings”, 2015
100 drawings, graphite on paper

Similarly the drawings of “Logic of Disappearance, A Marx archive” by Madhusudhanan are surreal oneiric visions of nostalgic Marxism that appear, in spite of the artist’s intentions, as something freakish and grotesque.

Madhusudhanan, “Logic of Disappearance, A Marx archive”, 2014
30 chalk drawings on paper

Beside, the vast installation of “Theory of Justice” by Peter Friedl is an all-embracing archive of media memorabilia investigating the incompatibilities and the relative cultural implications between the visions of the rulers and the reality of the masses.

On a related topic but with technocratic flavour, a large selection of the amazing paintings by Testuya Ishida have gratified my eyes.

Peter Friedl, “Theory of Justice”, 1992-2010
Newspaper clippings, 16 display cases of stainless steel, acrylic glass and painted plywood

Tetsuya Ishida
"Awakening", 1998
Acrylic on panel

Outside, the national pavilions scattered around the Giardini have followed the usual schemes as always.

As reported above, I really appreciated the Dutch pavilion featuring Herman de Vries, who proposes the return to a wild and natural life; perhaps this could be hardly envisioned by the modern mankind, but in a seriously endangered Earth an extreme position like this would be necessary to eventually get some sort of counterweighting effect.

Herman de Vries, to be all ways to be
Dutch pavilion

At the Spanish pavilion there was the very smart and amusing installation “Edicola Mundo” by Francesc Ruiz, with which he represented Italian culture and society through sarcastic reproductions of kiosks with magazines dominating the imaginary since the '80s, like the ones from the paninaro scene, the puzzles and gossips magazines or the (mis) informational and (non) educational newspapers.

Francesco Ruiz, Edicula Mundo
Spanish pavilion

The German pavilion, similarly to the one of  New Zealand, has hinted about the existence of hidden think tanks who influence socio-economic life remaining obscure, while the people is distracted.

German pavilion, Fabrik

Goodnesses at the Arsenale

I have enjoyed the small exhibitions at Giardino delle Vergini, perhaps because they were immerse into the quiet atmosphere of nature: I believe that the genius loci of a place may contribute to appreciate an artwork, in this case the exhibitions were discreeter than those into the buildings. Apart swarms of aggressive tiger mosquitos, this could be a model for the perfect exhibition venue facilitating a calm and meditative fruition of the artworks.

  Sarah Sze,“The Last Garden (Landscape of Events Suspended Indefinitely)”, 2015
Mixed media installation

Maria Eichhorn, “Militant”, 2010
Single-channel video, color, stereo sound, 6’29’

The IILA Istituto Italo-Latino Americano pavilion decided again to set up a cacophonous gallery, something like a noisy pachinko parlour, really interesting anyway: an audio archive of Amazonian languages near to extinction, isolated tribes that can recall to us the relativity of culture.

IILA Istituto Italo-Latino Americano pavilion
Global view

The Lettonia / Latvian pavilion was amazing: “Armpit” by Katrīna Neiburga and Andris Eglītis has dealt with the inhuman attitude of the man detached from beauty of nature, the worker who worships technology, the otaku who loves the hardware, who acts only by tools and plays only with devices; the transhumanist pioneer.

Katrīna Neiburga and Andris Eglītis, “Armpit
Lettonia / Latvian pavilion

The Argentinian pavilion featured the wonderful and tough sculptures by Juan Carlos Distéfano, pure and genuine artworks telling the stories of injustices endured by people.

Juan Carlos Distéfano, Argentinian pavilion

Along the Corderie of the Arsenale the thematic of war was the subject of several artists.
There were some of the marvellously detestable thrones made with decommissioned weapons by Gonçalo Mabunda, perfect allegories of the prevarication of rulers.

Gonçalo Mabunda, “The Throne of None Slavery”, 2014
Welded decommissioned weapons. 117 x 86 x 60 cm

The ballistic gel target with the suspended result of gunshots and the relative slow-motion video entitled “The AK-47 vs The M16” by The Propeller Group, although merely didactic, is an impressive crystallisation of the effects of such deadly devices and makes us understand what pain can produce one bullet alone. Multiply it for 14 billions per year.

The Propeller Group
Ballistic gel with exploded bullets

The whimsical and naïve war weapons and fantasy vehicles drawn by Abu Bakarr Mansarav, even if it was depicted to expose the insane conflicts run, is a manifestation of the craving for technological supremacy in a world dominated by violence and prevarication.

Abu Bakarr Mansarav
Drawings, pencil, black and red inks on paper, 1997

A metaphorical war on nature is the subject of “Zaum Tractor” by Sonia Leber & David Chesworth, a two-channels video showing several scenes related to suprematism.

  Sonia Leber & David Chesworth, “Zaum Tractor”, 2013
Two-channels HD video, stereo sound, 26’

With the opposite approach, Ernesto Ballesteros has continuously performed “Indoor Flights”, an action that gives a nice sensation of returning to simplicity and to a state of childhood pureness beside recalling the principles of ecological sustainability, gently letting go again and again an ultra-light airplane model to its short flight.

  Ernesto Ballesteros, “Indoor Flights”, 2015

Not to be missed, I find “Games Whose Rules I Ignore” by Boris Achour a very important and excellent artworks series, for exposing the bizarre ways used by the majority of people to achieve their goals, in the mystifying search for the words of an already written story. Really smart, serious and yet amusing.

  Boris Achour, “Games Whose Rules I Ignore (Mirror Eyes)”, 2014
Mixed media sculpture, video, color, sound, 5’19”

Boris Achour, “Games Whose Rules I Ignore (Abake)”, 2014

Boris Achour, “Games Whose Rules I Ignore (Bench)”, 2014

Like in the previous editions, the Italian pavilion, entitled Codice Italia, generally speaking and not considering individually the many interesting artworks, was still marked by a fragmentary incoherence glued with a trite pretext, for being a big fair promoting just the usual line-up of hotshots most compliant to the institutions and the art system. Everyone speaks about revolution, but no one dares to bring deserving artists but unknown.
Worst of all a horribly boisterous educational giant video-projection was welcoming visitors, only after a while I realised that it was the work of the great Peter Greenaway, sorry.
The best artwork of this pavilion is to me “Le membre fantôme” (the phantom limb) by Vanessa Beecroft, that represents the pivotal figure to which the Italian culture is fundamentally tied, the motherly female, that is at the same time also victim of violence right for being considered so important.

Vanessa Beecroft, “Le membre fantôme”, 2015
Installation of three bronze sculptures, various marble sculptures and bases, environmental dimensions

And finally, differently from the previous edition, the Chinese pavilion entitled Other Future as a whole lacked quality, raising the same sensation you may have entering certain Chinese bazaars where you can buy low-cost gimmicks that are apparently functional but badly projected and made.

The Toilets pavilion

Unfortunately this year all the toilets of the Biennale were clean because they have been completely renovated, so no artworks have been found in there, thus this edition of the Toilets pavilion has been cancelled. We hope that someone will be wishing to create free and uncensored art anew for the next edition. You may see the pages about the 1st and 2nd editions, which now represent the partial archive of the artworks that have been destroyed forever.


Generally, a decline of determination is characterising this Biennale and the contemporary artistic and social context; you can feel some sort of deflation of human and humanity ego, looking at installations with uncertain and fleeting results; not a mea culpa, but a drop of self-esteem and self-determination, a debasement and a lack of aims, an introspective doubting of the Self.
All in all, there was an atmosphere like in a botched fun fair for humble people having momentary and short-sighted needs, in spite of the stellar artists which prices are blown up like balloons.
This is the result of a human society where the power pushes the masses toward intellectual poverty, from which only the Artist can escape thanks to its own virtue, although only to linger in powerlessness for not having a large public capable of understanding.

This is post-modern: since when this definition was conceived, it seems that society is lingering in an eternal post-modernism, where everything evolves, the technology and the universe, except the human mind, which seems to find no escape from this limbo it has created.

Jizaino -