There are 90 national pavilions presented at the 56th Venice Biennale and I visited nearly all of them. In this post you will find my selection of the best exhibitions from Eastern Europe.
Armenia (The Golden Lion winner in the national participation category)
In this symbolic year 2015, on the occasion of the one hundredth commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Armenia has dedicated its pavilion to the artists of the Armenian diaspora. It is located at the Mekhitarist Monastery on the island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni.
The curatorial concept of Armenity implies the notion of displacement and territory, justice and reconciliation, ethos and resilience. Regardless of their place of birth, the selected artists carry within their identity the memory of their origins. Through their talent and willpower, these grandchildren of survivors of the Armenian Genocide—the first genocide of the 20th Century—rebuilt a “transnational assembly” from the remnants of a shattered identity. Their ingrained concern for memory, justice and reconciliation skillfully transcends notions of territory, borders and geography. Whether they were born in Beirut, Lyon, Los Angeles, or Cairo and wherever they may reside, these global citizens constantly question and reinvent their armenity.
Czech Republic and Slovak Republic
The project, which references an iconic artwork from Czech history, is a radical and complex conceptual installation that combines distinctive value of the space in the National Pavilion Czechoslovakia with questions of national identity and representation. Project thematizes a series of contradictions concerning both artistic poetics as well as disturbing manifestations of contemporary civilization.
The works of Cseke Szilárd often investigate global issues, and questions of identity are frequently brought into collision with themes of migration and personal decision-making, thus alluding to sustainability with the combination of found and recycled objects. Szilárd Cseke’s composition is a site-specific installation dealing with the complexities of identities.
Republic of Kosovo
For her solo presentation at the Kosovo Pavilion, Flaka Haliti conceived the site-specific installation Speculating on the Blue, reflecting on the meaning of borders, democracy, freedom and mobility.
The skeletons of barrier-like objects that occupy the exhibition space are a reference to the aesthetics of the concrete walls that are erected between nations and regions as a materialization of conflict. Haliti’s installation aims at de-militarizing and de-contextualizing this specific aesthetic regime by stripping the columns down to their material essence and juxtaposing them with elements that are by nature resistant to the concept of borders. In this scenario, the horizon and the blue pictorial ground create a counter image to the concept of borders and function as a tool to raise new perspectives. The interplay of the elements and the different images they generate is the artist’s method for creating an intermediate space that allows for the subjective experience of viewers engaging with her work.
Artists Katrīna Neiburga and Andris Eglītis have built a spatial monument to marginal everyday creativity. It was inspired by a sample of vernacular architecture with local character – the Soviet era co-ops of private garages whose owners have adapted them for the hybrid use as workshops-cum-dachas.
The closed microcosm of garage co-ops, where the socio-economic environment has blended with personal space, provides a step back in time. Men are still boys, but their tinkering is both the trade and hobby of individual entrepreneurs, since self-exploitation as leisure time activity is a time capsule where neoliberalism has enclosed the postindustrial proletariat.
The Polish Pavilion is presenting a panoramic film projection of the opera Halka by Stanisław Moniuszko, as it was staged in February for the inhabitants of Cazale, a village situated in the mountains of Haiti.
Artists C.T. Jasper and Joanna Malinowska and curator Magdalena Moskalewicz, decided to stage the opera in Haiti inspired by the mad plan of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, who wanted to build an opera house in the Amazon. Fascinated by Fitzcarraldo’s faith in the universal power of opera, but not uncritical of the colonizing aspect of his actions, they decided to reveal and undercut its romanticism by confronting a set of very specific geographic, historical, and sociopolitical realities.
The Romanian Pavilion, curated by Mihai Pop, showcases Darwin’s Room, an exhibition of paintings by Adrian Ghenie organized across three rooms – according to the original interior architecture of the Pavilion (from 1938) – and comprises a specific theme for each of these rooms: The Tempest, The Portrait Gallery (Self-portrait as Charles Darwin), and The Dissonances of History.
Expanding upon Darwin’s ‘laboratory’, Ghenie proposes an interpretive path into the notion of survival. He reads into the theory of biological evolutionism and the ways it has been skewed to transform societies. He also draws upon other historical sources in his updating of this image (fundamental to our self-perception), ‘contaminating’ it with a keen reflection on neoliberal competitiveness, extending across all areas and folds of social and affective life. Darwin’s studio broadens its scope and becomes an incubator where future ideas grow and develop. It is an interweaving of past and future histories that does not hold proof or speculation on species evolution, which neither distorts nor idealizes, but opens a path towards a reformulation of the social values that structure contemporary existence. To equal extents, this returns to an essential moment, when epistemological tables were turned, and uses Darwin’s scientific tabula rasa to project or inscribe a new image of our future.
Republic of Slovenia
Curators: Michele Drascek and Aurora Fonda
The project’s title embraces the very core of JAŠA’s aim to create an artwork as both a poetic stance and a dynamic, politicized presence. The work is conceived as a spatial installation and on- site performance that will bind the artist, his collaborators and the public together for the duration of the Biennale. The project consists of an installation, an architectural drawing activated to become a reflection of thoughts, and a durational performance that expresses the necessity to (re)act as an embodied form. These elements coexist and entwine to form the integral experience of the artwork.
The project focuses on three major themes: resistance, collaboration and hope. The energetic stance of each theme will be resolved, in part, via a long-term coexistence of a performative body within an architectural shell, the co-creation of repetitive performative actions, and the production of harmonic moments. A polyphonic situation of visual, sound and performance will be submitted to a rigorous weekly script, which will be repeated 28 times.
The exhibition at the Sale d’Armi, Arsenale titled Respiro presents an installation of mirrors, stained-glass panes and site-specific neon works. Through the arrangements of objects, images, thoughts, and codes released from personal and collective memories, Sarkis uses the pavilion site as a theatrical stage for a select cast of his works as to investigate the ideas of infinite dialogue and transformation that are at the core of his work. Respiro is complemented by a composition by Jacopo Baboni-Schilingi, based on the artist’s drawing of the rainbow’s seven colors as a system of partitions.
With this exhibition a young generation of artists voices hopes for Ukraine’s future while confronting the current conflict and the countries recent history.
Cage (2010) by Anna Zvyagintseva embodies the contradictions between freedom and imprisonment, rule of law and lawlessness and strength and fragility. Blind Spot by Ridnyi and Zhadan focuses on the price of violence but resists the narrow narratives that provoke radicalisation of thought. Artem Volokitin reduces in his painting the reality of life to a violent act that moves between hope and fear, between death and the sublime. And Zhanna Kadyrova shows Ukraine as a part of the world, using the recent past to glimpse a future.
Open Group and Yevgenia Belorusets emphasize in opposite ways personal commitment and responsibility of individuals in an armed conflict. Their works reveal the different civil attitudes within society. Open Group deals with young men drafted into the army and their families waiting for their return. Belorusets portrays invisible miners who chose to live and work within the zone of conflict but refuse to take part in the war, trying to “save” their future by daily working in the mines.
Just outside the pavilion, the public sculpture of Nikita Kadan refers to the past and confronts the present situation of war. He deals with questions related to the historification of a conflict and confronts this with Ukraine’s Soviet past.