For the 58th Venice Biennale, 79 pavilion’s from all over the world examine what it means to be living in our times, inquiring on the course of human events in its utmost complexity. May You Live In Interesting Times, the title of the 2019 Art Exhibition, is a paradox in itself evoking the challenges we face that are menacing but also interesting.
In this post, you will find our selection of the best exhibitions from Eastern Europe.
Lithuania (Golden Lion for Best National Participation)
The Lithuanian Pavilion transforms the interior of a historic quayside building within the Marina Militare complex into an artificially lit beach scene replete with sand and all the paraphernalia associated with seaside holidays. With a birds-eye view of the performance from a mezzanine gallery above the stage, audiences look down on the assembled characters who appear as a typical group of holiday-goers, of varying ages, from different walks of life, attired in colourful bathing suits and sunbathing under the full glare of the sun over a mosaic of towels. Surveying this fleshy tableau vivant from their sun-like vantage point, audiences observe the frailty of the human condition. As the libretto unfolds we are introduced to each individual in turn, through sung performances (performed whilst lying down) that reveal private preoccupations, ranging from trivial concerns about sunburn and plans for future vacations to nagging fears of environmental catastrophe, which surface as though from the depths of the characters’ troubled consciousness.
Former Uncertain Indicated
Curator: Dieter Bogner
Stanislav Kolíbal’s exhibition develops the key themes of his work – time and lability – as a critical response to the challenging political and social context in Czechoslovakia and nowadays. The title of the exhibition and the catalogue, Former Uncertain Indicated, is derived from Kolíbal’s conceptual installation conceived in the mid-1970s. Its poetic and ambiguous character is crucial for the understanding of the artist’s position regarding time, life and his art. Kolíbal’s artistic work is unquestionably determined by the “most interesting times” he experienced in Czechoslovakia since the early 1940s. The exhibition combines an outside “spatial drawing”, related to modernist façade of the 1926 masterful architecture of the Czech and Slovak Pavilion designed by the Czech architect Otakar Novotny, with a large-scale “wall drawing” inside of the building, both made for this occasion. At the same time, Kolíbal presents two of his early pioneering series: white sculptures from the 1960s and four minimalist conceptual wall-installations from the 1970s made out of found materials.
Flight, a sculpture by Roman Stańczak, at the Polish Pavilion gives visitors an experience of the unique form and scale of the sculpture — an inside-out aircraft — but also the effect of an unexpected “reversal of the world”. The project delivers a commentary on the situation of political and economic transformations. “Turning things inside out speaks about hope”, Roman Stańczak stated in an interview devoted to the Flight project. The procedure of turning an object inside out has a spiritual dimension as “preparation for death”, passage to the other side, creation through destruction and at the same time, the act of reaching the essence of things. It is also a commentary on the effects of political and economic transformations that make themselves manifest both in material culture and in the society.
Discordo Ergo Sum (“I dissent, therefore I am”)
Curator: Felicitas Thun-Hohenstein
For her exhibition at the Austrian pavilion, Renate Bertlmann developed an installation entitled Discordo Ergo Sum (“I dissent, therefore I am”). By rephrasing the philosophical principle cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”), the artist attempted to dismantle logocentrism’s supremacy of logocentrism and to describe herself in her insurgent self-image. On the basis of her subversive artistic axiom Amo Ergo Sum (“I love, therefore I am”) the striking work in front of the pavilion, with which Bertlmann signs the pavilion like a canvas with the same irony we know from her previous work, and the installation of knife-roses covering the pavilion’s entire courtyard, as “a precise grid of 312 roses, a kind of red army standing at attention in the sun” (Beatriz 2019 Colomina) display a synesthetic artistic commentary that allows us to sensuously experience the dichotomy of our existence. This subversive treatment puts the principle of her artistic approach in a nutshell.
For the Kosovo Pavilion, Alban Muja presents a new video installation that digs deep into personal and collective memories of the Kosovo War (1998-1999) and interrogates the role that images and the media have in constructing and shaping narrative, identity and history, especially in times of conflict. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the end of the armed conflict in Kosovo, the last war to have been fought on European soil in the 20th century and in the continent’s youngest country, which saw 90% of its population displaced during the fighting. At the starting point of Muja’s project lies a selection of photographs of child refugees taken during the war, images that were published in newspapers and on news sites around the world, and which became synonymous with the war, emblematic of the chaos, trauma and pain communicated to the public by the global media. 20 years on, Muja tracks down the individuals, now adults, captured in these frames to delve both into the way in which the ensuing images act as carriers of personal memory and in how they helped craft a wider political and media story beyond the control of the subjects represented.
Regaining Memory Loss
Curator: Nicoletta Lambertucci
Djordje Ozbolt presents new paintings and sculptures that address personal and collective memory. The pavilion is transformed by a new wall painting by the artist, which serves as an imaginary landscape on top of which more paintings are hung. Ozbolt views these works as windows, or portals, open onto symbolic and illusory visions of the past. Through the artist’s signature use of bright, saturated colour, the canvases and wall paintings clash and fight against each other, for a sort of performed, unreliable history. The sculptures and paintings are configured to face each other, each reflecting to the other the layering of selective fragments of memory. The works in themselves are interpretations, a subjective view of the past from the perspective of the present moment. Ozbolt questions the role of the artwork in distilling the truth: in its imagined unreality, the works reveal their memory to be false, however as artistic representation, they are true.
Natascha Süder Happelmann
Curator: Franciska Zólyom
Venice, 8.5.2019 – some spaces are ruins as soon as they are created, and consequently irreparable. But can ruins also cause permanent damage, can they be persistently ruinous? The Ankersentrum consists of an expansive installation; its structural, sculptural and sonic elements open up the space of the German pavilion for an immediate somatic experience. Six musicians and composers from various musical backgrounds and genres have created contributions for the sound installation tribute to whistle. The main instrument used here. Is the whistle; it’s piercing tone is processed into a variety of rhythms and sounds. The six sound contributions for eight channels are played through 48 loudspeakers mounted on a scaffolding structure. They are heard in constantly shifting constellations. This, along with the movement of visitors inside the room, generates changing sound spaces.
Ana Abram, Tim Daniel Battelino, Bradley Cantrell, Moa Carlsson, Matt Choot, Nina Granda, Matevž Granda, Ulrika Karlsson, David J Klein, Miloš Kosec, Maj Plemenitas, Bika Rebek, Marta Vahtar
Curator: Matevž Čelik Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO)
Living with water is a daily matter in Slovenia, but it is full of opposites. Water makes life enjoyable and satisfying, but at the same time it represents a particular danger. One-fifth of Slovenia’s territory is protected in order to safeguard drinking water resources. On the other hand, nearly 160,000 Slovenian inhabitants live in flood-prone areas. A multidisciplinary team of participants explores and discusses what a relationship between architecture and water should look like in the future. By understanding all the complexity and interconnectedness of natural and anthropogenic water systems and by developing alternative models, can we create a new, fairer, safer and less invasive living environment? Water management requires the input of informed people and important political decisions. The controversial unrealised Slovenian Parliament by architect Jože Plecnik, which incorporates a fountain hidden under the main hall designed as and meant to represent a mythical source of wisdom for the deputies, seems like an ideal space to talk about these pressing issues.
all the artists of Ukraine
Curator: Open Group (Yurii Biley, Pavlo Kovach, Stanislav Turina, Anton Varga)
At noon on May 9, the world’s largest cargo aircraft, the Antonov An-225 Mriya, flies over Venice and casts a fleeting shadow over the Giardini della Biennale. The aircraft carries information about all Ukrainian artists, a digital directory that consists of living dreams, present or past, explicit or obscure, verbalised or even unconscious. Although personal beliefs, politics, historical circumstances or quotidian conditions may have placed them outside the context of global contemporary art, their flight at the Biennale Arte 2019 reasserts their history and reminds us to consider the shape and contents of shadows that fall across the Biennale.