24 April 2022
Day #5 - Venice Vernissage

 

In our last daily round-up during the vernissage week of the 59th Venice Biennale, we want to share a few highlights from the multitude of pop-up projects and institutional exhibitions that are held throughout the city of Venice, taking advantage of the Biennale audiences present.

We loved visiting Penumbra, the inaugural exhibition of Fondazione In Between Art Film who commissioned and produced eight new video works by international artists (Karimah Ashadu, Jonathas de Andrade, Aziz Hazara, He Xiangyu, Masbedo, James Richards, Emilija Škarnulytė, Ana Vaz), presented over two floors of yet another historic building, the Complesso dell'Ospedaletto in the Cannaregio district. Curated by Alessandro Rabottini and Leonardo Bigazzi, the exhibition is broken into 8 segments, with each large film installation occupying a separate room, marked by numbered light boxes and tunnel corridors giving rhythm to the visitor's journey. While the works are quite distinct from one another, the immersive environments and dim spaces with surround sound really offer ideal conditions for viewing video which in turn allow for a deep experience and dive into pressing contemporary issues.

And at nearby Ocean Space — the San Lorenzo church which was converted a few years ago into a venue dedicated to contemporary art and the preservation of the ocean – two installations are presented, the first one by Dineo Seshee Bopape and the second by Diana Policarpo, both curated by Spanish curator and scholar Chus Martinez.

Earlier in the week, in the same building, we attended DRIFT: Social Sacrifice, an indoor aerial drone performance presented by Aorist, a collective from The Netherlands. For the group’s first-ever performance of this kind, around 40 illuminated drones were carefully choreographed to swarm and swirl in the space above our heads, perfectly utilising the enormity and high ceilings of the recently renovated building.

Intended to mimic the movements and dynamics of a school of fish encountering a predator, the work was a surprising display of technologic possibilities, albeit slightly ominous due to the constant humming made by the drones as well as the bass-heavy soundtrack made by digital artist and musician Don Diablo. 

Below is a taste of the 6-minute long performance in which you can see the tensions between the larger group and the individual ‘fish’ - or drones - and how the behaviour of the collective changes when threats (in red) are nearby.

Aorist's DRIFT: Social Sacrifice indoor aerial drone performance, Ocean Space, Venice, 21 April 2022. Video: HUM.

Aorist's DRIFT: Social Sacrifice indoor aerial drone performance, Ocean Space, Venice, 21 April 2022. Video: HUM.

We also visited This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom, a group show presented by Pinchuk Art Centre at Scuola Grande della Misericordia which features a combination of original artworks from contemporary Ukrainian artists Yevgenia Belorusets, Nikita Kadan, Lesia Khomenko alongside historical masterpieces from Ukraine and pieces from established international artists including Marina Abramović, Olafur Eliasson, JR, Damien Hirst, Boris Mikhailov and Takashi Murakami.

It was powerful and confronting to see actual artworks and memorabilia straight from Ukraine on display in front of our eyes, including two gouache paintings from self-taught folk artist Maria Prymachenko which were saved by a local man from the Ivanklv Historical and Local History Museum as it burnt to the ground in February 2022. 

For one of the last exhibitions of our trip, we stopped by open-end, a solo exhibition by Marlene Dumas at Palazzo Grassi, curated by Caroline Bourgeois. Presented over two floors of the palazzo (which is always an impressive space to visit), the show brings together over 100 drawings and paintings produced by the South African artist between 1984 and today.

Featuring mostly portraits, sourced from newspapers, magazines, film stills or personal photographs, the exhibition presents a range of intense emotions, from suffering, pain, ecstasy, fear, delight and desperation, and despite the minimal brushwork and muddy or muted colours Dumas uses, and the spacious floor plan, the show was a lot to take in at the end of this long week—but it is very powerful.

It’s always a challenge to reflect on the Vernissage week so soon after it's over but we found our time in Venice to be inspiring, enriching and energising, despite the mad rush that is involved in seeing the enormous amounts of presentations around the city. Over the past few days, we’ve celebrated the opening of Yuki Kihara’s Paradise Camp (plus countless other projects), witnessed many ‘firsts’, reflected on the powerful themes of the overall Biennale: metamorphosis and the power that comes with transformation, introspection, imagination, and have been encouraged to consider surrealism and spirituality as intrinsic elements to being human and tackling the challenging issues of our times.

Thanks for following us this week - we hope you've enjoyed these insights into the 59th Venice Biennale! Take a look below for a few last images from our trip. Ka kite!


 

23 April 2022
Day #4 - Venice Vernissage

 

Following on from our visit to Personal Structures at Palazzo Bembo yesterday, we headed to the second location, at Palazzo Mora, where Mizuho Nishioka, a Kāpiti-based photographer, is presenting MachineTime_NatureTime; Cadastral, a series of photographic works that explores the intersection of mediums of human representation and natural systems. Her work involves photographic processes, material sampling, data streaming and physical computing. For this project, Nishioka surveys the ocean through cadastral zones and designed new photomechanical devices to measure and record the sites of legislative boundaries on maps and charts. We enjoyed finding out about this project that surveys the natural environment and the world that indexes it and although the artist couldn’t travel to Venice, we look forward to meeting her when she comes over to Europe for a project in Austria in September, more on this later!

We also visited the Portuguese pavilion at nearby Palazzo Franchetti, where Pedro Neves Marques’ project Vampires in Space is on show - the first explicitly queer project presented at the national Portuguese pavilion. Drawing on his own trans non-binary experience, Marques has transformed the second floor of the historic palazzo into a futuristic sci-fi spaceship with three cinematic spaces and multiple poetry installations, creating an immersive experience that explores ideas around gender, non-nuclear families and alternative forms of reproduction. 

With the week wrapping up, we enjoyed having time to sit and be absorbed in the three video works especially; each presenting a family of vampires travelling to a distant planet during which they have introspective and intimate conversations about mental and physical health, including learning how to come to terms with newly-acquired bodily senses and deciding that their fangs are not what defines them. Vampires in Space is a poetic and powerful commentary on the control of bodies and desire. 

We also visited the Dutch pavilion, set in the beautiful church Chiesetta della Misericordia this year, after the Netherlands decided to lend their official pavilion in the Giardini to Estonia who don’t have a pavilion in this central Biennale location. Visitors are asked to take their shoes off to enter the cushioned and colourful floor area to settle in and watch the film When the Body Says Yes by artist, sexological bodyworker, coach and educator melanie bonajo. Her project for the pavilion is part of her ongoing research into the status of intimacy and touch as powerful remedies for the increasingly alienating commodity-driven world. The film documents a group of people participating in a pleasure positive, eco-erotic queer camp and is a very joyful, colourful and liberating film work - a definite highlight!

In the afternoon, we headed to the aabaakwad gathering at the Centro Culturale Don Orione Artigianelli, to see the panel discussion 'Pop Catharsis and the import of history', with speakers Mark Igloliorte, Tony Albert, Taqralik Partridge, Dayna Danger and Aotearoa artist Ayesha Green. Co-moderated by Megan Tamati-Quennell (Curator of Modern & contemporary Māori & Indigenous art at Te Papa Tongarewa), the discussion tackled the juxtaposition between history and popular culture and touched on how these indigenous artists are reclaiming or recontextualising images of themselves or their community. A highlight was hearing Green talk about her 2015 painting Mei and its connection to the controversial statue Pania of the reef in Napier. Green’s painted portrait is of Mei Robbins, the Māori girl who was chosen as the model for the statue, and coincidentally, Green’s cousin.

Earlier talks of the gathering included 'The Knot of Narrative’ earlier today with Aotearoa curator Taarati Taiaroa and yesterday ‘What is nation?’ between Yuki Kihara, Sonia Boyce (artist representing Great Britain), Zineb Sedira (artist representing France) and Stan Douglas (artist representing Canada), discussing ideas that traverse boundaries and borders of land and water, as well as the ‘Inside/Outside Curating in Global context’ talk with the assistant curator of the New Zealand Pavilion Ioana Gordon-Smith

If you missed it, HUM's Editor Pauline Autet spoke with Kim Hill for Saturday Morning on RNZ, giving her thoughts on this year's vernissage. Take a listen below! 

Remember to check back tomorrow for our last daily update from our time in Venice! 


 

22 April 2022
Day #3 - Venice Vernissage

 

Alongside the main curated exhibition which we covered yesterday, the specificity of the Venice Biennale is that over 80 countries have national pavilions with their own exhibitions. HUM’s notable mentions from the national pavilions at the Arsenale and Giardini include a few that are pinned as favourite for this year’s Golden Lion, some that have already enjoyed media buzz, and a few surprises:

The French pavilion was a definite highlight, with artist Zineb Sedira being the first artist of Algerian descent to represent the country. Entering the pavilion is like entering a film set, with different scenes set up in various parts of each room, from an old-fashioned bistrot setting to a film studio and a miniature maquette of the artist’s own lounge, with 70’s furniture and domestic decor. The various film sets reference several films significant to the Algerian independence movement of the 1960s but incorporate a balanced dose of documentary material, fiction and creative activism so that music, dancing and joy are never far away. All these elements come together in the cinema room towards the back of the pavilion, where Sedira’s film Dreams Have No Titles, which is also the title of the exhibition, is projected. Watching the film, viewers will recognise not only the sets they walked through before entering this last room, but perhaps also recognise an entire community of artists and curators who participated in the project and indeed play a part in Sedira’s life in general.

Another memorable pavilion offering a situated experience from an artist’s very personal point of view - apart from France, Poland and New Zealand which we’ve mentioned previously - is Pilvi Takala presented a multi-channel video installation, Close Watch, at the Finland pavilion, based on the artist’s six-month experience infiltrating the private security industry and working undercover at Finland’s largest shopping mall. By dividing the pavilion with a one-way mirror and seating the audience on either side, Takala intelligently questions our acceptance of security and surveillance and the behaviours associated with it.  

Simone Leigh’s new body of work, Sovereignty, for the United States pavilion was a bold display of figurative bronze and ceramic sculptures both inside and outside the pavilion, treating the facade of the pavilion as a sculpture in a gesture of reversed colonisation, its added thatched roof now resembling a 1930 West African palace. Leigh is the first Black woman to represent the US at the Biennale and didn’t miss the opportunity to celebrate the self-determination and independence of Black women.

In another first, this year’s Biennale also includes the first-ever showing of Sámi art in Venice, at the Sámi pavilion, hosted in what is usually the Nordic Pavilion. The presentation, by artists Pauliina Feodoroff, Máret Ánne Sara and Anders Sunna explores Indigenous sovereignty and struggle, and as Sara describes, sees the Sámi people “slowly reclaiming and retelling our own story and reality”. It is a powerful political statement for the Indigenous Sámi people, whose nation extends across the Nordic countries and into the Kola Peninsula in Russia (a homeland that was originally a region without borders); and is proof that art is a key tool in the struggle against ongoing colonial injustice. 

This is just a small selection of the many pavilions - take a look at the images of the others below! 

In 2022, the sixth edition of Personal Structures features 200 international artists presenting work around the wide curatorial theme of Reflections. This year’s presentation includes Tāmaki Makaurau-based artist Karen Sewell, New Zealand-born Cook Islands photographer and painter Mahiriki Tangaroa, Whangaparaoa-based sculptor Gill Gatfield, all showing at Palazzo Bembo and Kāpiti-based photographer Mizuho Nishioka showing at Palazzo Mora. As in previous years, we went to visit the Aotearoa artists who had managed to travel to Venice and we were struck by their commitment and determination (as participating in this biennial exhibition is highly demanding and costly, especially for artists who live so far away from Italy.)

We first visited Karen Sewell and her installation Luminary which includes a suspended sculpture hovering in the room with a ghostly presence and two sets of photographic works with circular patterns in colour and black and white. Sewell is concerned with the intersection of art and spiritual experience, and her research into histories of faith and worship sites have brought her to Venice for her first international exhibition. Sewell spoke to us about her interest in the sublime and offering her viewers a meditative experience, playing with the space between visible and invisible forms, sound and light to spark reflections on cycles of nature and our interconnectedness with mother earth.

In a nearby room, twelve oil works on canvas by Mahiriki Tangaroa are displayed, immediately reminding us of the recent Oceania Now: Contemporary Art from the Pacific, hosted by Christie’s in Paris where her work was also included. This year is the first time a Cook Islands artist and gallery has been invited to exhibit in Personal Structures. The Nomadic Art Gallery have also contributed a catalogue to the Bergman Gallery's presentation of Mahiriki’s paintings (Kaveinga - Angels of the Ocean) at Palazzo Bembo. 

We then visited Gill Gatfield, a sculptor from Aotearoa known for transforming unique materials including rare stones, gold and ancient wood into poetic minimalist forms. She is also no stranger to exhibiting in Venice, having had work in the 2018 ECC exhibition during the Venice Architecture Biennale. Gatfield has used the symbolic ‘I’ form, shaped as the first person pronoun and the number one joined at the shoulders/heads and hips/legs, in many of her works. In 2022, Gatfield is presenting UNITY, twin sculptures located in two venues – one miniature at Palazzo Bembo, one virtual and monumental in the Giardini della Marinaressa of the Venetian waterfront accessed through a QR code and custom application. The artist thinks of the two works as pillars forging a harmony of collective strength: the miniature is a triptych, titled Harmony 2022, in which three ‘I’s are carved from Kahurangi pounamu, pure 24 ct. river-gold and Tākaka marble and the virtual work is a three-metre high ‘digital totem’ titled Native Tongue XR 2018-2022

Also check out the live stream of the aabaakwad gathering that’s taking place at various venues across Venice from 22 - 25 April 2022 and includes Aotearoa creatives Ioana Gordon-Smith, Brett Graham, Ayesha Green, Yuki Kihara, Rachael Rakena and Megan Tamati-Quennell!!

Stay tuned for more to come from the 59th Venice Biennale tomorrow!


 

21 April 2022
Day #2 - Venice Vernissage
 

Today’s activities kicked off with a breakfast hosted by Textwork, an editorial platform commissioning monographic essays on artists of the French art scene (this is HUM’s editor Pauline Autet's other day job!). Held at the St Regis Hotel on the Grand Canal it was a gentle start to what was a very busy day, meeting arts people from around the world, as is custom during the vernissage week.

We then made our way to the official Biennale venues (Arsenale and Giardini) and continued exploring the main curated international exhibition by the 2022 curator Cecilia Alemani. With a total of 1,433 artworks and objects by 213 global artists, established, emerging and self-taught alike, the show feels very different from previous editions, probably because for the first time in history, a vast majority of the participating artists are women and gender non-conforming artists. The Milk of Dreams features a wide range of practices from sculpture, video, photography and painting but also a lot of textile work, folk and craft practices and a strong presence of the body and vegetal world are also felt.

We’ve included pictures of some of the HUM team’s highlights from the curated section for you below and hope you’ll enjoy getting a glimpse no matter where you are! We know that many people in Aotearoa, in Sāmoa and beyond would usually be here but were not able to travel due to the pandemic.

From Tishan Hsu’s silicon works and plastic cyborg-inspired sculptures with fragmented body parts and scratchy surfaces, to drawings from Leonora Carrington and famous artists such as Barbara Kruger, curator Cecilia Alemani brought together a very rich range of artworks, historic and contemporary, presenting a very feminist and inspiring proposition. From one room to the next, the scenography and installation methods employed were very varied and didn’t leave us bored for one minute. It felt as though the spaces were generously distributed, each artist having their own space to present their own universe. There are often several works from one artist presented together which gives a better sense of their practice and which feels to us as a generous way of curating and a breath of fresh air when biennials can be so saturating and an overwhelming experience for the viewers. 

After lunch we got to sit down with artist Yuki Kihara and the creative team involved in Paradise Camp, the official New Zealand Pavilion in the Venice Biennale, Curator Natalie King (Australian curator, writer, and senior researcher) and Assistant Pasifika Curator Ioana Gordon-Smith (Porirua-based arts writer and curator). 

It was great speaking to these three art practitioners at the top of their game who have worked so hard on this installation, and have each been responsible for breaking many glass ceilings: Natalie was the curator of Tracey Moffatt’s exhibition for the Australian pavilion in 2017 - the first time an Aboriginal artist represented Australia; Ioana was co-curator of the recent inaugural Indigenous triennial, Naadohbii: To Draw Water, in Canada (which you can read about here on HUM); and of course, Yuki has been opening doors for Asian, Pasifika and transgender people for many years, including holding the first Fa'afafine beauty pageant in Wellington.

We asked Yuki about the very personal component in her work and how she describes her Fa’afafine experience as well as her artistic work to this Venice vernissage audience. We spoke about using the Venice Biennale, not as an end goal (as is often the case!), but as a stepping stone to show this work back in Sāmoa and Aotearoa, empowering the communities represented in the work and who are the ultimate viewers for Yuki. We also asked Natalie and Ioana about curatorial methods and what it’s like to support an artist who may have a different lived experience from their own and how to find resources to ensure the best opportunity possible was given to the artist.

Although this year’s pavilion is noticeably smaller and seems to have been produced with more modest means than the last few New Zealand pavilions, the work is very powerful and accessible immediately, it seemed to resonate with many viewers who were engaging with the content and speaking with the artist.

HUM will be publishing an edited transcript of these interviews in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for an in-depth look at Paradise Camp, and the 8 year-long process leading up to its presentation in Venice. 

Now it’s spritz time, Salute and congratulations to the NZ at Venice team!


 

20 April 2022
Day #1 - Venice Vernissage

 

While this is the 59th edition of the International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, it is a year of many historic (and overdue) firsts, and includes eight countries that have pavilions for the first time: Cameroon, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Namibia, Nepal, Oman, Uganda and Uzbekistan. 

Aotearoa's official artist Yuki Kihara has initiated an informal 'Firsts Solidarity Network' which includes six national pavilions, offering what Kihara describes as “collegial support for the participating artists and an opportunity to initiate discourse around pertinent issues such as the internal structures of national pavilions and their commitment towards equitable representation.”

The Firsts Solidarity Network members include: 
Albania: Lumturi Blloshmi is the first female artist to represent the country with a solo presentation, and Adela Demetja is the first Albanian female curator of the pavilion.
Great Britain: Sonia Boyce is the first Black British woman to represent the British Isles.
Nepal: Tsherin Sherpa will represent the country at the first-ever Nepal pavilion.
Singapore: artist Shubigi Rao and curator Ute Meta Bauer are the first-ever female team to represent Singapore.
Poland: Małgorzata Mirga-Tas is the first Roma artist to ever represent a country at the Biennale Arte.

(Also worth mentioning, but who is not a part of the Firsts Solidarity Network, is Simone Leigh, the first Black woman to represent the US in Venice.)

This morning HUM was fortunate to spend time with Poland's representing artist, Małgorzata Mirga-Tas, and co-curator Joanna Warsza, learning about Re-enchanting the World, Mirga-Tas' visually rich installation consisting of twelve large-format textiles based off the famous Hall of the Months fresco series from the Renaissance Palazzo Schianoia in Ferrara, Italy. 

Dating back more than 500 years, the original paintings depict Olympian gods, zodiac signs, and scenes from court life in Ferrara; typical European iconography which Mirga-Tas has subverted by inserting representations of Polish-Roma culture.

By interweaving her own personal experience and local stories with the tradition of Renaissance wall painting and centuries-old European iconography, Mirga-Tas' project attempts to propose a new narrative and create what the artist describes as “a potential place for establishing new, temporary relations, a refuge beyond time and place”; a “place of wandering images”.

After lunch, we made our way to the Paradise Camp press preview in the New Zealand pavilion in the Arsenale, a project we were eager to see after glimpsing teasers in the virtual opening this morning, and which echoes some of the themes seen earlier in the Polish pavilion, as a reinterpretation of the western art canon and inverting stereotypical cultural tropes.

As usual, the details of the project were largely unknown until today, the works and the process shrouded in secrecy, so it was exciting to finally be able to be immersed in the project and to congratulate the creative team who have been working tirelessly over the past few years to put it together.

Paradise Camp comprises of three separate components: 12 tableau photographs “upcycling” compositions by Paul Gauguin; the artist’s personal research archive of rare 19th-century books, posters and pamphlets; and a five-episode talk show called First Impressions: Paul Gauguin which sees members of the Sāmoan Fa’afafine community reacting to Gauguin’s paintings, alongside a video in which Kihara transforms into the French artist himself, undergoing hours of prosthetics and classes with a speech therapist.

The whole space is vibrant and expressive, wallpapered from floor to ceiling (5 meters high), filled with heartfelt personal stories, while shedding light on some of the more complicated and urgent topics of today including climate change and how modern-day climate policies are framed under binary divisions, excluding the needs of marginalised groups including Fa’afine in the Pacific. 

A stand out work for HUM is Fonofono o le nuanua: Patches of the rainbow (After Gauguin), 2020, a colourful photograph contrasted with an idyllic larger-than-life image of Vava’u village on Upolu Island, “a typical blue-ocean, white-sand beach with an arching coconut tree”, which was one of the worst-hit beaches in the 2009 tsunami.

HUM will be speaking in-depth with Yuki Kihara and curators Natalie King and Ioana Gordon-Smith tomorrow, so stay tuned for more insights into this unique project, and for our round-up of the Giardini and Arsenale! 


 

HUM to cover vernissage of Venice Biennale 2022

After being postponed by almost a year, it's finally time for one of the biggest international art events on the calendar: the 59th Venice Biennale, and HUM is excited to announce we will be there for the vernissage!

Curated by Cecilia Alemani, this year's event, titled The Milk of Dreams, will—for the first time in its history—feature a majority of women and gender non-conforming artists. In the national pavilions, this includes Yuki Kihara, the first Pasifika, Asian and Fa’afafine artist to represent New Zealand at the Biennale.

At a central location in the Arsenale, Yuki will be presenting Paradise Camp, a project 8 years in the making, that was filmed on Upolu Island in Sāmoa in collaboration with the Fa'afafine community, and which investigates the intersectional issues of colonisation, identity politics and climate crisis.

Paradise Camp is curated by Natalie King and is supported by Assistant Pasifika Curator Ioana Gordon-Smith. The commissioner for this year's national pavilion is Caren Rangi.

On 23 March 2022, New Zealand at Venice hosted a talanoa (discussion) between the artist and the curatorial team—the only pre-departure event—in which viewers could submit questions and have them answered in real-time. 

A HUM highlight from the talanoa was hearing Yuki hope that:

"...in five Venice Biennales [from now], Aotearoa New Zealand, keeps presenting firsts of everything and I would encourage other countries to do the same. To keep presenting firsts. To move away from the conventional modes of representation and to truly be exploratory, diverse, in order for us to fully understand the scope of our humanity." (1:00:40)

You can watch the full video here

Other participating artists from Aotearoa include Gill Gatfield, Mizuho Nishioka, Karen Sewell and Mahiriki Tangaroa, all of whom will be presenting work at collateral events, including at this year's Personal Structures exhibition at Palazzo Bembo and the Giardini della Marinaressa. 

From 20 - 24 April, HUM will be in Venice, visiting these presentations, interviewing the artists and bringing you live coverage of the overall event. Each day we'll be posting short updates and exclusive images from the vernissage—right here on this page—so make sure you keep visiting!