La Biennale di Venezia: Arsenale

Woke up bright and early to get through the entire Arsenale at the Art Biennale.

Woke up bright and early to get through the entire Arsenale at the Art Biennale. “The Horse Problem” from Argentina was one of the most captivating, and the Italian Pavilion, while conceptually intriguing, was rather…unappetizing.

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The pavilion that struck me the most was the South African pavilion, which for the first time in history included solely video and sound art. Both works are related to the theme of displacement and identity, referencing both South Africa’s history in the slave trade, the current migration crisis at the Horn of Africa and stories of displacement from around the world.

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Mohau Modisakeng’s work, Passages, is the first video you encounter upon walking into the pavilion. In a three panel video, three people lying in their own boat, who struggle and survive as the boats slowly floods, turning from a life saving vessel to their coffins, until they are fully immersed and fall into the water. The piece is named Passage, referring to the South African language Setswana, in which people are referred to as voyagers in life, described as a passage.

The boat references how native South Africans were transported and commodified to become labor during the colonial era and were also sent to fight in both World Wars as well as recent migrants from the Horn of Africa escaping conflict. While there is a literal interpretation of the piece reflecting on the millions who have drowned or died at sea, the piece also references the death of African culture that cannot be reclaimed without acknowledging colonialist influence.

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Accompanying Passages is Candice Breitz’s piece Love Story, which features video interviews of six people have been displaced because of conflict in their home countries or persecution including a political dissident, transgender activist and a former child soldier. The six stories are shorten and put together into a new narrative, retold by popular actors Alec Baldwin and Julianne Moore.

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Only after passing by the Moore and Baldwin video screens can audience members go into the next room to view the original six interviews which are displayed in six monitors arranged in a semi circle in the room where the stories can be heard in their full length, unedited. Love Story is a statement on how our society privileges the voices of Caucasian celebrities over the people who are marginalized. The piece attempts to expose the irony in people’s ability to empathize more with the stories when they are told by wealthy and successful people as opposed to the people who are genuinely vulnerable exploring the role of popular culture plays in defining how people feel empathy for others, in an industry that is built on manufacturing and capitalizing on those emotions.

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After a morning of contemporary, we spent the afternoon mesmerized by the Renaissance masterpieces adoring the Palazzo Ducale in Piazza San Marco. I honestly don’t know what I adore more, the Palladian architecture or the Tintoretto’s frescoes. I wander through the palace for hours, partially from staring at the paintings for so long, and partially because I got lost in all the endless hallways.

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