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The way I see it: Venice Biennale Contemporary Arts Festival

27/05/2019

Discover Venice Biennale Contemporary Arts Festival

By Laurent Issaurat, Head of Art Banking Services, Societe Generale Private Banking

Ralph Rugoff, the charismatic and talented Director of London’s Hayward Gallery, who is responsible for the 2019 Biennale’s main exhibitions, had warned us: “May you live in interesting times will include entertaining and playful creations, illustrating the fact that it’s when we play that we are the most human”. The result, unveiled to art professionals during the week of 6 May, just before the official opening, exceeds all expectations. The number of artists selected has been cut to 80, from 120 for the previous Biennale in 2017, and includes often young creators, half of whom are women. Rugoff’s ingenious idea was to ask each artist to produce two works: a "proposition A", exhibited in the Giardini’s Central Pavilion and a "proposition B" for the Arsenale site’s Corderie, which is over 300 metres long.

The overall theme of the event, "May You Live In Interesting Times" (an English expression that is, it is claimed, the translation of a Chinese proverb, although this claim is unsubstantiated) is an invitation to draw up a vast portrait of our times, disturbing and captivating at the same time, full of promise but also of dangers. In both locations, the creations collide, interact, burrow into the matter of present times. You can detect a century of spiritual, philosophical, climatic, technological and human upheavals. The mirror extended to visitors is quite simply fascinating: the power of machines and technologies unfolds, whilst virtual reality and other animated effects allow quantum leaps that were thus far unimaginable. Eyes always appear to be riveted on the future. All in all, through the Giardini Pavilions and the Arsenale, a powerful wind is blowing. A wind that dishevels and refreshes, projecting visitors a little further into the 21st century. The contribution of the national pavilions, meanwhile, is impossible to summarise given how diverse and colourful it is, enriched by Madagascar and Ghana’s remarkable inaugural participation. The music, maybe, enables a number of locations to stand out, whether it be Laure Prouvost’s road movie in the French Pavilion, the rhythm of the dance steps in the Brazilian and Swiss pavilions, the Russian Pavilion’s Mechanical Ballet or Lithuania’s operatic performance, which won the Golden Lion for the best national Pavilion.

At this year’s event, art is invigorating and open, engaged and critical, more modern and necessary than ever. This festival is a must.

Venice Biennale contemporary arts festival, 11 May to 24 November, 2019

Laurent Issaurat