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57TH INTERNATIONAL ART EXHIBITION — LA BIENNALE DI VENEZIA: Alicja Kwade, Agnieszka Polska
May 13, 2017 - November 26, 2017
VIVA ARTE VIVA
among the artists: Alicja Kwade, Agnieszka Polska
The Exhibition: Focus on Art and Artists
Today, in a world full of conflicts and shocks, art bears witness to the most precious part of what makes us human. Art is the ultimate ground for reflection, individual expression, freedom, and for fundamental questions. Art is the favourite realm for dreams and utopias, a catalyst for human connections that roots us both to nature and the cosmos, that elevates us to a spiritual dimension. Art is the last bastion, a garden to cultivate above and beyond trends and personal interests. It stands as an unequivocal alternative to individualism and indifference. It builds us up and edifies us. At a time of global disorder, art embraces life, even if doubt ensues inevitably. The role, the voice and the responsibility of the artist are more crucial than ever before within the framework of contemporary debates. It is in and through these individual initiatives that the world of tomorrow takes shape, which though surely uncertain, is often best intuited by artists than others.
VIVA ARTE VIVA is an exclamation, a passionate outcry for art and the state of the artist. VIVA ARTE VIVA is a Biennale designed with artists, by artists and for artists, about the forms they propose, the questions they ask, the practices they develop and the ways of life they choose.
Rather than broaching a single theme, VIVA ARTE VIVA offers a route that moulds the artists’ works and a context that favours access and understanding, generating connections, resonances and thoughts. The journey unfolds over the course of nine chapters, or families of artists, beginning with two introductory realms in the Central Pavilion, followed by another seven across the Arsenale through the Giardino delle Vergini. Each chapter represents a Pavilion in itself, or rather a Trans-Pavilion as it is trans-national by nature but echoesthe Biennale’s historical organisation into pavilions, the number of which has never ceased to grow since the end of the 1990s. This semantic nod addresses the often debated relevance of the national pavilions, whilst going beyond it, as each chapter mixes artists of all generations and origins. There is however, no physical separation between the various pavilions, which flow together like the chapters of a book.
From the Pavilion of Artists and Books to the Pavilion of Time and Infinity, these nine episodes tell a story that is often discursive and at times paradoxical, with detours that mirror the world’s complexities, a multiplicity of approaches and a wide variety of practices. The exhibition is intended as an experience, an extrovert movement from the self to the other, towards a common space beyond the defined dimensions, and onwards to the idea of a potential neo-humanism. This movement of the self towards the unknown, where experience and speculation are at the forefront is in and of itself a response to a conservative environment, defying bias, distrust and indifference.
VIVA ARTE VIVA also seeks to convey a positive and prospective energy, which whilst focusing on young artists, rediscovers those passed away too soon or those who are still largely unknown despite the importance of their work. These discoveries and recoveries give way, in each pavilion, to a communion of artists from several generations, offering perspectives on questions that were often broached as early as the 1960s and specially the 1970s. These issues are revisited by artists in today’s world of constant anthropological and societal change. The artists’ interpretations hinge on forms that reflect the concerns of the civil society. After all, art may not have changed the world, but it remains the field where it can be reinvented.
Starting with the Pavilion of Artists and Books, the exhibition reveals its premise, a dialectic that involves the whole of contemporary society, beyond the artist himself, and addresses the organisation of society and its values. Art and artists are at the heart of the exhibition, which begins by examining their practices, the way they create art, halfway between idleness and action, otium and negotium. The Roman otium, and its Greek predecessor scholè, originally understood as a privileged moment, is nowadays improperly translated as idleness of pejorative connotation, or leisure, which is not far removed from entertainment. The word otium, in contrast with the business world or negotium, from which the artist can never really escape, implies a space for free time, for inactivity and availability, a space of productive idleness and mind work, of quietness and action, a space where the work of art comes to be.
The decision to become an artist, in and of itself, requires taking a stance in society, one that is today broadly popular and widely acknowledged, but is perceived nevertheless as an act of calling into question work -and its by-product: money- as the absolute value in the modern world. Being an artist means differentiating between the private individual and the public individual, not as a person of media but as someone who is confronted with the res publica. Indeed, while the artist produces artworks that are meant to be commercialized, the modes of production of his or her disposal include an alternative within which the need for inactivity or rather non-productive action, for mind wandering and research, remain paramount. This position inevitably has consequences on the way in which free time is perceived by society: it is no longer a time to be spent or even consumed, but a time for oneself.