55th Venice Biennale has begun. For the next few months, this small city located on the lagoon will change into the centre of world art, where at every step, in the tangle of narrow streets one can come across “the embassies” of another national pavilions. They attract not only art lovers, but people interested in this unusual event as well. There is no way to pass it without emotions.
We were also attracted by this Mediterranean bait. We were caught on the hook that will not be easy to remove after seeing Polish Pavilion…
It all started innocently. We were passing Biennale’s posters and advertisements as well as tourists handing maps of this artistic event. After the arrival to Academic district – since Peggy Guggenheim Collection and at least quick gaze at the exhibition at Francois Pinault Foundation should not be omitted while being in Venice – Biennale came to us (though I had scheduled Biennale’s sightseeing for the next day, according to our guide…). Victor Pinchuk Foundation and PinchukArtCentre have created the exhibition of the winners and chosen artists of Future Generation Prize at Palazzo Contarini Polignac and among them, of course, Agnieszka Polska can be viewed. In the tangle of the palace corridors, halls, barely visible passages and rooms the art was appearing unexpectedly at almost every corner. That was also the way how we found Polska’s video “My favourite things“ shown in a little room. It is projected in the niche surrounded by fleshy curtains and imitating a theatre stage. The video is reminiscent of play during which the artist collects favourite things/artworks. We were writing about Agnieszka in the article “How the work is done“. Her work presented in Venice was also described by us in this article.
This unexpected way Agnieszka Polska became our first stop on the way of “Polish artists’ traces”… Our stay in Venice began very well.
Second day was the day of intensive sightseeing and huge emotions. Giardini was slightly wet, grey in the rain. People were wearing Wellingtons, handing umbrellas in their hands. However those who had come to the gardens seemed to not notice unpleasant weather. We went to the Polish Pavilion with blushes on the faces at once… It was one of the best pavilions we have seen! We were writing about Konrad Smoleński in the former article announcing the Biennale. We mentioned his fascination with sound and his interest in the way how music affects together with its palpable almost material presence. We wrote, that music works in his projects, as the compacted material pressing violently on the senses, is the power taking all of the body step by step, the body that wants to leave the room. The project itself was then covered with mystery. Only some assumptions about its final impression could be stated, or at least suggestions what fields it will affect. In the sound of the raindrops, we entered the space arranged by Konrad Smoleński, that was filled with silence. Two bells cast by the artist stood in the middle without any move. Just behind them two black, monumental and heavy speaker boxes were located, in the background of opposite walls, covered with tin plates. Silence. Like in the proverb: silence before the storm – peace and tension. At the full time the play for the senses began. Slowly the bells, swinging stronger and stronger, started to release well-known metallic and deep sound that made our bodies standing at attention. When it was over sound recorded alive (modified – slowed, elongated and cut off the beating tone) was brought to the constant sound, that started to resound from the speakers. At that moment, the next modification occurred and another speakers, located behind the metal doors of drawers, started to release very low tones that made resonating not only the metal drawers, but whole building also. The more and more powerful, intensive and constant sound started to make our bodies and senses vibrating. Sound was going through us. We became the part of installation that was spreading outside the pavilion without any borders .
Definitely it must be the obligatory stop, that cannot be missed while visiting at Giardini (Golden Lion for Best National Participation went to Angola Luanda, Encyclopedic City Edson Chagas).
But, although Konrad Smoleński is the strongest point, he is not the only Polish artist present in the gardens. As the part of main exhibition „Il Palazzo Enciclopedico” taking place in two locations, it is possible to see a video of Artur Żmijewski “Blindly“ (2010) in Central Pavilion at Gardini , while at Arsenale the installation of Paweł Althamer, paintings of Jakub Julian Ziółkowski and Mirosław Bałka’s work. In spite of so many words of delight about this main exhibition, it did not make the same impression on me. The exhibition’s idea came from the project of Italian-American artist Marino Auriti, who wanted to establish Encyclopedic Palace. Its assumption was to become imaginary museum collecting all of the most important mankind’s discoveries. To collect all of the available knowledge and show the image of world, that will capture its beauty and wealth was the utopian dream. So, Venice exhibition tried to collect those infinitely numerous paintings and images of the world. But from the beginning it was certain, that utopia is impossible to create as a wholeness. In general, the exhibition was slightly chaotic and trying to fill the huge space of buildings in the first place (in the exhibition took part 150 artists from 38 countries). Nevertheless individual works were really interesting. Jakub Julian Ziółkowski was granted with space specially sectioned for him. The artist from Cracow collaborating among others with Hauser&Wirth Gallery presents his newest works kept in the characteristic surreal manner. The interesting thing is, that the painter created a series of images, in which he developed his own universe by connecting to the modern bestiary wrote by Jorge Luis Borges (where the descriptions of 120 creatures taken from folklore and mythology are found). It is full of the creatures, deviations – like from the paintings of Bosch – and as the artist explained “the visions, that are created when the mind becomes its own planet for itself“.
A very interesting part of the exhibition at Arsenale curated by Cindy Sherman deserves for a special attention. This American artist in her activity deals with the problem of wearing masks, becoming part of some stereotypical role or defining ones identity with the use of culturally described images. She created the exhibition, which is the extension of her works. This collection of the various artists’ works presents dolls, mannequins, masks, religious “idols” and symbols of Christianity. This is the place, where one of the early works of Mirosław Bałka can be viewed (the artist that created the installation for London Turbin Hall in Tate Modern, in 2009). “Black Pope and Black Sheep“ is the work from the beginning of his career (it was created in 1987). Disturbing, mummified figures of pope and sheep, despite using of traditional insignia, have lost their original pronunciation. It is no longer the declaration of immortality, joyful waiting for the resurrection or consolation and support for the people. It is rather the statue of times, that robbed it of spiritual hope and freedom.
Paweł Althamer presented spectacular installation “Venetians” in the other part of Arsenale. The whole space of hall was filled with “the mirages“ of people caught during various activities, acting like the shadows/reflections of tourists and lagoon’s residents wandering among them. Following the traces from the past of hundreds of Venetians that lived and worked in the most important and modern shipyard – a factory of Venetian fleet mighty. “Venetians“ is the next project from the series of “Almech“ initiated in 2011 during his individual exhibition at Deutsche Guggenheim. It is a result of Althamer’s collaboration with his father’s factory (called Almech), which produces plastic part from which e.g. those sculptures are made. It is a kind of tribute to the factory of his father and group work of many people involved in one project. It is a group portrait of workers, but many Venetians as well, whose faces were cast right before the opening of Biennale.
Paweł Althamer took also part in the exhibition of V-A-C Foundation at the neighbouring island Casa dei Tre Oci. His works were combined with the ones of Russian artist Anatoly Osmolovsky. An interesting part of the exhibition were the videos and works of both artists related to the post-communist reality and attempts of finding oneself in it together with carnality and new possibilities, that stands in front of the man. The works of both artists created in parallel present amazing similarities in the way of approach to the problem in spite of the distance between them, different perspective of their creation and mentality. They complement each other in building the image of artist/man slightly lost in the turbulent, recovering everyday life of the 90ties – post-communist daily life.
A little farther on the coast of the same island Giudecca, in the small, modestly arranged Galleria Upp we visited the exhibition of Natalia LL (Lach-Lachowicz) – one of the most important artists of the 70ties, co-founder of Polish the 70ties and the 80ties neo-avant garde. The presentation titled meaningfully “The Grammar of The Body“ consisted of video, silver prints from the series Consumer Art (1972), Post-Consumer Art (1975) from the 70ties, contemporary prints of the works from that period and some newer works from the series Animal Art (1977-2013). Almost iconic photos and motives of Natalia’s art were presented during the exhibition. She was one of the few artists in communist Poland, and one of the first women in the global scale of the modern history of art as well, that dealt with the subject of carnality, sexuality and the role of woman in culture (or even more stereotypes connected with these concepts). The images of women shown at bold poses, sometimes almost porn shots are consciously related to the images from porn magazines and subjects connected to consumerism. The woman was led to the role of object, the element devoted to the world’s consumerism, that was dominated by males in those days. On the other hand, we are dealing here with the matter of consumption, willingness or even desire to possess, that became a fetish of our times, comparable to sex and erotic – but it takes perverted forms close to pornography.
It is worth to mention here, that this gallery has collaborated with Natalia LL for some time. They presented this uncompromised artist at Artissima fairs in Turin last year. What is more, this is not the only Polish artist in the gallery. As we were informed in September, the gallery is planning the exhibition of Michał Martychowiec, whose works are now available to watch at Palazzo Dona. This is the next stop on our route around Venice.
But all about this in the second part of our coverage…
words: Sylwia Krasoń
translation: Katarzyna Wójcik