The 58th International Art Exhibition, titled May You Live In Interesting Times come to its conclusion on the 24th November 2019. We have rounded up some of the great artists that have participated at this year's Biennale.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan - Jordan
Describing himself as a “private ear”, Lawrence Abu Hamdan focuses on the politics of listening, the legal and religious impact of sound, the human voice and silence. His practice arose from a background in DIY music, but it currently spans film, audio-visual installations and live audio essays – a term he prefers to “lecture-performance”, as it better describes the intertwining of voice and content, and of the discourse and the conditions in which it is pronounced. He deals with the human voice as a politicised material, easily graspable by governments or data companies.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby - Nigeria
The paintings of Njideka Akunyili Crosby reflect her experience as a member of the contemporary Nigerian diaspora, depicting a specific cultural and national identity that is unfamiliar to many, though instantly recognisable to those who have followed a similar path. Having emigrated to study in the United States as a teenager, Akunyili Crosby moves confidently (although perhaps not without internalised friction) between diverse aesthetic, intellectual, economic and political contexts, and it is the collision and misalignment of these contexts that gives her paintings their tension and poignancy.
The artist paints portraits and domestic interiors that usually feature herself and her family. These scenes are at once flat and limitlessly deep, with windows and doorways opening onto other spaces, while the spaces described in these pictures are indeterminate; certain details – such as a cast iron radiator, for instance – indicate a cold climate (such as New York, where the artist lived for a time), while others, such as a paraffin lamp set on a table, are drawn from Akunyili Crosby’s memories of Nigeria.
Halil Altındere - Turkey
Halil Altındere scrutinises the politics of the everyday in his videos, photographs, installations and paintings. A keen observer of sociopolitical mechanisms and their encroachment on the individual, he often uses the very means by which authority is asserted and difference is circumscribed by the institutions of the nation-state. Identity cards, postage stamps, banknotes, newspaper front pages, militaristic slogans and photos of political leaders are appropriated to subvert social or political manipulation and normalisation.
Coming from a Kurdish background, and having grown up during the peak of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, Altındere touches on the neglect and mistreatment of minorities in numerous works. In recent years, Altındere has engaged with the global refugee crisis in multiple works, including Space Refugee (2016), a series inspired by the artist’s meeting with Muhammed Ahmed Faris, Syria’s first and only cosmonaut, who travelled to space with a Soviet team in 1987.
Ed Atkins - United Kingdom
Ed Atkins makes all kinds of convolutions of self-portraiture. He writes uncomfortably intimate, elliptical prophesies, draws horrible caricatures, and makes realistic computer generated videos that often feature male figures in the throes of unaccountable psychical crises. In the Arsenale, the installation Old Food (2017-2019) is wadded with historicity, melancholy, and stupidity. Here, Atkins has expanded his emo terrain, tempering affecting autobiographical figuration with broader issues and citations.
The drawings that constitute Bloom (numbered one to ten and showed in the Central Pavilion) feature tarantulas disembarking tentative hands or otherwise perching on a posed foot, each with the shrunken head of Ed Atkins where the spiders’ abdomen should be. Wreathed in arachnid hairs, Atkins’s face breaks the fourth wall and gawps at us, wearing an ambivalent, questionably conscious expression.
Darren Bader - USA
Darren Bader’s art touches on an impressively broad range of themes – from the ontological status of the art object to the cultural influence of the internet, from the history of the readymade to the role of language in Conceptual art, from global consumer capitalism to the 21st-century art market, from the divine to the abject. For his presentation at the Biennale Arte 2019, Bader has developed an augmented reality work, available through a mobile app. Functioning throughout the Arsenale and the Central Pavilion and also further afield, the work – titled Scott Mendes’s VENICE! – adds a layer of reality (or unreality) to the city of Venice, a site that is already overwhelmingly saturated with aesthetic, historical and sensorial information for the visitors who throng there annually.
George Condo - USA
Over the past forty years, George Condo has brought into being a multitude of bizarre characters, ranging from the mildly psychotic to the dangerously deranged. In the early 1980s, he started painting “fake Old Masters”, creating delinquent images that looked genuinely historical but had a “modern edge”. During a decade in Paris from the mid-1980s, he invented “Artificial Realism”, which involved “dismantling one reality and constructing another from the same parts”. Returning to New York in 1995, he responded to America’s boom and bust years in paintings that reflect a manic society: its ambitions, hysteria, paranoia and despair.
Gauri Gill - India
Travelling further afield, Gill saw new suburban “colonies existing in a wasteland of debris, imitation English castles with the makeshift homes of migrant labourers surrounding them”. Her architectural Deadpan encompasses developers’ hoardings peddling unattainable dreams; educational displays about building and construction; fake palms planted among real trees; a goddess presiding above an aircon unit; a new building, covered with torn sheeting, in the process of being demolished on Mahatma Gandhi Road; bundles of rubbish rotting beside the Grand Trunk Road; and featureless high-rises, everywhere.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster - France
Over many years, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster has taken inspiration from the world of speculative fiction as a tool for imagining different futures, pasts and presents, and is particularly drawn to the notion of escape. She often creates immersive simulated worlds in galleries, museums and public spaces. At a time when a looming global climate crisis threatens life on Earth, her attention has turned to Mars. In his novel The Martian Chronicles (1950), Ray Bradbury records the conquest of Mars by Americans, who first land in 1999, soon subjugate the indigenous population, and then annihilate it.
Bradbury and Leigh Brackett’s Martian fiction inspired Gonzalez-Foerster’s Cosmorama (2018) diorama. This project – a collaboration with the artist Joi Bittle (1975, USA) – combines a painted background with sculpted elements of the Martian landscape such as rocks and sand, all carefully tinted. With the diorama enclosed in glass, viewers are invited to imagine themselves inside this setting.
In the Arsenale she opens up new temporal, spatial, and mental dimensions with Endodrome, a project that uses VR (virtual reality) to involve viewers in trance-like encounters where they can alter themselves and their surrounds.
Jesse Darling - United Kingdom
Jesse Darling’s sculptures are wounded, skittish, and unsteady, but they are also brimming with life. Made from low-cost everyday materials, these unassuming assemblages evoke bodies with an unusual poignancy; they are also determinedly non-monumental. Unable to use most of their right arm due to a neurological disease, Darling was struck by the inherited ideologies and ableist machismo that had initially informed their understanding of sculpture: ideas of ‘hard work’ and ‘the gesture’. They explain: “Now I’m trying to think and work towards a non-macho sculpture practice by gathering and assembling small objects in narrative formulations, and learning to draw with my left hand”.
Nabuqi - China
Nabuqi is deeply committed to exploring the aesthetic and material aspects of sculpted objects; for the artist it is important that the imitation of the outdoors is realised through an assemblage of manufactured objects whose original qualities are faithfully kept: “I wanted to recover the initial state and properties of the materials, instead of compromising these with my own hands. Which means not showing a meticulously created artwork in the exhibition space. I also wanted to construct an environment that pertains to both the outdoor (external) and the interior (internal). All the materials used here are decorative in nature, supposedly simulating or stimulating a kind of reality, or nurturing an imagination of an aesthetics: a virtual aesthetics, pleasant and hospitable”. Can such a recreation of reality be perceived as part of reality, and does it trigger the same emotional resonances in the audience as if they had encountered the real? Her artworks try to answer to such questions.