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I’m writing this text based on two conditioning moments: one visiting the Biennale during the opening days, free of prejudices, having read nothing, fresh off the plane, and the other is this text; a month later, having read a fair amount of criticism, both national and international, of Venice. The editorial team of A*Desk proposed I wrote about the “off Biennale”, something peripheral and subjective, so this won’t talk about the contents of the pavilions, so much as about criticism, time, aliens and emotions. This text will also invert the direction of time, so before the experience of visiting Venice, it will begin with what comes afterwards, the criticisms published.
So, to sum up (very) briefly, what in general has been said about the Venice Biennale of 2015: everyone likes Germany, United States and Belgium, but the prize was later carried off by Armenia; and Okwui Enwezor hasn’t done it well. A few days after the opening, a certain consensus appeared in the press, there were many coincidences and few risks taken when talking about the best and worst of the Giardini, the Central Pavilion, the Arsenale and the rest of the national pavilions scattered around Venice. How do some people manage to sign off texts in which they seem to have seen and analysed in detail so much in so little time? I imagine that aside from seeing art, the people who visited Venice during the opening week also socialised and attended those parties that take place in the art world so that with alcohol it seems easier to make friends. I presume they also stopped at some point to eat and rest.
Sometimes I imagine critics with lasers in their eyes, scanning a pavilion in a minute and later being capable of filling two sheets with their verdict. The result of so much velocity is later very similar texts appear and one ends up reading the whole time about the same Biennale in different languages and versions. A Biennale by the way that I didn’t see, or at least it was distinct from the one I saw. Because to start with, I didn’t see all of it (this sounds somewhat ugly and comprising, to confess if one’s going to write a critique that you didn’t see everything) and attention was also drawn in other directions. The process of digesting a Biennale can be slow and dense, taking into account for example that if you stop and watch three or four videos you like, you already occupy a fair amount of time. The Biennale I saw was fragmentary, with different rhythms and dérives through the city, conversations on terraces and in baroque churches, intermingled with contemporary art.
What’s more being there on the first days adds this unreal and incestuous element of the sector, when the presence of the whole social pyramid of international art concentrates for one week in one city. Just imagine for a second if a gigantic meteorite fell on Venice during these days or if the whole city suddenly sank into the sea. The days of the opening are full of noise and little clarity. To find a quiet place it’s necessary to take a step back and extract oneself from the general hubbub. To bypass what has been said, to return to the point of origin.
Okwui Enwezor, the general curator of the Biennale 2015, used the Angelus Novus by Paul Klee described by Walter Benjamin as a metaphor and leitmotif for this edition. I propose the image of an alien, a bizarre remix of the Angelus Novus, to accompany this tale. This alien exchanges Das Kapital by Karl Marx for the Cyborg Manifiesto by Donna Haraway. In short Donna Haraway already used Marxist theory and historic materialism as her theoretical base, just adding feminism, so it can only get better if Das Kapital turns queer. What is more Donna Haraway resorts to the image of the cyborg, just as Walter Benjamin or Okwui Enwezor resorts to that of the Angel by Paul Klee to talk about historical conditions from the contemporary. So it makes sense to place an alien amidst all of this. Well okay, it’s a bit odd, but it works.
Aliens don’t like nineteenth-century criticism and nineteenth-century criticism doesn’t believe in aliens, so in principle, all good. The figure of the alien is the off Biennale, and it moves through the dark matter of the system, feeling out of place in the art scene but totally at home with certain pieces. An alien is emotional, queer, feminist and anti-racist. Despite constantly deviating, it always shows clear positions. Aliens at times for some can seem a little tiresome, always insisting on asking the same thing; who has what privileges and at what cost? This question regarding the value of things makes aliens grant the same importance to words as to bodies, because they know some bodies count and others don’t. Finally, aliens don’t have a gender, a defined sex or a native land. Their only flag is that of the rainbow and despite weaving their way between the shit and detritus of this world, without any wings, aliens leave behind them a shiny trail of glitter and feathers. Because they like the drag scene and don’t really give a damn if others think it’s tacky.
The works or pavilions that made me palpitate were those where this alien would have felt at home. When all’s said and done, an alien is the other, and as Monique Wittig said: “ what is the other/different if not the dominated?” Well, I liked the situations and works where the different was negotiated, the vulnerable displayed without fear, and resistance shown as a playful form of questioning and dismantling of the dominant norm. I’m content with fragments and gaps, with not having seen everything, and having forgotten some names. In this way there’s more room and time for what merits it.
To visit a biennale consists basically of this; receiving a lot of information that each one edits, in his or her own way. And everyone should accompany their story with the symbol that suits them most: angels, aliens, money, the Virgin Mary, or Karl Marx.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)