November, 24: the closing day of the 58th edition of the Biennale of Venice. Organized by Ralph Rugoff, a world-wide known curator, director of the Hayward Gallery in Southbank Centre, London, it comprises the works of (only) 79 artists and 90 national participations in Giardini, Arsenale and all around the city of Venice.
This is not going to be a ‘traditional’ review of the Biennale, also because I am actually one of those people who had never visited any Biennale until this one. In any case, I think that having the opportunity to compare it to the previous editions is, yes, important, because it allows to have a deeper perspective on what has been achieved this year, but not essential.
As Rugoff said during the closing conference of the Biennale, this edition did not necessary require specialist knowledge to be appreciated. Of course, an art historian perceived artworks in a completely different way, but having this specific knowledge is not necessary.
‘Art is not an object, it is an experience.’
Everyone can enjoy it. We can all make sense of it thanks to the inevitable connections created by the artwork between an artist and our own personal background.
That was Rugoff’s intent: creating a safe space where visitors, any visitor, could start a two-way conversation with the artists exhibiting.
That is also the reason why he chose such a small amount of artists – let’s remember that the artists invited in 2017 were 120, and 136 in 2015. Rugoff created a more profound and ambivalent exchange that persisted throughout the exhibitions: the Biennale’s central pavilions in both the Arsenale and Giardini housed different works from the same artists, creating a multitude of solo shows articulated throughout the spaces.
If in Giardini we find Arthur Jafa‘s highly acclaimed video, The White Album – which also won this year’s Golden Lion -, in Arsenale Big Wheel, his huge installations made with tyres, actually make us experience a different side of the artist, not connected to his most famous video art. The same happens with every other artist: visitors have the opportunity to actually experience the pluralism and contradictions of their practices and realise that artists ‘Don’t tell single stories, don’t always do things in the same way‘: their practice is multi-dimensional.
This choice also reconnects to the theme of the Biennale, May You Live In Interesting Times, a sentence that has now become iconic. Rugoff asked artist to respond to today’s times and survey this particular age we live in not necessarily through politically or socially engaged discourses, which he defines as polarised and therefore too simplified, but merely through their personal experiences of the world. It is for this reason that this Biennale is so open to personal interpretations, because one of the things it is based on is ambivalence: of artists’ practice, of visitors’ interpretations and, more in general, of human experience.
In such years of confusion, of insecurities and uncertainties, being reminded to challenge our perceptions is the base to our future. The online world is making us more focused on our individualities, algorithms are surrounding us with content that resonates with our interests, and after a while we forget to embrace the contradictions of society and life.
Contemporary art is there also to remind us of the diverse orders that govern the world, to make us curious and to make us realise that sometimes, we should also embrace the inevitable contradictions and uncertainties of our lives.