Collapses: The Venice Biennale and the End of History | Art Practical

Collapses: The Venice Biennale and the End of History

The 2019 Venice Biennale feels like the end of everything: the end of art tourism, the end of vacations, the end of the beach and the climate of pleasure. With bad news about the climate crisis worsening every day, the nationalistic turn of governments from the U.S. to Britain to Italy to India and Brazil, it’s unclear whether the liberal ideology that produces world-scale cultural events like the Biennale can hold much longer, or whether the economic or ecological structures of global tourism can continue to support it. The liberal democratic order of free markets and free will is undermined around the globe by violent nationalism and economic protectionism. The Biennale exhibition, May You Live in Interesting Times, offers little but a hollow scream in opposition. The whole thing feels a bit like buyer’s remorse, a magnum opus from a lapsed believer in Francis Fukuyama’s promise that we’d reached the End of History.1

Arthur Jafa

Joint Italy-EU military vessel with helicopter, Piraeus Port, Greece, August 2019. Photo: Anuradha Vikram

Both the main exhibitions and the various national pavilions feature more women and artists of color this year than any previous. Diversity is manifest with respect to types of work, interests, materials, biographies, and ages of the artists on view. Curator Ralph Rugoff states that “[the artists’] work grows out of a practice of entertaining multiple perspectives: of holding in mind seemingly contradictory notions, and juggling diverse ways of making sense of the world.”2 Diversity and multiplicity appear here to be set up as counternarratives to universalism, the ideology that has historically governed the international contemporary art discourse. But is this in fact the case? Fukuyama says, “The spectacular abundance of advanced liberal economies and the infinitely diverse consumer culture made possible by them seem to both foster and preserve liberalism in the political sphere.” If, as Fukuyama suggests, there are  “fundamental ‘contradictions’ of human life that cannot be resolved in the context of modern liberalism, that would be resolvable by an alternative political-economic structure,”3 diversity is not one of those contradictions. Rather, pluralism reinforces the “common ideological heritage of mankind,”4 while fascism’s resurgence around the globe and the popular embrace of nationalist identity are more of a contradiction in light of the realities of international markets. This is the turn of events that market utopians like Fukuyama failed to anticipate.

Rugoff never comes off as a utopian, given his pervasive air of weary detachment. Rather, the exhibition transmits how it feels to watch the ascent of Donald Trump and the unfolding catastrophe of Brexit from the “all-knowing,” cool remove of the contemporary art insider—omniscient, yet impotent, and unable to divest from toxic habits. George Condo, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, Christian Marclay, and Arthur Jafa channel an anxiety bordering on panic. Construction, shipping, air travel, commerce, monuments, the body, gender—all once fixed as concepts in the Western imagination, with clearly associated positive values, are now invoked by artists such as Yin Xiuzhen, Nicole Eisenman, Slavs and Tatars, and Martine Gutierrez as hazardous, unstable, and volatile. Nowhere is this instability more evident than in the work of Mari Katayama, a Japanese artist whose self-portraiture tableaus tease the boundary between agency and objectification. These artists, more than the comparably straightforward representation advanced by artists like Zanele Muholi, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, or Gauri Gill, capture the zeitgeist of not just the show but the present time. Our historical moment is monumentally catastrophic, and the usual serious response to extremism doesn’t seem to be working. Instead, the images range from abject to absurd.

astronaut

Indios antropófagos: A Butterfly Garden in the (Urban) Jungle. Peru Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019. Photo: Anuradha Vikram

Especially relevant are the artists who toy with the fetishization of Indigenous bodies and cultures for Western consumption. Within the main exhibition curated by Rugoff, Gutierrez situates her U.S.-born Latinx, trans body within a series of photographic landscapes, Body in Thrall, that challenge touristic notions of indigeneity, cultural authenticity, and romanticized poverty around non-white people. She occupies diverse personas, from a film noir femme fatale to the terrifying Aztec deity Tlazolteotl, “Eater of Filth,” always negotiating the high fashion aesthetics of desire with a subversive decolonial aggression. Similar themes and tactics appear in Indios antropófagos in the Peruvian Pavilion, curated by Gustavo Buntinx, in which historical artifacts from the Spanish colonial era and large mosaic tile works by Christian Bendayán depicting frolicking Indigenous youth come together in a scathing critique of cultural tourism. In the French Pavilion, curated by Martha Kirszenbaum, artist Laure Prouvost references the oceans and the sea life projected to die out by 2048, only 29 years into the future, with a number of glass animals seemingly cast into the sea floor, strewn across a landscape of refuse and discarded technologies.

Back in the real world, there’s no way to excise or sequester the beautiful parts into a future that can outlast the very real catastrophes happening now. The overwhelmingly urgent need for a complete lifestyle change played in my head over the week following my visit to the Biennale, as I recuperated from a difficult personal and professional year on a seven-day Greek Islands cruise with my young children, partner, and parents. Looking over the waters where thousands of migrants have drowned, from the top deck of a massive, yet outdated, luxury vessel, I considered how the looming climate crisis creates a condition of simultaneous enjoyment of the modern world that is all around us, and a mourning for its obvious and inevitable loss. Is this the end of curating? The traditional role of the curator as guardian of the world’s collected treasures seems as irrelevant as the contemporary job of mounting resource-heavy exhibitions for an international crowd of jet-setters. Conceptualism has begun to rot from the head, as when Rugoff controversially chose to include Christoph Büchel’s installation of a salvaged boat that, in 2015, sank in the Mediterranean with more than 800 people aboard. I reflected on this watery tomb, recommissioned as a tourist attraction, while looking out across Piraeus port. In the distance, a military troop (jointly operated by Italy and the European Union) performed exercises atop a warship in a city where anti-immigrant attacks are on the rise. In the seventeenth century, the Venetians gained and lost control of Athens in a rivalry with the Ottomans. Today, it seems the EU’s primary objective in the Mediterranean is to sever thousands of years of interconnection between these three regions. Two years ago, the regenerative promise of art as a universal cultural good was undermined when documenta 14 recreated the financial dynamics of German austerity policies in Athens, Greece afresh. Debts went unpaid, workers uncompensated, all in the name of “fiscal responsibility” that nearly shuttered the sixty-year-old event for good. What better outcome ought we to expect this year from an art event born out of universal nationalism?

Christine Wertheim

Halil Altindere, Space Refugee, 2016. May You Live in Interesting Times, Venice Biennale 2019. Photo: Anuradha Vikram

An explicitly utopian impulse is fugitive in May You Live in Interesting Times, but it manifests in the intersection of art, science, and technology. Margaret and Christine Wertheim’s Crochet Coral Reef raises awareness about preservation of the oceans through a crowdsourcing practice that combines mathematical learning with environmentalism and craft. Tavares Strachan’s meditation on African American astronaut Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr., locates metaphysical discourse about the afterlife within a scientific conversation about space travel—where elsewhere Halil Altindere complicates this view with the tale of Syrian cosmonaut Muhammed Ahmed Faris and his persecution by the state. Ryoji Ikeda bathes us in cleansing white light and describes a massive, thunderous universe of data that takes breathtaking shape before our eyes. Hito Steyerl’s This is the Future is a post-internet pastorale in which computer vision is applied to the Venetian landscape to depict a state of perpetual, dreamlike futurity in which the present persistently refuses to resolve into view. The protagonist of Steyerl’s installation seeks out a garden that she had previously hidden in the future in order to protect it from the ravages of the present.

The song of the Lithuanian Pavilion Sun & Sea (Marina) still rings in my ears:

“When my body dies, I will remain,
In an empty planet without birds, animals and corals.
Yet with the press of a single button,
I will remake this world again”

The finale of Sun & Sea (Marina) details the 3D printing of facsimiles of species in widespread collapse, taking comfort in their simulated resurrection as one would in the cold rays of a dying sun.

Greek Islands

Sun & Sea (Marina), Lithuanian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019. Photo: Anuradha Vikram

The gentle tenor of the apocalyptic visions in Sun & Sea (Marina) perfectly encapsulates the feeling of living at the outside edge of the story of the human species on planet Earth, with the knowledge that history as we know it may well be about to end because our species is one of millions undergoing collapse. The emptiness of our endeavors is invoked by Shilpa Gupta, whose wildly swinging metal gate hammers an effigy of national borders into a gallery wall. Otobong Nkanga’s drawings in acrylic on crayon reference the mechanical, industrialized nature of exploitation in the 21st century. Unlike the bees, whose society is organized around abundance, we humans have engineered systems to maximize our suffering. If humankind can truly lay claim to a common ideological heritage, as Fukuyama once argued, we have only ourselves to blame for our impending end.

Related posts

Eyes Wide Shut review – chilling secrecy, quaintly soft-porn sex | Film | The Guardian

person

Eyes Wide Shut, now on rerelease, is fascinating, flawed late Stanley Kubrick, his final film before his death in 1999 at the age of 70. It was adapted from Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle, or Dream Story, published in 1926 and originally set in Vienna. The film is a tale of sexual obsession among modern-day Manhattan’s wealthy and powerful classes and I originally valued it for its satirical potency, formal control and dreamlike self-possession, all of which are bound up in a certain kind of deadpan absurdity and soft-porn seriousness.

Tom Cruise plays Bill Harford, a well-off New York doctor with a fashionable clientele and a magnificent apartment in Central Park West, happily married to beautiful Alice (Nicole Kidman) a former art gallery director, now a stay-at-home mum to their young daughter. (In the book, they are Jewish, an important part of the doctor’s alienation. Not here.) Unsettled by each other’s flirtatious behaviour at a swell party given by a wealthy patient, Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack), and by a consumption of champagne and weed, they later have a furious row in which Alice defiantly confesses her lustful thoughts for a certain other man in her past, and Bill then finds himself on a nighttime odyssey, searching for extramarital adventure and gatecrashing a sinister masked orgy, to which he gains admittance by murmuring the (ironic) password “Fidelio”.




Pinterest

This revival comes with a brief documentary short about the film, Never Just a Dream, with interviewees including his longtime collaborator, executive producer and brother-in-law Jan Harlan — but not his widow Christiane, and not his most important collaborator, screenwriter Frederic Raphael. It might be time to reissue Raphael’s 1999 memoir of working with Kubrick, Eyes Wide Open, in which Raphael amusingly hints that the tense mood of Cruise’s cab ride out to the creepy orgy mansion was inspired by his own minicab journeys from St Albans railway station to the famed seclusion of Kubrick’s Hertfordshire country home for script discussions.

The title, Eyes Wide Shut, was Kubrick’s, and in my original piece, I wondered whether it related to the idea of imaginary sexual transgression being as potent as real, waking transgressions. In dreams you see and know things clearly, with your eyes wide shut. It’s only now that I can see another comparison that was always under my nose: Malcolm McDowell’s eyes being clipped wide open in A Clockwork Orange, being forced to watch something horrible. There are other visual echoes, such as the eerie emptiness of the elevator lobbies like those in The Shining – which are part of the film’s artificiality and theatricality, mocked a little by the film’s denigrators at the time, but a part of the hallucinatory effect. Then there is the party scene at the beginning, like something from The Shining, where Alice meets her predatory Hungarian suitor (Sky du Mont) who could almost be a ghost. Kubrick’s use of Stravinsky’s Waltz from his Jazz Suite shows his sweet tooth for mainstream classical-music themes, and his predilection for softcore female nudity is a characteristic thought a bit dated in 1999.

Perhaps what we felt was contrived was that orgy scene, although it is disquieting and strange in the Hammer-horror way that originally impressed me. But by 1999, Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho had upped the ante on these ideas of Manhattan super-wealth and depravity, and in comparison, Eyes Wide Shut seemed a tad quaint. Yet now, in the age of Epstein, we can see that it was not so far-fetched to imagine elaborate clubs in which the rich and powerful can disport themselves and exploit the vulnerable. What comes across even more strongly about Eyes Wide Shut now is its chilling emphasis on ruling-class secrecy. This film inspired Jonathan Glazer’s Birth (2004), itself underappreciated at the time.

Cruise and Kidman heartfelt and fervent performances (although the flickering black-and-white moments showing her imagined sexual indulgence don’t work). There are tears, and Cruise in particular lays himself open in that fiercely committed way that he tries everything as an actor. Did their actual marital disputes resemble what happen in this film? Maybe. They were divorced two years after this came out, with much gossip about whether the film had accentuated their discontents. Pollack’s performance as Ziegler is thrillingly cynical and disillusioned.

Eyes Wide Shut is released in the UK on 29 November.

Related posts

Will X Factor Celebrity improve the show’s ratings?

It’s the time of year again where your TV guide fills up with more late-night entertainment.

ITV’s The X Factor used to dominate the weekend ratings with its sometimes harsh auditions and names like Beyonce and Rihanna at the live finals.

But over the years, the show’s figures have dropped to less than half of what they were in 2010.

The first episode of the celebrity edition aired on Saturday, with 4.71 million viewers.

The X Factor reached peak viewing figures in 2010 when, according to the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB), episodes averaged more than 14 million viewers in the UK.

Last year’s series, won by Dalton Harris, averaged roughly six million viewers, so last night’s figures of five million aren’t a great start for the series.

The format is simple, celebrities who are already known by the public, but not for singing, compete to impress judges Simon Cowell, Nicole Scherzinger and Louis Walsh.

The line-up caters to a range of ages, including everyone from Love Island stars and social media influencers, to broadcast journalist Martin Bashir.

newsSpeaking last week at the show’s launch on Thursday, original judge Louis Walsh told Radio 1 Newsbeat: “It needed something different.
This is a whole new chapter and I think it’s the future for X Factor.”

 

The first episode, showing auditions in front of various music producers and writers in Simon’s garden in Malibu, received mixed responses online.

The format is far from the small, minimally designed audition room with an X on the floor from early series’, but the judges haven’t changed much.

Reality star Megan McKenna told Newsbeat: “I was so happy when I found out it was judged by Simon, Nicole and Louis because they’re the originals.

“I’ve watched the show growing up my entire life, so singing in front of them was one of the best moments of my whole life.”

BBCDermot O’Leary will once again host the series and be the contestants’ general shoulder to cry on.

He said: “It may well be that we uncover this incredible singer, it may well be that it doesn’t fly – but it’s definitely worth the risk.

“Whether we can find a recording artist with these celebrities – probably not! As long as we can put on a good entertainment show, that’s what matters.”

Nicole agreed that the show was more about providing entertainment, saying: “We still get pretty great ratings, all we can do it put on the best show we can, and hopefully we can entertain the people who are watching.”

Related posts

The Most Important Moments You Missed At The 2019 Emmys | Betches

The Emmys are to award shows what your cousin who you used to be close with in high school but now have nothing in common with is to your family. Now imagine that cousin is having a birthday party, and you have the Emmys. The Emmys happen much later in the year than all the other award shows, so by the time September rolls around you’ve all but blocked red carpets and drawn-out presentations out of your memory. And, they occur during Sunday football, no less. Even though there have been many good times in the past, you don’t exactly want to give up an afternoon that will segue into an evening of drinking for it? Not really. 

This year’s Emmys lacked a host, a decision that proved to be wise for the Oscars but not so much for the Emmys. In place of a host, they had a few notable presenters that should have filled that role, like Bryan Cranston and Jimmy Kimmel. Thomas Lennon did give a bunch of deadpan voice-overs. He had one good joke about Felicity Huffman being in prison, (anyone remember when she won an Emmy in 2005? No? Neither does she), but other than that kind of fell flat. And that’s a quote you can repeat verbatim at your office water cooler, because I know you didn’t watch the Emmys last night! Here’s what else you missed, that you can also just say with a healthy degree of conviction to convince people you actually sat at home watching a three-hour-plus commercial for The Masked Singer. 

Michelle Williams’ Speech

Michelle

Instagram erupted almost immediately after Michelle Williams accepted her Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, because she gave a speech that is going to be hailed by white feminists everywhere for the next seven years. Williams apparently was paid as much as Sam Rockwell for her part in Fosse/Verdon, which is great, even if the fact that a woman earning as much as her male co-star is considered commendable is pretty bleak. In her speech, Williams thanked FX and Fox 21 studios for paying her equally and listening to a number of her other demands, such as more dance lessons and a different wig. She closed her speech with this: “The next time a woman, and especially a woman of color—because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white, male counterpart—tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her. Believe her, because one day she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing [her] to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it.” I applaud Michelle for acknowledging her privilege and bringing to light the fact that the pay gap is even wider for women of color. That said, it’s sad that we have to sit here and publicly applaud studio execs for… *checks notes* … shelling out a few bucks for better costumes? Doing their jobs? I don’t know if you guys have heard about this, but apparently working in Hollywood is pretty sh*tty.

Natasha Lyonne Can’t Clap

Nicole Kidman can finally rest easy after this gif of Natasha Lyonne clapping surfaced on Twitter.

Natasha

In case you need a refresher, here was what Nicole Kidman called applause at the Oscars:

Nicole

Guys, WHAT?? Are people in Hollywood so unaccustomed to expressing joy or congratulations for other people that they never learned how to clap? It’s not hard, you guys! Your fingers need to touch, and you need to do it with enough force so that you actually make a sound and aren’t just touching your fingertips to each other like Mr. Burns.

The Emmys Spoiled ‘Game Of Thrones’

Game

Game of Thrones won Outstanding Drama, but didn’t win nearly as many awards as people thought. (It still won 12, though, just to give you a picture of how entitled GoT fans are.) But people on Twitter were even more pissed when the Emmys farewell montage was broadcast, which apparently “spoiled” the last season of GoT. To be fair, it did show (SPOILER ALERT) clips like Arya killing the Night King, but need I remind you that this sh*t aired in MAY?? You get like, a week max to claim spoilers. I have no sympathy for anyone who is mad at the goddamn Emmys for “spoiling” a highly publicized final season that happened nearly six months ago. Like, you don’t get to procrastinate a paper and then get mad at your professor for failing you an entire semester after you were supposed to turn it in.

Jenny McCarthy Bombed On The Red (Purple) Carpet

GIF

As we discussed in our fashion recap, Jenny McCarthy showed up looking like a mess, and also acting like one. Someone gave her a red carpet hosting gig, someone who has probably since lost their job. At one point, Jenny talked to Christina Applegate about growing up watching her and wanting to be her. The funny thing about Christina is that she’s… one whole year older than Jenny McCarthy. Jenny asked Christina what it felt like to get nominated for her first lead actress nomination… when it was actually her third. She also asked Julia Louis Dreyfus to do the Elaine dance and she just said no and walked away. But not to worry, I’m sure Jenny has an essential oil to help her deal with the embarrassment!

Billy Porter Made History

Billy

In addition to another show-stopping outfit (Billy’s stylist can do no wrong at this point), Billy Porter made history when he became the first openly gay, black actor to win outstanding actor in a drama for his role in Pose. He quoted James Baldwin in his acceptance speech, saying, “It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself, and half-believed before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.” In completely unrelated news, I am crying at my desk right now. He is now one award away from an EGOT—he’s just missing an Oscar. No biggie, that’s the easy one!

Kim Kardashian and Kendall Jenner Got Laughed At

Kim

While Khloé was at home live tweeting KUWTK (rough, maybe next year), Kim and Kendall presented at the Emmys for Outstanding Reality TV Series. Kendall said, “Our family knows first-hand how truly compelling television comes from real people, just being themselves, telling their stories, unfiltered and unscripted.” Everyone laughed. And while I think the irony is funny, I don’t think it’s completely fair to say that KUWTK is scripted. Sure, every move they make is heavily orchestrated by Kris Jenner. Is the show real? About as real as their faces. But can we honestly say it’s scripted when Kendall Jenner surely is incapable of reading, much less off a script?

Jharrel Jerome Paid Tribute To The Exonerated Central Park Five

Jharrel

Jharrel Jerome won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series for his role in Netflix’s When They See Us, a miniseries directed by Ava DuVernay about the Central Park Five, five children who were pressured into falsely confessing for an assault they did not commit. At only 21 years old, Jerome is the youngest actor to win Lead Actor in a Limited Series (I was still perfecting my Jell-O shot recipe at age 21, but cool), and he’s the first Afro-Latino actor to be nominated for and win an acting category. He dedicated his award to the Exonerated Five, and it was one of the most moving moments of the night.

‘Fleabag’ Cleaned Up

Fleabag

In a pretty major upset (to Game of Thrones fans, can you tell I don’t watch??) Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Fleabag, the Amazon Original she wrote, directed, and starred in, won a bunch of awards. Waller-Bridge won for Outstanding Comedy Series and Lead Actress, so okay I guess I really need to get my roommate’s brother’s Amazon Prime password so I can finally watch it!

Other memorable moments included Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech, which urged for Hollywood to employ trans people and paid tribute to her late sister, Alexis. The DJ was really weird and chose inappropriate music choices—Florence and the Machine was played twice, and Chernobyl’s win was accompanied by “Feelin’ Good” and “Shake it Off”. I don’t know, I feel like a nuclear accident is kind of hard to shake off. Alex Borstein, who won for her role in Marvelous Mrs. Maizel, gave a speech about her grandmother who survived the Holocaust and somehow managed to tie it into female empowerment. You love to see it.

Overall, the Emmys seemed a little lost without a host, and although we got some history-making wins, the awards were still overwhelmingly white. If you took away one thing from last night’s Emmys, it was probably that The Masked Singer airs Wednesday, October 2nd at 8pm, only on Fox!!

Images: Getty Images; Giphy

Related posts