Internationalism and Nationality; Antiquity and Contemporaneity at the 54th Venice Biennale

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Details of Thomas Hirschhorn installation at the Swiss Pavilion, Giardini
Details of Thomas Hirschhorn installation at the Swiss Pavilion, Giardini
What always seems urgent and perhaps ineffable to curators is how notions of nationality come to pass in a biennial setting. Look at the last Daniel Birnbaum-curated Venice Biennale for evidence, his “Making Worlds,” or the last documenta in 2007 curated by German couple Roger Buergel and Ruth Noack, which, similar to Okwui Enwezor’s preceding documenta, displaced the exhibition in lesser-known, sometimes third-world locales. We now find French curator Bice Curiger’s comparatively breezy ILLUMInations inhabiting Venice, looking to the aesthetic experience as one of transcendental enlightenment while also meditating, somewhat confoundingly, on how an artist’s nationality effects the production of their work.

Although there exist many a pleasant moment in Curiger’s biennale, the curator stumbles over contextualizing it, and often relies upon generic ideas to band together ideas with no real curatorial thesis. Curiger writes, “The term ‘nations’ in ILLUMInations applies metaphorically to recent developments in the arts all over the world, where overlapping groups form collectives of people representing a wide variety of smaller, more local activities and mentalities.” I take this wily statement to mean that recently, artists of varying locales band together to represent their nationhood in larger groups—a sentiment not exactly illuminating.

In a further attempt to explain what needn’t be explained, Curiger writes, “ILLUMInations emphasizes the intuitive insight and the illumination of thought that is fostered by an encounter with art and its ability to sharpen the tools of perception.” Here I was under the impression that it was part and parcel of successful art works to “enlighten” its viewer through an aesthetic experience, how that is emphasized, I’m not sure. My guess is that this throwaway concept is one Curiger found to unify an essentially un-unifiable group of works. Perhaps the sole phenomenon unifying all works is Curiger’s propensity to pick out the most hot artists of a given moment: R.H. Quaytmann and Seth Price in New York; in London, Klara Liden, who just had a solo show at the Serpentine, Elad Lassry in Los Angeles, Sharyar Nashat in Berlin, among others. Although Curiger falters in her apparent subscription to cool internationalism, much of the work comprising the Biennale—particularly in the exhibition’s Central Pavilion in the Giardini—is worth consideration.

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Report from BYOB (Bring Your Own Beamer) Venezia

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video by Rafaël Rozendaal

The 33rd edition of BYOB took place Friday evening on the small Venetian island, San Servolo. For those unfamiliar, the exhibition format brings together internet- savvy artists showcasing their work on their own projectors (“beamers.”) BYOB first launched last year in Berlin by Dutch artists Rafaël Rozendaal and Anne de Vries to combat the reliance upon institutions for the facilitation of new media exhibitions. With BYOBs around the globe, it has quickly gained notoriety as a meet-up point for socializing among new media artists as much as a viable form of exhibition. While Rozendaal now carries the torch for BYOB and has ushered it into a worldwide phenomenon, the question remains: is BYOB a viable form of resistance to institutional reliance or just a big party?

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