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Cecilia Alemani talks with David Velasco concerning the 59th Venice Biennale

Cecilia Alemani talks with David Velasco concerning the 59th Venice Biennale

Cecilia Alemani talks with David Velasco about the 59th Venice Biennale

On April 23, the Fifty-Ninth Venice Biennale will open to the general public, curated by Cecilia Alemani—a veteran of the present, having organized the Italian pavilion in 2017. Titled “The Milk of Desires,” after a sequence of drawings the artist Leonora Carrington made throughout her time in Mexico within the Fifties, this version arrives a 12 months later than deliberate, its opening postponed because of the worldwide Covid-19 disaster. Artforum editor David Velasco spoke with Alemani over Zoom in February, then revisited the dialog over electronic mail in early March to handle the Biennale’s position in mild of Russia’s extraordinary invasion of Ukraine.

DAVID VELASCO: I wish to start with the unprecedented context for this Biennale. The present was scheduled to open in Might 2021, however the international pandemic pushed the opening to April 2022. That is the primary time since World Struggle II that the exhibition has been postponed, and the recrudescence of land struggle in Europe has everybody fearing the worst. Your analysis part coincided with Covid-19. You couldn’t see studios or go to artists in individual. I ponder if, in truth, this opened new potentialities for approaching the present?

CECILIA ALEMANI: To offer you a way of the timeline, I used to be appointed in January 2020. I bear in mind I went to the Frieze Artwork Truthful in Los Angeles in February, after which I flew to Scandinavia for my first—and final—actual analysis journey. Since then, I’ve been just about glued to my pc display. So I’ve achieved large analysis by different means, in a way more expansive method, and at all times completely in distant, as we now say. First, I requested a gaggle of advisers—curators and museum professionals—from areas I couldn’t go to to suggest artists. Then I checked out hundreds and hundreds of lists and portfolios and did greater than 4 hundred studio visits through Zoom. I requested artists to suggest different artists I ought to have a look at. I believe one of many best privileges of being a curator is to be within the artist’s studio and to see the artwork, to odor it, to the touch it, to be in its bodily presence. I didn’t expertise any of that, however these Zoom studio visits offered nearly a confessional area for conversations that went past artwork, touching upon existential topics and discussions concerning the present scenario. There’s a unusual intimacy once you discuss to strangers by way of your display, peeking at their studios and residences. . . . And due to the pandemic, folks have been much less guarded and extra open, so I might study a lot and have interaction in very deep discussions. However, I hope there received’t be too many surprises, as a result of I’ve not been capable of see lots of the artworks being made in individual.

“What I wished to do for this present—and which I used to be solely capable of accomplish as a result of I had extra time—was to develop a trans­historic exhibition, one that might create a dialogue between totally different generations of artists throughout a complete century.” —Cecilia Alemani

DV: If you have been appointed, I bear in mind pondering it was such a sensible alternative. You had curated the Italian pavilion on the 2017 version of the Biennale. I suspected that when your husband, Massimiliano Gioni, was inventive director of the Biennale in 2013, you may need change into acquainted with the establishment’s distinctive protocols. I believe many individuals don’t perceive that, regardless that it takes place each two years, Venice is difficult terrain, and curators have nearly no time to place collectively a present.

CA: It’s not even two years, as a result of the present ends in November. Often, you’re appointed at first of the 12 months, and the present opens within the spring of the next 12 months. So, actually, the present is each 13 months.

DV: Did you’re feeling such as you knew what to anticipate stepping into?

CA: I positively had a bonus as a result of, partially, I noticed the method of his curation. I knew of the sleepless nights, the powerful funds, the nervousness, the months spent waking up very, very early, and sometimes in a panic. . . . Additionally, the Italian pavilion is the one nationwide pavilion that’s produced by the Venice Biennale, so I had already labored with lots of my present colleagues. I believe folks assume it’s somewhat simpler being Italian, nevertheless it additionally means you can’t play the cardboard of “I don’t perceive what you’re saying.” Actually the principle benefit—if we are able to contemplate it so, given the situations during which we discovered ourselves in 2020—was having the additional time. That’s essentially the most treasured factor in doing this present.

View of Salvador Allende Brigade murals, Campo San Polo, Venice, 1974. From “Freedom for Chile,” 1974. Photo: Lorenzo Capellini.

DV: I wasn’t certain what sort of present to anticipate from you. You’ve championed girls artists to your whole profession, however you don’t essentially have a signature. Or to place it higher: I consider you as an artists’ curator, one who doesn’t arrive with a set of precepts however who responds on to a context and to the artists with whom you’re working. There are a handful of artists in your record with whom you’ve developed initiatives earlier than, like Sable Elyse Smith and Simone Leigh and Firelei Baez, however lots of the artists are new for you. And that is the most important artwork Biennale ever to be put collectively by a single curator: greater than 200 artists from fifty-eight nations. It is a great distance of attending to asking how your curating type may differ from prior inventive administrators’.

CA: That’s an excellent query. If you begin, the very first thing you do is have a look at the exhibits of your predecessors. You might be of their footwear now. Earlier than, I might say, “Oh, that’s horrible.” Now I’m like, “Oh my God. I mustn’t have been so vital. Now it’s me!” However I believe what I wished to do for this present—and which I used to be solely capable of accomplish as a result of I had extra time—was develop a transhistorical exhibition, one that might create a dialogue between totally different generations of artists throughout a complete century. I used to be additionally struck by the truth that many current curators of the Biennale Arte claimed that they didn’t wish to have themes. I discover it weird as a result of—regardless that mine could not have a really tight theme—I believe you take one thing away from the viewer by not offering an entry level or a key with which to learn the present. I attempted not to consider this Biennale as solely a snapshot, and tried to additionally pan out and have a look at it as a part of a extra prolonged historic lineage of exhibitions. And I believed it was my duty to say one thing about how artwork and the world round us are altering, and to supply a perspective from which to know the way in which during which artists are serving to us describe and expertise the world past artwork. After all, the thought of together with many ladies comes from the truth that girls have been so deeply excluded from the historical past of this establishment and from many different establishments and histories. This exclusion merely doesn’t signify the world anymore—or mustn’t signify it anymore. In reality, the exhibition appears on the method during which the very notions of the “human” and “man” have been decentered lately, within the work of many artists and on the planet at massive.

“The Venice Biennale can be a palimpsest onto which all these totally different writings of historical past are encrusted.” —CA

DV: Let’s speak about this transhistorical dimension, which manifests in 5 time capsules scattered all through the present. One of many capsules resurrects “Materialization of Language,” an overtly feminist showcase of visible and concrete poetry on the 1978 Biennale. Did this come up throughout your analysis for “The Disquieted Muses,” the historical-archive present you labored on throughout the break in 2020?

CA: Not a lot, on this explicit case. I used to be already acquainted with that present: I’ve at all times been a fan of concrete and visible poetry. In “The Disquieted Muses,” I realized extra concerning the 1948 version, which was the primary after World Struggle II; it’s known as the “rebirth” Biennale. It was an version that, on the one hand, launched many up to date artists and new actions; then again, it appeared again at historical past to incorporate many artists who had been censored or obscured throughout the Fascist and Nazi period. It was the Biennale that hosted the Surrealist assortment of Peggy Guggenheim, presenting it for the primary time in Venice, within the Greek pavilion as a result of Greece was caught in civil struggle on the time. And it was the Biennale of the retrospective of Pablo Picasso, who at sixty-seven was celebrated with a significant present as a sort of hero of antifascism.

The 1978 present you converse of was groundbreaking. The group’s president on the time, Carlo Ripa di Meana, turned the Venice Biennale into a really politically engaged establishment. The 1974 version, for instance, was in assist of democracy in Chile, proper after the Pinochet coup. The 1976 one was devoted to Spain, following the demise of Franco. In 1977, Ripa di Mena determined that the Biennale shouldn’t be one single exhibition however somewhat a constellation of occasions introduced all year long and all through town, and he devoted that version to mental dissent inside the Soviet regime; the unconventional undertaking finally price him his job. The present in 1978 was maybe somewhat extra conventional, however “Materialization of Language” stood out and has been very influential for Italian tradition and girls artists.

Gennady Donskoy and Mikhail Roshal-Fedorov, The Iron Curtain, 1977, slide projection. From the “Biennial of Dissent,” 1977. Photo: Studio Giacomelli.

DV: Talking of struggle, this Biennale opens within the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The curator and artists of the Russian pavilion very swiftly canceled their participation in protest, and the Biennale expressed solidarity with their actions. Has the struggle modified the way in which you’ve seen the present? Have you ever thought of any broader statements or actions?

CA: Within the warmth of the horrible occasions, photographs, and information coming from Ukraine, nothing appears to make sense anymore. What can stand as compared and even in dialogue with the ferocious brutality and inhumanity of the invasion of Ukraine? I actually don’t have any reply. It’s been one week because the starting of the struggle, and I’m simply nervous and devastated; I didn’t have an opportunity to formulate a coherent place. I used to go to Kyiv for work very often, and, as silly because it sounds, it will get a lot extra painful when you recognize the streets and the buildings and you’ve got mates and colleagues there. It actually is senseless and makes me sick. All that is to say that any response I may give now might be confused, emotional, and incommensurate with the gravity of the scenario.

What I can say is that time and again all through the 20 th century, historical past got here knocking on the door of the Venice Biennale. Generally it broke in with pressure—you’ve seen the pictures of Adolf Hitler visiting the Biennale in 1934 or the police repressing the coed rebellion in 1968—different instances it simply forged an ominous shadow on its proceedings. And there have been additionally events of pleasure and collective transformation and awakening. The Venice Biennale—much more so than Documenta—can be a palimpsest onto which all these totally different writings of historical past are encrusted. Its very core construction, primarily based on the nationwide pavilions, is the results of the turmoil of historical past within the twentieth century, formed by geopolitical dynamics and colonial expansions. The Giardini are constructed on the thought of the nation-state, an idea that at all times appears so out of date, till the subsequent invasion. . . . And you’ll see the traces of so many conflicts if you happen to look fastidiously: the phrase JUGOSLAVIA nonetheless inscribed on the Serbian pavilion, or CECOSLOVACCHIA on the constructing now shared by the 2 republics. When in 1948, after the struggle, Germany couldn’t take part, its pavilion was used to host a significant exhibition about Impressionism, which had been eclipsed by the nationalist agendas of Fascist Italy.

My hope, at the very least, is that we will have a good time Ukraine and its artist Pavlo Makov of their nationwide pavilion, regardless of the unbelievable difficulties the belief of their initiatives would require underneath the present circumstances. The Venice Biennale stands in solidarity with the folks of Ukraine, and we’ll do something potential to make their illustration succeed and to assist different initiatives which may assist Ukraine and its folks. The Russian pavilion will stay closed, however, as The Venice Biennale historical past has taught us many instances, pavilions are locations that can be utilized additionally to problem the very notion of nationwide identification and politics—consider Hans Haacke’s and Ilya Kabakov’s pavilions within the 1993 version.

Delcy Morelos, Inner Earth, 2018, soil, glue, water, wood. Installation view, Röda Sten Konsthall, Gothenburg, Sweden. Photo: Hendrik Zeitler.

DV: Are there any particular works that you just’d like to speak about?

CA: There are about eighty new commissions within the present. Delcy Morelos is an incredible Colombian artist. She shall be making a monumental set up, a roomful of earth—a maze that you would be able to stroll into—which can take over one of many massive areas of the Arsenale. The earth is full of tobacco leaves and spices, so it has a really sturdy visible and olfactory presence. You can say it’s her personal revision of Walter De Maria’s New York Earth Room [1977], however one that’s deeply embedded in conversations round nature, ecology, and Indigenous information.

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I’m additionally enthusiastic about Wu Tsang, who’s going to current a wide ranging set up. She’s been engaged on a significant undertaking about Moby-Dick. She’s going to premiere a chapter in Venice, put in in a particular place outside, taking part in with reflections on the water of the Arsenale. Cecilia Vicuña shall be presenting work from the Seventies to now, but additionally a brand new set up that’s an homage to the Venetian lagoon and its fragile ecosystem. She makes precarious assemblages of issues that she finds on the street. It could possibly be somewhat piece of rubbish, a stick of plastic, or a department. She’s planning to spend time right here in Venice accumulating issues that find yourself on the barene, these very low patches of land which are within the lagoon, that generally you don’t see due to the tides.

Alexandra Pirici, Aggregate, 2017–19. Performance view, Messeplatz, Basel, 2019. Photo: Andrei Dinu.

Alexandra Pirici, who’s an artist I’ve labored with many instances, could have an bold new performative work. I’m very enthusiastic about this undertaking, however I nonetheless want to search out further funds to appreciate it as a result of it’s fairly advanced. These are the true challenges in an exhibition that lasts seven months. And the pandemic has had an incredible affect on the group of the present: sourcing paper for {the catalogue}, discovering fundamental supplies, and the whole disruption of the worldwide delivery system—I nonetheless don’t know when and if some artworks will arrive.

Barbara Kruger can be engaged on a significant new site-specific set up. Giulia Cenci—an Italian artist who can be primarily based in Amsterdam—will current a powerful intervention in that unusual outside hall within the Corderie of the Arsenale, the place Ibrahim Mahama did that very spectacular set up with Okwui Enwezor in 2015. She usually integrates discovered objects that she takes from factories and different locations. She has a really humble language, however she shall be doing one thing fairly spectacular. I wished to have the ability to assist Italian artists in a significant method, not solely as a result of I’m Italian, however I would like them to be thought of on par with all their different worldwide colleagues and never simply relegate them to little corners of the present.

DV: In Claire Bishop’s overview on this journal of the 2011 version, she argued that the biennial as an exhibition format peaked within the early 2000s, with Enwezor’s Documenta in 2002 and Francesco Bonami’s sprawling Venice in 2003. I ponder if the pandemic has reset our method of seeing. That is going to be the primary time in years that many people are going to be attending a global exhibition. There’s a sure enthusiasm stepping into. What are your hopes for viewers coming to the present?

CA: I do hope, maybe in a little bit of a romantic method, that it will likely be the primary time the place folks come again collectively and have a look at artwork, love artwork, and have a visceral relationship with it. I would like the guests to be moved, fall in love, and even get indignant in entrance of what they see in individual. As a result of a lot of the artwork we’ve seen in these previous two years has been by way of the mediation of the display.

DV: Elsewhere you’ve invoked Silvia Federici’s thought of the reenchantment of the world. Is that this a part of what you’re getting at?

CA: Federici was already concerned within the catalogue for my Italian pavilion in 2017. This time round, she contributed an inspiring dialog with Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, during which she talks—in easy and touching methods—about the great thing about being shocked by nature, by a flower that blooms in a park, and this awe that we misplaced, not solely throughout the pandemic, however even earlier than. I believe this sense of the marvelous, this stupor can be what many artists are enthusiastic about once they suggest a distinct relationship with nature and what surrounds us, a relation that’s primarily based not on extraction or exploitation however on symbiosis, collaboration, and sisterhood.

DV: A typical story of modernity is that it initiated a disenchantment of the world; what extra vital pivot might there be than reenchantment?

CA: I’m generalizing right here, and I don’t wish to converse for the artists, however lots of the artworks within the present use a lens that you just may name enchantment or magic or surreality to explain these previous two years. I’ve checked out so many artists, and even those that deal with extra political themes, it appears to me that they do it in a extra private, intimate, at instances oneiric method. The content material stays the identical, however the methodology is not merely social critique, however one thing introspective.

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