National pavilions: the concept might be dated and problematic, but selecting one’s personal winners of the art olympics via nationa pavilions is still one of the most fun and competitive art-sports around.
Romania’s pavilion was an awesome, clever experience. Aptly called “An Immaterial Retrospective of the Venice Biennale,” artists Manuel Pelmuş and Alexandra Pirici, curated by Raluca Voinea, had the idea of performing a selection of works from the entire history of the biennale. The empty white hall of the Romanian pavilion will be filled with some performers every day, all day for the duration of the biennale, offering an interpretation of all that has gone before, but one that is very removed from object hood or the traditional understanding of centers of the art world.
Georgia’s pavilion, “Kamikaze Loggia,” was also awesome: by its very form mimicking the structure it is examining. Referencing characteristic self-made building styles in Tbilisi, it also refers to the position of Gerogia as a country participating in the biennial. Within the structure, built on top of an existing building at the biennial, was an exhibition of works examining this idea and of self-organized, ground up efforts.
I’m unsure about including this as a favorite pavilion, but it was certainly one of the most memorable and interesting experiences of the Biennial for me. Poland’s Pavilion “Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More” is a sound installation by Konrad Smolenski. Smolenski is active in contemporary art and the independent music scene, and here, like many of his works, deals with the audience’s expectation of sound. His piece features two huge bells and two large speakers facing each other from across the room. On the hour, the sound piece begins, but if you happen to walk in during a silent moment you might not realize anything more happens. However, if the sounds piece has started, you will be sure to notice it, as it works up to an almost intolerable crescendo (earplugs recommended). The reverberations of the facing speakers and bells interact and swell, becoming also a full-body physical experience, as I felt the sound waves, and as it ending, felt their absence in the periods where the sound suddenly cut out.
Honorable mentions go to the pavilion’s of Latvia, Finland, and Chile. Antti Laitinen represented Finland’s Pavilion (not the Nordic Pavilion, which also had a nearby Finnish presence) with Forest Square, a new work created for the biennial. Laitinen deconstructed and sorted various components of the 100 square meters of forest into their individual parts, be it bark, grass, or whathaveyou, and assembled the materials into a color composition (see first photograph). I also liked his series of 5 pieces of wood (detail pictured) covered over in nails. Both works total transform the original, natural element.
At the Latvian Pavilion, entitled “North by Northeast,” new site-specific works Kaspars Podnieks and Krišs Salmanis featured large, black and white portraits with a tree sweeping through the center of the room. It was evocative of identities and boundaries, and used the space well. Video of tree in motion here.
Chile’s Pavilion featured an installation by Alfredo Jaar reached by mounting a bridge arching over the large, dark space. His aesthetic but politically engaging installation begins with a large photo of Lucio Fontana visiting his tumbledown studio right after WWII. Then on the bridge, a 5×5 meter square pool is filled with green water. In it, a perfectly reproduced scale model of the Giardini Biennial emerges and sinks every 5 minutes or so. It is a commentary on the biennial’s ability to recreate the inequalities of the world in its artificial structure, but also the possibilities of change.