the must-see pavilions in the Arsenale

Lebanese Pavilion

The world in the image of man, Danielle Arbid and Ayman Baalbakic

The installations on display in the Lebanese Pavilion reflect the never-ending chaos that afflicts the Middle Eastern country, which has collapsed both economically and politically. Arbid’s split screen video, Hello Darling (2022), keeps visitors to the Arsenale on their trail – what is this sinister haunt around Beirut and why is the woman narrating the piece constantly chasing money? “The voice in the film belongs to my mother,” says Arbid the art newspaper† “I installed a spy machine in her cell phone with her permission. I thought she had a very quiet life, but then found out she had a secret and ran her own banking system.”

The insane, desperate audio recording was made three years ago, but the video piece was put together this year and gained importance after the massive explosion in the port of Beirut in August 2020, which killed more than 200 people. “Lebanon has so many money problems,” Arbid says. Baalbaki’s two-sided installation, Janus gate (2021), reinforces the idea of ​​a fragmented city; one side is covered in alluring neon lights and spray-painted tarpaulins, while a disturbing shack full of rubbish sits behind the tacky facade, eloquently and powerfully illustrating the ‘two faces’ of Beirut.

Courtesy of Turba Tol and the Ministry of Cultures, Art and Heritage of Chile © Ugo Carmeni

Chilean Pavilion

Turba Tol Hollow-Hol Tol, various artists and researchers

What is it like to be lowered into the depths of a peat bog? The Chilean Pavilion recreates the journey as visitors are guided to a circular platform surrounded by a translucent screen onto which images are projected of the descent into the swampy belly of a peat bog.

There is living wet moss everywhere, the smell of which touches you even before you enter the pavilion. A soundtrack shakes the floor as tribal chants, guttural sounds and high notes fill the air. As you reappear in the daylight, figures dance a ring around you.

But all this theater has a serious point: understanding and, most importantly, preserving peatlands is essential if we are to successfully limit the rising CO2 emissions caused by human activities. According to the organizers of the presentation, peat swamps “take up more carbon than forests, an ability that makes these wetlands one of the most valuable ecosystems in the world”.

These grounds, in this case located on the southern tip of South America in Patagonia, are also of cultural importance. The indigenous Selk’nam people have lived here for eight millennia. And they will have to persist if we are to have hope for human existence on this planet for many millennia to come. (To learn more about peat bogs and Selk’nam culture, visit the pavilion’s fascinating website.

Installation view of Herbert Rodríguez’s Peace is a biting promisein the Peruvian pavilion Photo courtesy of the Peruvian Pavilion

Peruvian Pavilion

Peace is a biting promise, Herbert Rodriguez

Herbert Rodriguez was once a studious fine arts student at the Pontificia Universidad Católica in Lima, Peru. But at the age of 21 he stopped and disappeared in the shadow of the Subterráneos. During the 1980s, the young artist turned the underground of Lima into his gallery, working in the midst of new collectives such as Artistas Visuales Asociados and the Las Bestias group.

The work on display in Venice capitalizes on the reality of Peru’s new democracy, born from the ashes of a 12-year junta rule. The title of the exhibition, Peace is a biting promise, reflects the authoritarianism, terrorism and unrelenting violence that often defined Peru’s early attempts at democracy as warring factions vying for power and supremacy.

Rodriguez is the sole representative of Peru in his pavilion, and this is one of the first times the artist has been significantly recognized by the established Western art world. But this isn’t art, this is punk. Rodriguez has always remained uninterested in the gallery system. His work is fungible and raw; disposable agit prop made for the street. The work on display in Venice is printed on cheap bulk paper; as it was in Lima in the eighties.

The works are straight to the point of lurid – penis-shaped collages filled with photos from porn magazines cut and molded to be filled with documentary footage of conflict, or interspersed with headlines about political violence from newspapers.

But the intent is clear. One work reuses a text from an Amnesty International report, dated October 1983, that provides detailed information about torture, disappearances and executions in the Peruvian capital. Rodriguez transforms the dry, technical text into loud graphic animation.

An installation view of Yuki Kihara’s Paradise Camp in the New Zealand Pavilion Photo: Luke Walker

New Zealand Pavilion

Paradise CampYuki Kihara

With humor and verve, Yuki Kihara reworks Paul Gauguin’s problematic Polynesian paintings to center members of Samoa’s “third-gender” community, the Fa’afafine, including herself. A culturally recognized group in Samoan society for generations. Fa’afafine are people who are assigned a male at birth, but who express their gender in a feminine way.

When Kihara first saw Gauguin’s paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2008, she was struck by the resemblance between the half-naked Tahitian women he depicted and her Fa’afafine friends. Revisionist research by Maori scholar Ngahuia Te Awekotuku has even suggested that Gauguin’s models were Mahu, members of Tahiti’s “third generation.”

These were the two sources of inspiration behind Kihara’s Paradise Camp project, in which he dissects the painter’s erotic and exotic images of a ‘paradise’ island and reproduces them as festive portraits of Samoan gay culture. Tailored to match Gauguin’s original paintings, this triumphant photographic series occupies two walls of the pavilion.

Meanwhile, Kihara literally confronts Gauguin directly in a video that depicts a conversation between the 19th-century painter—Kihara transformed herself via prosthetics and a fake mustache—and her real self as a powerful Fa’afafine and artist. Rather than immediately dismissing his work, she informs him that she is just “upcycling” the paintings into “something much more fantastic.”

Arcangelo Sassolino’s Cunning Diplomacy in the Maltese Pavilion Photo: Agostino Osio, alto piano

Maltese Pavilion

Cunning Diplomacy (Cunning Diplomacy), Arcangelo Sassolino, Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci and Brian Schembri

Entering the Maltese Pavilion, it looks a bit like the final moments of a biblical storm of fire and brimstone. Drops of real molten steel fall into seven square water tanks, each representing the figures in Caravaggio’s The Beheading of John the Baptist (1608). A complex system is hidden in the ceiling of the installation and leads a steel loop through an induction system that heats it to 1,500°C before dripping down, like a miniature ball of liquid fire, before fizzing into the water.

Behind the molten metal and tubs is a huge solid steel plate, the same size as Caravaggio’s canvas, with biblical texts engraved on the back. The curatorial blurbs bring various themes to the table, from allegories of “the continuous cycle of agency and loss” to the overlapping of the “noetic on the metaphysical”. But appropriating these intricate – and sometimes over-complicated – stories and concepts is the original miracle (the “maravilla” as co-curator Keith Sciberras puts it) of entering a room and seeing fire from the sky. to rain.

Gian Maria Tosattis History of the night and fate of comets in front of the Italian pavilion Courtesy of DGCC – MiC

Italian Pavilion

History of the night and fate of cometsGian Maria Tosatti

At the far end of the Arsenale is the cavernous Italian Pavilion, a 2,000 m² space that outshines many other national pavilions together. Here Gian Maria Tosatti, the first solo artist ever selected to feature on this huge blank canvas, has found the perfect foil for his site-specific environmental installations.

Waiting in a line outside, visitors are instructed to enter one by one and remain silent inside the pavilion, to maintain the immersive experience. Don’t be discouraged by these lines, or the grandiose title of the work: Tosatti has orchestrated a veritable transformation, enhanced by the air of hushed reverence.

A theater of Italy’s industrial decline unfolds through a succession of warehouse spaces filled with old machinery and rigging sourced from abandoned factories – relics of a bygone era of productivity and prosperity. They are punctuated by an eerie homey interior, with multiple doors leading to nowhere and the ghost of a crucifix on the wall behind an empty bed. The labyrinthine tour comes to a swampy finale that could be read as destruction were it not for the distant lights piercing the darkness — a sign of hope for humanity in the face of climate catastrophe, the artist said.

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