The 2015 Venice Biennale
Two summers ago, work and luck took me to Venice for two weeks in the thick of the Biennale, the world’s largest international art fair. Every other year the city spills its secrets, unlocks private palaces, gated passageways, ruined churches, and becomes the world’s confessional. Spaces forgotten by tourists serve as national pavilions, and in what may have been the modern world’s first republic, artists are invited to converse with the state of their nations on an international stage. Venice needs no extra layers of enchantment, but I fell even harder for its ruins, infused with the creative energy of a hundred forms and languages for now. I swore I’d be back. And I am.
The theme of this year’s show is characteristically ambitious, overwhelming, broad: ALL THE WORLD’S FUTURES. That “all” echoes centuries of Venetian bravado: here, where all the world’s cultures, architectures, exports, and currencies once collided, all futures might be imagined. Unapologetic maximalism. Organizers have suggested three ‘filters’ to distill the sweeping theme: Liveness: On epic duration; Garden of Disorder; and Capital: A Live Reading. In only three weeks, the show has aroused a decent amount of (notably, disappointed) cynical criticism, but I sense a subtle note arising from the forms of many pieces I’ve seen, and I’ll go so far as to call it hopeful, and visionary. So. many. stories. Visual stories, for the most part, some supplemented by audio or textual layers, suggesting a striking faith in narrative at its most basic level: a diptych (of video screens, photographs, objects), or triptych, or cycle of one kind or another, instead of a single stand-alone piece. Rows (or stairways, labyrinths, in one case, a river channel) of connected ideas. A belief in the possibility of the logic of an artwork’s language, in the possibility of language at all, and hopefully, in the possibility of communication from artist to viewer, to the future that artwork (perhaps only ever so slightly) imagines. For the most part, these stories are half-told, broken, infused with irony or outright frustration, but over and over, attempts at stories whose fragments invite the viewer’s collaboration. Stories that, in their very form, resist the cynics’ shrug that the world’s futures are bleak with irrational violence and injustice. Stories whose logic of basic connection suggests we’re all capable of it. Here are some scenes from the stories unfolding this year in Venice. More to come.