Monday, May 23, 2022

La Biennale di Venezia - 59th International Art Exhibition - The Milk of Dreams - Padiglione Centrale - First Part

 La Biennale di Venezia - 59th International Art Exhibition 
Padiglione Centrale - Giardini
The Milk of Dreams - First Part
For the 59th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia - presents The Milk of Dreams - curated - Cecilia Alemani - until November 27 - which takes its title from a book by Leonora Carrington - 1917–2011 - in which the Surrealist artist describes a magical world where life is constantly re-envisioned through the prism of the imagination. It is a world where everyone can change, be transformed, become something or someone else; a world set free, brimming with possibilities. The exhibition unfolds in the Padiglione Centrale of the Giardini, and in the Corderie, Artiglierie, and the outdoor spaces of the Gaggiandre and Giardino delle Vergini at the Arsenale complex. The exhibition includes over 200 artists from 58 countries, many of whom have never shown before in the Biennale and for the first time a majority of women and gender non-conforming artists are present, a choice that reflects an international art scene full of creative ferment and a deliberate rethinking of man’s centrality in the history of art and contemporary culture.
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"Elefant / Elephant takes on the vestiges of fables of grandeur, intellect, captivity, and matriarchal societies – the core of elephant family structures...  Even in Venice, the iconography of elephants looms large: in the 1890s, right before the beginning of the Biennale’s history, an elephant named “Toni” lived on the parkland grounds and was known as “the prisoner in the Giardini.” 
Madeline Weisburg
Katharina Fritsch’s realistic sculptures dissolve the edges between the ordinary and the uncanny, stirring our deep-rooted dreams and nightmares while awakening childhood memories of religious tales, fables, and myths. Her works – which appear as boldly hued large-scale public projects, strangely scaled sculptures, intimate sound pieces, and multiples – project a confidence that can be interpreted as variably protective or threatening. 
 Katharina Fritsch - Elefant - Elephant - 1987 
Katharina Firsch + Cecilia Vicuna
In recent years, Andra Ursuta has begun fusing direct casts of her body with everyday objects, salvaged trash, and props, combining traditional lost wax casting with 3D scanning and printing. Encapsulated in colourful crystal contours, the swirled patterns and textured surfaces shaped by her process reveal a collision of organic and inorganic forms, they recall both American science fiction action horror films, her work emphasises the vulnerability of the human form and the complexity of desire.


Rosemarie Trockel calls into question the essentialisms of 1970s feminism through the use of industrial fabrication and commercial design. In the early 1980s, Trockel began making her wool “knitted pictures,” patterned skeins of yarns generated by a computerised knitting machine and then stretched over canvas like paintings. These large-scale pieces express the artist’s sharp engagement with questions of “women’s work” and the devalued status of craft in the context of an increasingly mechanised society.
Merikokeb Berhanu’s series Cellular Universe pays homage to the cellular composition and reproductive bodies shared by many species: the rings of trees, embryos, orange seed pods, the brain, Fallopian tubes, and other such familiar forms. The artist, who hails from Addis Ababa, has inherited much from the legacies of Ethiopian Modernism. Her works feature depthless space, with figures and swaths of single-tone geometric shapes floating overlaid and intermingling with one another. She incorporates technology into natural landscapes and organisms to convey a sense of urgency, speaking at once to the experience of rapid urbanisation that is taking hold in the country and continent of her birth, and also to the rampant consumerism of Western society.
 Foreground - Cecilia Vicuna - NAUfraga - 2022 - installation
 Cecilia Vicuna + Katharina Firsch 

Metis artist and writer Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill’s work challenges the notion of the city as a “settled” place while laying bare the material history of colonisation. Hill collects detritus like beer can tabs, dollar store lockets, and dandelions, incorporating these found objects into sculptures and works on paper that, since 2018, she has called Spells – drawings coated in tobacco-infused crisco. This practice both foregrounds the magic and power of discarded objects and throws into question the illegality of trespassing and the resale of goods. Many of Hill’s sculptures are made by stuffing pantyhose with ground tobacco. Hill’s evocative remixing of materials critiques settler colonialism while honoring expansive economic models that find power in reciprocity.

Gisele Prassinos's first poems date to the early 1930s, when, at barely fourteen, she tried her hand at automatic writing and was hailed as a prodigy by the Surrealists. Although she published several quasi-Surrealist works, she developed an eccentric language of her own. Prassinos made twelve panels of brightly coloured fabric, machine-sewn and hand-finished, that reproduce the book’s black-and-white drawings. 
Until 1941, Josefa Tolra was known in the countryside around Cabrils as Pepeta, a healer and fervent Catholic; a few years after losing her son in the Spanish Civil War, she began going into long trances during which she drew and wrote extensively. As if to substantiate the notion that she was guided by disembodied entities, her compositions contain messages that seem too sophisticated for her basic education,  and images too elaborate for a hand untrained in drawing. According to Tolra, the spirits with whom she was in contact were well versed in geography, science, art, and philosophy, and prone to flaunt their skills in long streams of poetry, aphorisms, and reflections, or complex pictures of brightly coloured human figures, currents of energy, or extraordinary natural landscapes. Sometimes, as in  Dibujo escritura fluídica - 1954 - above - the verbal and visual components share the page and flow into each other. 

Ovartaci – born Louis Marcussen – apprenticed as a naturalistic craft painter before emigrating to Argentina in 1923.   She travelled the country for six years before returning home to Denmark in a frayed state. Upon her return, she was admitted to the psychiatric hospital in Risskov, where she lived and worked for the next fifty-six years. The artist took the name “Ovartaci” – essentially Chief Lunatic. Assigned male at birth, after years of requests for a sex change surgery and her own crude attempt, the hospital finally facilitated her female gender affirmation surgery.  Her drawings and paintings feature groups of animal-like creatures with slim, elongated features. They often appear in mythological scenes that suggest earlier lives in Ancient Egypt, or in pagan circuses. Ovartaci also sculpted large dolls, costumed in both painted and fabric clothing. Dreams of escape run throughout her work, most overtly in her many drawn plans and cardboard and wood models of a helicopter that could fly beyond the hospital’s walls.


“For me, the body becomes a site of stratified consciousness. Assemblage becomes a metaphor for this.”

Iranian American artist Sheree Hovsepian’s wall-based assemblages incorporate photographic prints into three-dimensional vignettes with nylon, ceramics, string, nails, and walnut wood in deep, custom-built box frames. Her compositions are imbued with an incisive recognition of the politics surrounding the body, emphasising the relationships between the people and things that are captured by her camera’s lens.   Her work for The Milk of Dreams continues her investigation into the materiality of photography and its representational, symbolic, and syntactical qualities. In these works, fragmented parts of the body are deployed as formal elements in a visual vocabulary of abstracted shapes and lines. As the artist has said, “For me, the body becomes a site of stratified consciousness. Assemblage becomes a metaphor for this.” 

Since the 1970s, Nan Goldin’s photographs have focused on people who live outside of established gender constructions.  And, in the 1990s, she has expanded to installations that involve moving pictures, narrative scores, and voiceovers. Centering on themes of love, gender, sexuality, and social precarity, Goldin’s work captures life at its most unvarnished and true. Sirens - 2019–2020 - was conceived as an homage to Donyale Luna, often cited as the first Black supermodel, who died from a heroin overdose in 1979. Titled for the creatures of Greek mythology whose songs draw sailors to their deaths on rocky island shores, Sirens appropriates footage from thirty films – to associate the beauty of the female body with the sensuality and ecstasy of a drug high. While Goldin’s film, scored by composer Mica Levi, presents a glamorous and romantic rendition of the pleasure of being high, its title alludes to the possible peril of opiate use and the difficulty of escaping its grasp
Bronwyn Katz makes delicate sculptures and installations from both natural materials such as iron ore and salvaged manufactured materials such as mattresses, steel wool scrub brushes, and corrugated steel.  Her sculptures refer to the political context of their making by embodying subtle acts of resistance that draw attention to social constructions. Katz’s ongoing use of found mattress springs and other household materials refers to domestic life – specifically the intimate space of the bed, which is often the site for conception, birth, and death.

Alexandra Pirici is a Romanian artist and choreographer known for staging public actions, gestures, and sculptures that provoke re-assessments of historical narratives and civic space, nature, and digital imagery. Pirici, a trained dancer, frequently assembles groups of actors and performers into formations that she describes as live sculptures, which act, move, shift, and sing. Her Encyclopedia of Relations - 2022 - above - is hinged on embodiments of collective relations as seen in biology and botany, as they are in constant stages of reconfiguration.  Performers choose to move through space according to a set of possible actions, which can be infinitely combined and recombined. Reminiscent of a Surrealist “exquisite corpse” game, through the body, the natural world merges with that of the fantastic.
Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob, known as Claude Cahun, is renowned for her performative, often gender-bending self-portraits, frequently made collaboratively with her stepsister and lover Marcel Moore. Cahun and Moore adopted androgynous pseudonyms and self-presentations in both art and life. Keepsake - 1932 - depicts Cahun’s head in a chain of four bell jars, the glass casings used in the 19th century to observe and analyse objects. The staging and cropping of Cahun’s head evoke the Surrealist trope of the dissected female body; yet, her eyes are not passive but directly confronting the viewer’s gaze or actively scanning the surroundings.

The first solo exhibition by Baya Mahieddine, born Fatima Haddad, was held at the Galerie Maeght in Paris in the autumn of 1947, when she was barely sixteen. After a childhood in Algeria, she had come to Europe with French intellectual and archivist Marguerite Caminat Benhoura, who adopted her and encouraged her creativity. The talented Baya was immediately embraced by the Parisian avant-garde, earning enthusiastic praise from leading figures on the international scene – starting with Andre Breton, who wrote the introduction to her first show. Her paintings on cardboard show lush natural landscapes inhabited by richly dressed women adorned with classic Maghrebi motifs, amid images of wild, flourishing nature, these fairytales reveal a female figure as determined and independent as the young Baya herself. 

Meret Oppenheim forged ties to Surrealism when she moved from Switzerland to Paris in 1932 while still in her teens. Though she was one of the few women artists to be immediately welcomed by the movement, Oppenheim thought of Surrealism as ideologically permeable and pursued many avenues of experimentation, exploring dreams, humour, death, womanhood, and nature.  The print Der Spiegel der Genoveva - 1967 - for example, shows the strange metamorphosis of a full-lipped, clearly female figure who seems to be changing into an animal, perhaps a cow. This effect is obtained by combining the woman’s face with a long, hairy leg that serves as a neck, but ends in a hoof. The work hinges on a disquieting image and shows how any material, when taken out of its original context, can acquire a new symbolic status.

Born into a solidly middle-class family in Turin, Olga Carolina Rama – better known as Carol Rama – taught herself to draw, and in the late 1930s and early 1940s began making watercolours that served as a tool for processing the many traumas of her life.  In Appassionata - 1941 - she depicts the identity crisis of the mental patients that her mother lived among. Although most of these women seem disoriented and are clearly disabled, Rama shows their bodies gripped by a sexual desire too overwhelming to be controlled, even when they are  in restraints. With their brazen yet naive shamelessness, these women are the heroines of Rama’s universe. 

Eileen Agar, an independent artist whose dreamlike work was often associated with Surrealism, took the black-and-white photograph Bum and Thumb Rock in the summer of 1936 in Ploumanac’h, a village on the French side of the Channel. By suggesting that the curves of a boulder resemble the shape of a human behind, it adds a shade of humour that soon became a hallmark of Agar’s artistic language. The distinctly sculptural quality of the layers and impasto in Agar’s paintings from the 1930s onward echo the unusual rock formations of Ploumanac’h.

 Ukrainian Artist  - Maria Prymachenko





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