This years 56th Biennale entitled 'All The Worlds Furtures' had an essence of revolution in the air. Albeit that conflict, social and economic struggle have always been staple narratives of art, it was undoubtedly very much more than an undertone in this current showcase. Directed by Nigerian born writer, editor and curator Okwui Enwezor, who specialises in art history and has held the post of director at Munich's Haus der Kunst since 2011, brings with him a list of distinguished experiences, including having been artistic director of a number of large-scale, international exhibitions: the Johannesburg Biennale (1997); Documenta 11 in Kassel, Germany (2002); the Bienal Internacional de Arte Contemporaneo de Sevilla in Spain (2007); the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea (2008); and the Triennal d'Art Contemporain in Paris (2012). Enwezor is also adjunct curator at the International Center of Photography in New York and in 2014 he was ranked 24 in the ArtReview list of the 100 most powerful people of the art world.
There was so much to marvel and digest, however for PiECE Directors Mike Youle and Jason Halsey there were a few works that are worth noting. Showing in the Italian Pavilion, Venessa Beecrofts ‘le membre fantôme’ ('phantom limb stone garden') was part of many discussions. The installation piece takes inspiration from classical language of sculpture and archaeological antiquities, viewed through a narrow slit in two large stone tablets, as if the work is hidden in a tomb and being discovered for the first time. However the classical forms in this ensemble are strongly provocative and explicit, particularly the bronze – placed at the centre of the installation. The piece evokes a homage and reference to Marcel Duchamp’s ‘étant donnés’, again visible only through a pair of peep holes (one for each eye) in a wooden door, of a nude woman lying on her back with her face hidden and legs spread against a landscape backdrop. However the inclusion of 'two tone' female forms that had overemphasised the contrast in colour and features of ethnic origins bought an added beauty and tension to this conceptual piece.
As PiECE focuses on art for interiors a mention has to be made to painting, in particular to artist Adrian Ghenie representing Romania whose series of works depict a blurring of lines between figurative and abstraction that constantly reminds us that in paintings the reality between the two is merely an illusion.
Ghenie's work focuses on 20th-century political and scientific ideologies, such as Communism and eugenics with references to political figures such as Hitler, SS officers and artists such as Van Gogh and Marcel Duchamp. The largest piece in the series and the painting that really captivated is titled 'Persian Minitures', where in this piece not only was the blurring between figurative and abstraction but also in the exploration of disguise or camouflage. The painting depicts a grove of Birch trees in the depths of winter with a lone figure of a man and a wolf either sizing one another up or colluding in their efforts to survive, both beautiful and terrifying at the same time.
Video works were in abundance at the show with two notable pieces, one by British born artist Isaac Julien titled 'KAPITOL', 2013, a two-screen work centering around a conversation at the Hayward Gallery, between Julien and renowned Marxist academic David Harvey (author of the book “The Enigma of Capital”). Julien opens the film by asking why capital is so difficult to depict, to which Harvey deftly replies: “in the same way you can only really intuit gravity exists by its effects, you can really only intuit that capital exists by its effects.” The piece was originally staged as part of a seminar entitled Choreographing Capital organised by the artist at the Hayward Gallery in 2012.
The second piece and arguably the highlight to the show is a work by Russian artist collective AES+F entitled 'Inverso Mundus', a 7 channel HD video installation which was not only abundant in content but a spectacle in presentation consisting of a projected piece the length of two London buses. The piece is described by AES+F as a redepiction of Engravings in the genre of "World Upside Down", known since the 16th century that depict such scenes as a pig gutting the butcher, a child punishing his teacher, a man carrying a donkey on his back, man and woman exchanging roles and dress, and a beggar in rags magnanimously bestowing alms on a rich man. These engravings contain demons, chimeras, fish flying through the sky and death itself, variously with a scythe or in the mask of a plague doctor.
Mundus – the Latin "world" and Inverso – is both an Italian "reverse, the opposite" and the Old Italian "poetry," which alludes to the art processing. In AES+F’s interpretation, the absurdist scenes from the medieval carnival appear as episodes of contemporary life in a multichannel video installation. Characters act out scenes of absurd social utopias and exchange masks, morphing from beggars to rich men, from policemen to thieves. Metrosexual street-cleaners are showering the city with refuse. Female inquisitors torture men on IKEA-style structures. Children and seniors are fighting in a kickboxing match.
Inverso Mundus is a world where chimeras are pets and the Apocalypse is entertainment.'