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The first morning of the preview at the Arsenale was quiet, as the former shipyard braced for the art world’s arrival. 

Jun 04 2013

Field Trip: Venice Biennale, Arsenale

by HG Masters

Views of the Arsenale

The art world’s largest international festival, the 55th edition of the Venice Biennale opened to the public on June 1 at the east end of the Italian island-city. This year’s curator Massimiliano Gioni named his edition “The Encyclopedic Palace,” after a design by the self-taught Italian-American artist Marino Auriti for a 700-meter-tall building that would house all of the world’s knowledge. Following in Auriti’s path, Gioni selected a wide range of quixotic and eccentric projects—many of them by amateur or folk artists—to display in his curated exhibition in the Arsenale and in Giardini. Many of the national pavilions, on the grounds of the Arsenale (a former shipyard) and the nearby Giardini (a leafy park with large exhibition halls owned by individual nations), followed Gioni’s themes, about “desire to see and know everything,” and the “point at which this desire becomes an obsession,” the reconciliation of the individual and the subjective, and the constant overwhelming flow of visual information. Here’s a first look at the works in the Arsenale. 

Italian-born self-taught artist Marino Auriti’s model for the “The Encyclopedic Palace” (1950–55), which he created in his garage in Pennsylvania. Auriti hoped the structure would be built on the Mall in Washington, DC. 

 A closeup of Fujian-born, Hong Kong-based Lin Xue’s ink drawings that depict fantastical landscapes, imaginary plants and richly textured, abstract passages. 

PaweĊ‚ Althamer’s “The Venetians” (2013), a room of figures with plaster heads based on the faces of local citizens, attached to sinuous bodies created in plastic. 

Paris-based Yüksel Arslan examines Turkish history, as well as scientific treatises, through his “Artures,” a series of 700-plus drawings created since 1955.  

For “Millet Mounds” Kan Xuan found all 207 imperial tombs in mainland China and recorded them in photographs, which she stitched together to create jerky, low-fi animations of the sites. 

Danh Vo salvaged and then transported an entire 200-year-old, colonial-era church from Vietnam to the Arsenale, showing fragments of the architecture and a partial reconstruction of the building’s frame. 

Born in 1987 in Shiga, Japan, Shinichi Sawada creates these intricate animals and objects in clay, a practice which he developed as a therapeutic tactic to combat his severe autism. 

Photographic albums from the collection of Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons and Allan McCollum. Here, daguerrotypes and other early photographs of babies. 

Part of a section curated by Cindy Sherman within the Arsenale were these assemblage portraits of women by Italian artist and theorist Enrico Baj. 

In the Turkey Pavilion, located within the Arsenale complex, Ali Kazma’s five-screen video project “Resistance” featured extreme acts or processes in the modification of the body, including body building, tattooing, and kinbaku (Japanese rope bondage). 

In the Lebanon Pavilion, Akram Zaatari’s project “Letter to a Refusing Pilot” (2013) comprised a 35-minute video (seen here) and a looping 16mm film “Saida June 6, 1982,” which shows photographs of bombing campaigns by the Israeli military in the hills where Zaatari was born. 

The inaugural Indonesia Pavilion featured sculptural works by Entang Wiharso (far left), Titarubi’s “Shadow of Surrender” (2012–13, the books in foreground), Albert Yonathan Setyawan’s terracotta “Cosmic Labyrinth: A Silent Pathway” (2012–13), Sri Astari’s temple-like structure and a sculpture by Eko Nugroho (far corner). 

Eko Nugroho’s “Penghasut Badai-Badai” (2012), a sculpture of figures on a raft. 

Sri Astari’s re-interpretates Javanese traditions in her installation “Dancing the Wild Seas” (2012–13). 

Mohammed Kazem’s “Walking on Water” in the UAE Pavilion. This immersive installation is a 360-degree projection of the sea and quite viscerally evokes the feeling of being adrift at sea (sea-sickness was very likely). 

The Georgia Pavilion was designed by Gio Sumbadze as a “kamikaze loggia,” a parasitic architectural structure on top of another in the Arsenale complex and a common site in Tbilisi. 

Nearby, at China Pavilion, Hu Yaolin brought an example of Hui-style architecture. Transporting old structures seems to be a new favorite working method for artists. 

In a preview to the Giardini, Alfredo Jaar’s installation for the Chile Pavilion was a large green pool from which emerged a perfect scale-model of all the national pavilions. It sank back beneath the water after just 30 seconds. 

HG Masters is editor-at-large of ArtAsiaPacific and is based in Istanbul.