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I. Notes on the Program and Projects of the 56th International Art Exhibition: All the World’s Futures
In 1974 la Biennale di Venezia, following a major institutional restructuring and the revision of its rules and articles of constitution, launched an ambitious and unprecedented four-year plan of events and activities. Part of the programs of 1974 were dedicated to Chile, thus actively foregrounding a gesture of solidarity toward that country in the aftermath of the violent coup d’état, in which General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the government of Salvador Allende in 1973. Bringing practitioners across the fields of visual art, cinema, music, theater, dance, and performance, the events of the 1974 Art Biennale were spread across the entire city of Venice. That year’s Biennale brought together students, intellectuals, activists, labor union members, cultural associations, and the public at large to discuss and debate the place of art and culture as instruments of social transformation. Today, this remarkable and transformative episode in the history of the Biennale is largely forgotten. But it is extensively documented in an impressive publication Annuario 1975-Eventi del 1974, published by the la Biennale di Venezia.
The dedication of the program of events to Chile and against fascism remains one of the most explicit attempts, in recent memory, by which an exhibition of the stature of the Art Biennale not only responds to, but courageously steps forward to share the historical stage with the political and social contexts of its time. It goes without saying that, in view of the current turmoil around the world, that the Biennale’s Eventi del 1974 has been a curatorial inspiration.
In response to this remarkable episode and the rich documentation it generated, the 56th International Art Exhibition: All the World’s Futures, will introduce the ARENA, an active space dedicated to continuous live programming across disciplines and located within the Central Pavilion in the Giardini. The linchpin of this program will be the epic live reading of all three volumes of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital (Capital). Here, Das Kapital will serve as a kind of Oratorio that will be continuously read live, throughout the exhibition’s seven months’ duration.
Designed by award-winning Ghanaian/British architect David Adjaye, the ARENA will serve as a gathering-place of the spoken word, the art of the song, recitals, film projections, and a forum for public discussions. Taking the concept of the Sikh event, the Akhand Path (a recitation of the Sikh holy book read continuously over several days by a relay of readers), Das Kapital will be read as a dramatic text by trained actors, directed by artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien, during the entire duration of the Art Biennale, from May 6 to November 22, 2015. Accompanying the live reading of Marx’s seminal and still controversial book (a classic work of economic and social analysis which could not be more relevant for our times) will be a continuous sequence of other oral performances involving the recital of librettos, lyrics, scripts, etc.
Carrying out the concept of "Liveness: On Epic Duration," the Art Biennale has commissioned several new scores and artists’ performances, to be presented continuously in the ARENA. Here, we are especially interested in the concept of the song and the potential for the human voice to be an instrument that carries forward the pace of a narrative. Several projects will articulate this theme:
Olaf Nicolai is developing a new performance work that draws inspiration from Luigi Nono’s two-part composition Un volto, e del mare / Non consumiamo Marx (1968), an innovative piece for voice and magnetic tape, as well as the Italian composer’s later attempts to develop a critical and political statement by means of music, drawing inspiration for his lyrics from Cesare Pavese’s poems, from wall writings seen in the streets of Paris, and even found voices which he randomly recorded live during street demonstrations. In his performance piece for the Art Biennale, Nicolai reflects on Nono’s approach to the material, the body, and the voice as politically relevant in his articulations of silence and, conversely, the use of text as a source of Klang (sound) or Atem (breathing): the idea of text as material and form as information, instead of only content as information. How can a text be translated with sound and music? Nicolai’s new work will be developed with a group of singers who are familiar with the concepts close to Nono’s music. By their presence at various locations around the world, these singers will perform and record brief songs and scores that will then be transmitted digitally into a portable backpack system available to ARENA visitors in Venice. The playback sequence will be randomly programmed by an algorithm, and thus not predictable, providing each visitor a unique experience of the sound piece and its evolving score.
Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreigewill present a daily reading of their artist book Latent Images: Diary of a Photographer, the third part of their Wonder Beirut project. In addition to its text, this book includes thirty-eight photographic plates selected from among hundreds of reels of film exposed, but until now never developed, by the Lebanese photographer Abdallah Farah between 1997 and 2006. Farah’s work bears witness to postwar Beirut, relaying political, social, personal, and everyday events over almost a decade. This limited-edition volume, comprising 1,312 pages, invites viewers to delve deep into these latent images. The image descriptions replace the photographs; short fragments of text describe the invisible images while creating a new imaginary space. A diverse group of individuals will take turns reading the book with their multiplicity of voices, thus echoing the character of Abdallah, his story, and his photographic research, as well as Lebanon’s contemporary landscape and history. The point is thus to communicate a narrative orally and to displace the notion of latent image in favor of an emergence of the image through the body.
Jason Moran’s STAGED will map and investigate the tempos of work songs sung in prisons, fields, and houses. In a sampling of songs that inmates sing while working in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, the tempos range from 57 to 190 beats per minute. The subjects of the songs range from a woman banging or clapping her hands to the plowing power of a mule. The tempos fluctuate from beat to beat, meter to meter. The repetition of the rhythm (with a hammer, a foot stomp, an axe) is as much a way of marking the time as it is a way of masking it. The work songs untether the workers from the boss’s clock by making their own internal clock, which operates on a different time scale. Moran has set out to map these work songs both conceptually and emotionally. In the ARENA, a solo voice will perform a cycle of work songs. Sometimes the voice will be heard with a pre-recorded song, and sometimes with only the accompaniment of a percussive instrument: tambourine, hand clap, or foot stomp. The performer will announce each work song and will distribute a lyrics sheet in both English and Italian. Moran and The Bandwagon will also perform newer work songs, composed within the past ten years, that focus on the instrumental aspects of work songs. The melodic content embedded in these work songs will expose the mantras that have assisted workers everywhere and across the ages.
Jeremy Deller will explore the question of life and working conditions in factories, based on archival materials from the nineteenth century through the present. Deller’s work investigates such issues as the absence of workers’ rights, zero-hour contracts, scheduled work and break hours, and the concept of "work time" through the study and performance of song sheets that were once sold in the streets. These early factory songs were a cross between folk and popular music. Some lyrics are about work in general, while others address working conditions in the factories. Although known as "factory songs," these lyrics were not likely sung inside the factories themselves, due to the deafening noise of the machinery.
Charles Gaines’s new original master composition for the Art Biennale is derived from his most recent body of work, Notes on Social Justice, a series of large-scale drawings of musical scores from songs, some borrowed from as early as the American Civil War (1860–1865) and others dating from the mid twentieth century. Gaines’s original musical composition will be based on five arrangements derived from four Notes on Social Justice works exhibited in the 56th Art Biennale. The five arrangements will be layered over one another progressively during the course of the monthly performances throughout the duration of the exhibition, as part of the Oratorio.
Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnencwill present in the Art Biennale a temporary memorial to the music and personality of the legendary African American musician, singer, and composer Julius Eastman (1940–1990), whose singular and inimitable contribution to contemporary, avant-garde classical music will be on display in the ARENA throughout the exhibition. Eastman’s three compositions for four grand pianos—Evil Nigger (1979), Gay Guerrilla (1980), and Crazy Nigger (1980)—will be rehearsed and performed live weekly for visitors to the 56th Exhibition. The audience will even be invited to participate in the performance of Crazy Nigger.
the TOMORROW will focus their attention on Das Kapital, not just as an abstract field of logical and economical devices, but rather as a potential repository of stories and figures. For although the narrative of Capital still remains sharp and challenging, the characters now appear obsolete and remote. The modern subjects—for whom the concepts of Das Kapital were originally developed—no longer exist. No proletariat, no bourgeoisie, no intellectuals, at least the way Marx imagined them. Das Kapital survives today as a logic without subjects to activate it. In the Art Biennale, the TOMORROW will attempt to imagine the characters and the figures that could make use of Marx’s toolbox in the contemporary context. Tales on Das Kapital is a search for non-modern subjects to play the Capital Drama. The TOMORROW will offer weekend seminars, during which the focus will turn to the narrative and epic dimension of Marx’s book. Through the participation of artists, writers, philosophers, actors, musicians, and visitors, every weekend will create live-annotations on Marx’s Das Kapital. The seminars will be prepared around five main questions.
The focus on live performances and actions will extend in the Central Pavilion beyond the ARENA and into the Biblioteca della Biennale, where Mounira Al Solh’s NOA (Not Only Arabic), a limited-edition periodical founded in 2008, will be made available for solo viewings that must be arranged by appointment. During the preview (May 6–8), also at the Biblioteca, Lili Reynaud-Dewar and her students will read a selection of texts from the mid 1990s to today—analysis, testimonies, manifestos—dealing with notions of intimacy, vulnerability, and promiscuity in the context of the AIDS epidemic.
Connecting the 56th Art Biennale’s two main venues, the Giardini and the Arsenale, Saâdane Afif’s performance piece The Laguna’s Tribute: A Corner Speaker in Venice will be staged at the corner of Via Garibaldi and the Grand Canal. Spectators there will see and hear a local Corner Speaker either read a text or sing the lyrics of songs composed by friends of the artist. The performances will address a myriad of themes and ideas.
A number of performance works will also be presented in the Arsenale, beginning with a new project by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, In the Midst of Things, in which a choral group will perform an arrangement of Joseph Haydn’s oratorio The Creation. This work, composed between 1796 and 1798, depicts and celebrates the creation of the world and the origins of humankind. The libretto is based on accounts in the book of Genesis and John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667). This new performance will explore the tradition of in medias res along with other story-telling methods, such as reverse chronology, flashback, and flash-forward, by adopting these nonlinear techniques as structuring devices for the musical arrangement. It will literally intervene into the musical order of the original score, playing some sections forward, then backward, and jumping over other sections. These reversals, inversions, and interruptions of musical sequence and the accompanying back-masking and phonetic reversal of sung words will be further emphasized through a parallel stage direction.
Tania Bruguera will re-create her performance and video installation Untitled (Havana, 2000), which reflects on citizens’ intentional "blindness" to the reality of life under Fidel Castro’s regime. Through a multi-sensory experience, spectators will discover a reality full of contradictions.
Similarly, in her piece The Sinthome Score (2013–2015), Dora García proposes ten sets of movements for each of the ten chapters in Jacques Lacan’s Joyce The Sinthome, which functions as a real score, ready to be performed by anyone. It is conceived as a duo performance, where one reads and the other executes the sets of movements; although visitors can just as readily pick up a copy of the score and join in the reading or the movement parts. The Sinthome Score, however, will be a continuous, uninterrupted performance, independent of the presence of an audience.
Ivana Müller’s We Are Still Watching will be performed by spectators, an instant community of "audience members" that changes with each show. The text is thus completely new and different every time it is performed. For approximately one hour spent in the company of each other reading the script together, the audience forms a community, a mini-society confronted by the challenge of making decisions individually and collectively while "simply" reading a text that someone else has written for them.
In the Corderie, Theaster Gates will activate his new multimedia installation Martyr Construction, a work addressing the question of the recurring dissolution and demolition of church parishes in African American and Hispanic neighborhoods across the United States. This inner-city erosion has created both pockets of blight and opportunities to imagine new futures in public and urban spaces. Gates’s installation will include the playing of small pipes salvaged from an abandoned church organ. These pipes are among the remnants—including roof slates, bricks, slabs of marble, a bell, and even a fragment of the statue of Saint Laurence—that Gates recovered from St. Laurence Catholic Church in Chicago’s South Side. The church, a former refuge to Polish and Irish immigrants, and more recently to African Americans, is now a pile of rubble.
II. A Note on the Special Presentations of All the World’s Futures
While the central focus of All the World’s Futures is on an extensive body of new works commissioned from artists specifically for the 56th Art Biennale—an unprecedented range of projects exhibited for the first time—the exhibition will also pay close attention to a selected iteration of historical perspectives by artists both living and deceased. Organized as small anthologies, these compact surveys range from a series of text-based neon sculptures by Bruce Nauman, dating from 1972 to the early 1980s, to an atlas of Harun Farocki’s filmography, which totals 87 films. In addition, the Art Biennale will present works by such seminal figures as the photographer Walker Evans, with a complete set of the original edition of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men; from filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein tomultimedia artist Chris Marker; installation artist Isa Genzken to sculptor-composer Terry Adkins; author-film director Alexander Kluge to installation artist Hans Haacke; conceptual artist Teresa Burga to performance artist Fabio Mauri; sculptor Melvin Edwards to painter Marlene Dumas; artist-activist Inji Efflatoun to earthworks artist Robert Smithson, painter Emily Kngwarreye to film director Ousmane Sembène; sculptor Ricardo Brey to conceptual artist Adrian Piper; painters Tetsuya Ishida to Georg Baselitz.
This gathering of practices from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America searches for new connections in the artists’ commitment to examining the human condition, or exploring specific ideas and areas of production within the artists’ oeuvre. These presentations will articulate how key ideas originating in the individual practice of each artist have endured and lived within the body and space of contemporary art in such a way that they touch other segments of the social body.
III. A Note on the Special Commissioned Projects of All the World’s Futures in the Giardini di Castello and the Giardino delle Vergini
Special Commissioned Projects Giardini
The 56th Art Biennale will extend its presentations this year beyond the Central Pavilion to incorporate newly commissioned works in the historical landscape of the Giardini di Castello and the Giardini di Sant’Elena. The sculptural works distributed and embedded within strategic areas of these gardens are intended to evoke the very instability of the garden. The artists showing work in this promenade of sculptural displays include Walead Beshty, Isa Genzken, Carsten Höller, Philippe Parreno, and Raqs Media Collective.
In a similar vein, the exhibition in the Arsenale will extend from the Gaggiandre with a new large-scale sculpture by Xu Bing, and moving farther into the Giardino delle Vergini, where Emily Floyd and Sarah Sze will create immersive outdoor installations in close proximity to Lemi Ponifasio’s Lagi Moana: The House of Women, described by the artist as "a welcome call to the ocean, or Moana, to come and take us back to the gene-archaeological matter, a song that is sung at the end of the world, a call which brings about a new beginning."
IV. A Note on the Special Projects featured in All the World’s Futures
Creative Time Summit
August 2015 (dates to be announced)
At the invitation of Okwui Enwezor, artistic director of the 56th International Art Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia, the 2015 Creative Time Summit will participate in the program All the World’s Futures.The summit is a core program of Creative Time, the innovative experimental arts organization based in New York. This year’s Creative Time Summit, organized in collaboration with Okwui Enwezor, will focus its renowned summit on the topic of Curriculum during a lively three-day forum in mid August. In development since summer 2014, this year’s Creative Time Summit has engaged a broad range of thinkers, artists, researchers, and activists in a series of plenary sessions to address what it means to produce, transform, and transmit knowledge across the conflicted terrain of the world today.
Moving beyond the familiar association between traditional courses of study and formal education, the inquiry into the Curriculum will delve into a far-reaching consideration of various curricula systems. How is knowledge formed within a person and transmitted through time, space, and social relationships? Moreover, what practices and manifestations of knowledge are privileged and what forces shape these values? In its response to the invitation, Creative Time Summit stated:
"Throughout our conversations, we came to the understanding that the idea of the Curriculum will aid our interrogation of the social, infrastructural, administrative, and private realms in which knowledge is produced and enacted within the social contract. Following Michel Foucault’s assertion that 'in its function, the power to punish is not necessarily different from that of curing or educating,' we organize this Summit around the suggestion that the concept of the Curriculum is integral to power. The Art Biennale offers a unique opportunity to gather an international community from a range of disciplines to consider how knowledge is produced and how it comes into contact with civic society. Focusing on the most pressing issues of our time, we offer this iteration of the Summit as an opportunity to present information, debate, and organize."
The Summit will be held at the Teatro Tese Cinquecentesche, located in the Arsenale. The first two days will include short presentations, longer keynote addresses, and a dynamic round of break-out conversations. The third day will offer a wide range of breakout discussions concerning specific case studies, political issues, and other curricular activities.
As with Creative Time Summit, the program of All the World’s Futures will include the respected critical positionof e-flux journal, a monthly art publication edited by Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, and Anton Vidokle that features essays and contributions confronting the profound paradigmatic shifts in the historical foundations of art and its modes of address and global circulation. E-flux journal’s editorial stance assumes that art is produced by political and historical consciousness. All of its issues are freely available online.
E-flux journal, at the invitation of the Artistic Director, will develop an editorial project based on a series of daily essays that will involve a number of the participating artists at the 56th International Art Exhibition as well as other contributors. The texts will be published online and will have three formats: full version, short version, and an audio version of the essays read aloud by their respective authors. E-flux journal will also be available as print-on-demand at the Art Biennale during the entire exhibition.
Gulf Labor Coalition
The exhibition has invited as participants the collective Gulf Labor Coalition, which strives to ensure that workers’ rights are protected when contemporary art, precarious labor, and global capital intersect. Coalition members include artists, writers, architects, curators, and other cultural workers. The Coalition’s contribution to this year Art Biennale will take the form of a public report in a series of plenary sessions dedicated to its investigations of labor conditions in the Persian Gulf and South Asia. Gulf Labor Coalition’s current focus is the ongoing construction of new cultural institutions on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, UAE. But whether engaged in direct action or streaming critical imagery, the group’s practice takes place in a public context that pivots on the imaginative and tactical leveraging of aggregated cultural and social capital.
Most recently Gulf Labor completed 52 Weeks, a year-long campaign (October 2013 to October 2014) in which artists, writers, and activists from different cities and countries contributed a work, a text, or an action each week that would highlight the coercive recruitment and deplorable living and working conditions of migrant laborers in Abu Dhabi. Because the Coalition’s focus on migratory and hazardous labor extends to similar conditions around the globe, they are constantly generating new research and interventionist campaigns.
The Invisible Borders Trans-African Project is an artist-led organization founded in Nigeria in 2009 that assembles African artists –mainly photographers, writers, and filmmakers- with the zeal and passion for social change, to reflect upon with the question of borders and its implications in 21st century Africa. Over the years the platform has played a crucial role in the discourse around trans-African borders through several of its projects of which the most prominent is the Trans-African Road Trip Project. This project annually brings together artists from different countries in Africa to make road trips across boarders while creating works inspired by their experiences. The Invisible Borders will present in the 56th Art Biennale a Trans-African Worldspace, a survey of their platform’s recent and ongoing photographic and audiovisual production, which will be periodically generated and incorporated into their presentation throughout the seven months of the exhibition. Moreover, the group will present in the ARENA their feature length documentary Invisible Borders 2011, The Film, followed by a discussion on the State of Things in the trans-African contemporary art scene and the critical ideas at the center of their practice.
Abounaddara is an anonymous collective of Syrian filmmakers working on impromptu documentaries, otherwise known as "emergency cinema." Abounaddara has long reflected on the right to the image. They employ an aesthetic of do-it-yourself and disorientation, self-producing their films and distributing them online to avoid political censorship and the formatting dictates of the media and entertainment industries. Since its founding in 2010, Abounaddara has released a series of short documentaries celebrating the daily life of ordinary Syrians. In the wake of the March 2011 popular uprising, they began to produce a short film every Friday, an ongoing initiative that relies on the voluntary commitment of a network of filmmakers who work in secret, for reasons of security. At the Art Biennale Abounaddara will present their feature film Syria: Snapshots of History in the Making, a video installation featuring a selection of films from their prolific body of work, and will premiere a new film every Friday in the ARENA.
V. A Note on the "Annuario" publication of All the World’s Futures
All the World’s Futures: The State of Things
In addition to mirroring the Das Kapital Oratorio and the program of live events, readings, performances, recitals, screenings, and debates that will unfold from May 6 to November 22, 2015, in the Art Biennale’s Central Pavilion ARENA, all events of the 56th Art Exhibition will be documented by means of visual archives, printed material, essays, transcripts of discussions, lectures, essays, curricula of seminars, and audio recordings.
Following the structure of the Art Biennale’s extensive Annuario-Eventi publications from 1975 to 1979, comprehensive documentation of the 2015 International Art Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia will be compiled in a book that will archive and reflect on the state of things during and at the close of the exhibition. The publication, to be titled All the World’s Futures: The State of Things, will be presented after the close of the Art Biennale and will include day-by-day reports on the exhibition, events, performances, discussions, lectures, the live reading of Das Kapital (Capital), and all of the aforementioned modes of expression. The All the World’s Futures: The State of Things will serve as the logbook of this year’s Art Biennale, thus capturing and documenting the spirit of "Liveness: On Epic Duration" that will form the fulcrum of the exhibition.