VENICE, Italy – This year’s Venice Biennale presents art as a space in which to reflect on today’s interesting times in order to pose questions about the complexities which humanity faces, the curator of the 58th edition of the art event told EFE on Friday.
Ralph Rugoff said the title of this year’s 58th edition of the what is often referred to as the Olympics of the art world was “May We Live in Interesting Times,” a weighing-up of the role of art during tumultuous times.
“We chose this title for several reasons,” Rugoff told Efe.
“One, because I think we do live in very interesting times, and I wanted to have a title that didn’t sound too negative, because the times we live in are sometimes quite alarming, we see lots of dangers on the horizon but I want to focus on the fact that we can have a different attitude towards that.”
The curator added that the phrase in the West has been erroneously attributed to a Chinese proverb but that in fact it was coined by a British member of parliament who was warning of the rise of Fascism in Europe.
Rugoff saw some similarities between Austen Chamberlain’s speech in the 1930s and the times Europe faces today, adding that fascism is fueled by fake news and false facts.
When asked on art’s role in the current global context of rising nationalism, propagation of misinformation and the displacement of millions of people worldwide, he said that “art can’t stop any of that happening.”
“What art does is give a place in culture where the real complexity, our existence as human beings, but also our social existence, our cultural existence, can be examined from many different perspectives,” Rugoff continued.
Rugoff is the curator of the main Exhibition which is housed in the central Arsenale pavilion, the old Venetian shipyards and extends into the Giardini (Gardens). The show presents the work of 79 international artists.
A particularly powerful and haunting piece is by Mexican artist Theresa Margolles.
Margolles has erected a graffiti-laden 12-meter long cinder block wall topped with barbed wire.
The wall was formerly in front of a school in the border town of Juarez, one of the most violent cities in Mexico, the curator said.
“In front of this wall a group of teenagers and young people were assassinated by a drug gang,” Rugoff continued.
The curator described this as a monument to the epidemic of drug-related violence that plagues Mexico.
“It is not a memorial, we don’t know anything about who the victims are, instead it’s something that just raises a question,” the art critic and essayist added.
“I think it’s a very powerful, striking thing. It’s not a sculpture, it is a real artifact, it’s just placed in a gallery not for us to admire aesthetically but to raise this question about why is this drug violence continuing? Why is it not able to stop?”
Another politically-charged piece, reminiscent of Margolles’ installation in that it is not a sculpture but occupies a huge space, is Christoph Büchel’s “Barca Nostra.”
The work features a rusty fishing boat that sank in the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 killing at least 700 people.
“This artist has made an extraordinary effort to negotiate with the Italian government to bring the boat here and to me, it is a very similar project to Theresa Margolles,” Rugoff said. “It’s not a sculpture, he is trying to ask questions about immigration and to make people think again about the policies that lead to disasters like this happening.”
The irony of the boat being exhibited in a country that has closed its ports to migrants navigating the seas in search of safer and more prosperous futures is not lost on the curator.
“Strangely enough the government gave permission for this boat to be shown here,” Rugoff concluded.
In addition to the Exhibition, the National Pavilions also exhibit works from 90 countries, although they do not necessarily adapt to the theme the main show Rugoff has curated adheres to.
The show will run from May 11 to Nov. 24 and will include a series of collateral events scattered around the historic city in northern Italy.