Classic Tales Of Distortion: Cuba At The Venice Biennale
established multi-disciplinary artists, from the Austrian Hermann
Nitsch to the Cuban Magdalena Campos-Pons, bring a sense of anarchy to
the 55th Venice Biennale. Gathering at the Cuban
Pavilion under the title ‘The Perversion of Classics: The Anarchy of Narrations’, they each draw from their own radical creative past to give
classic themes a rebellious translation.
the adventurous jazz of Neil Leonard to The School of Reis film
techniques of Pedro Costa and the creative politics of Sandra Ramos, it
is a well-established fact that the fifteen artists that will be
gathering at the Cuban
Pavilion in 2013 come with some serious credentials for presenting
unconventional, thought-provoking art. Curated by Jorge Fernandez Torres
and Giacomo Zaza at the National Archaeology Museum of Venice – this
year’s host of the pavilion – ‘La Perversión de lo clásico’ is meant, one way or another, to cause a stir, opening a dialogue between Cuba and the world, the artistic present, the future and the past.
The Cuban-born Campos-Pons
(b. 1959) is an interdisciplinary artist expressing her inspired
cultural activism through painting, photography and installation. Having
moved to the U.S. in the late 1980s , where she currently teaches at
Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts, she has been exploring the
idea of fragmented identity. The past and the present, her African
roots, her Cuban
upbringing and her professional career in the States all translated
into work that explores the heterogeneous pieces and dynamics that unite
in a human being. Her husband, composer, saxophonist and Berklee
College teacher, Neil Leonard,
later started enveloping her visual projects with inventive soundworks,
which first brought them to Venice for the 49th Biennale. The
multimedia project 53+1=54+1=55/Letter of the Year,
for the 55th Biennale, revolves around a metaphorical structure of birdcages, used by both emperors and common men to capture beauty and to
dream of freedom.
The husband-and-wife duo Liudmila Velasco, (b. 1969) and Nelson Ramírez de Arellano Conde (b. 1969), were born in Moscow and Berlin respectively, but they have united their artistic vision in Havana,
where they have been living and working for several years. Focusing on
highly conceptual contemporary photography, their most recent projects
include Hotel Havana,
an aesthetically and psychologically intense photo-collage that
cleverly superimposed the city’s past and future. Closely linking them
to the Biennale theme, their most recognizable Absolut Revolution series was an ironic wordplay between the top-end Absolut Vodka and the Cuban revolution.
through video, installation, painting or printmaking – a global language
that puts across a radical commentary on racism, migration, inequality
and other lesser known aspects of Cuban life, Ramos
has reached an international audience. In all her works, there’s an
ongoing dialogue between the personal and the collective. The painted
suitcases, that she created in the 1990s, carried in them the dreams,
illusions and deceptions of the Cuban immigrants, while the
(2009-2013), established communication channels between countries with a
history of conflict and migration, like Cuba and the U.S., or China and
Japan. Her 2013 Venice project is called Stamen
and is a collection of videos and installations that deal with the
concept of uncertainty in the modern world, discussing the arbitrariness
of thoughts, images and perceptions.
Initially focusing on installations, in the 1990s, Saaverda (b.
1964) gradually added new means to his artistic work to reflect the
progression of time. Not really caring about the form his art will
eventually take, he works from the inside to the outside, focusing on
the best way to express an idea – whether that is digital animation or
an ink drawing. A conceptual provocateur par excellence, he has
produced work like his famous Detector de ideologías (‘Ideology Detector’), a machine that measures a person’s ideological acceptability. For the exhibition Sponsor, he
painted his sponsors logos in oil on canvas, making high art of
something trivial, while providing, in parallel, a strong commentary on
the commercialization of conceptual art.
An artist and intellectual currently living in Vancouver, but who retains a strong Cuban identity, Antonio Eligio Fernandez
(b. 1958) has produced four decades of work, evolving from caricature
and illustration to three-dimensional art, steeped in metaphors and
symbolism. Unmistakably real, everyday issues like neoliberalism and the
financial crisis creep into his work (Borroso series, 2009-2012). Inspired by life more than theory, his hands-on, experiential attitude extends to the use of materials.
The Havana-born León
(b. 1976) has been active between her hometown and Madrid, using all
means – from drawing to video art and public intervention – to explore
the visible and the invisible, sound and silence, the ephemeral and the
eternal. In the artist’s own words, ‘I believe in art that acts as a
reminder of a state of harmony, a state of complete listening that
humans have gradually lost’. For her Venice project, the sound
installation Music of Spheres, León was philosophically inspired by Pythagoras’ theorem The Harmony of Spheres,
where celestial bodies were mathematically organized and moved in a
sort of musical harmony that was not audible by the human ear.
An Arte Povera pioneer, sculptor, conceptual and performance artist Zorio
(b. 1944) has been preoccupied with energy and alchemical
transformation since the late 1960s – when he participated in some of the
first exhibitions of the movement in Italy. Recurring forms, like
incandescent light tubes, the star, the javelin, or the canoe, are used
to express his fascination with natural phenomena, as well as the
concepts of tension, instability and going forward. He added some
linguistic preoccupations in the series Per Purificare Le Parole,
an interactive work that filtered and purified the spectator’s voice
through alcohol – an alchemical reaction that disinfects, but also
Born in Wuhan, China (1956) but currently working in Paris, Du,
in life, as in his work, is split between the East and the West – often
expressing the cultural gap through his sculptures. From working in
mines as a teenager, to producing propaganda during China’s Cultural
Revolution, and spending some time in prison for speaking against
corruption, he found his true artistic lingo in Paris, where he started
creating his gender and form-defying human oddities. Creatively and
spectacularly commenting on the current role of the mass media, he
produced ironic large-scale work that most effectively brought attention
to the fact that, in today’s world, the media’s overblown reality puts
the actual truth to shame.
conceptual artist, who will turn his hand to anything in order to
effectuate his vision – be it sculpture, video, painting, installation
or performance – Lim
(b. 1954) shapes his sarcastic comments into elegant materials and
forms. A Malaysian of Chinese roots, living in Rome ever since he
finished his studies at the Academy of Fine Art, he often lets his
Eastern heritage and philosophy shine through his projects. Keen to
contradict real objects with our individual perception of them, he
explores the multiple uses of symbols in consumerism.
Pedro Costa, one of Portugal’s most prominent directors, has been creating films for over two decades, but he gained wide acclaim when the brutal realism of In Vanda’s Room (2000) won
him the Foreign Cineaste of the Year Award in Cannes. Largely focusing
on immigrants and life in Lisbon’s slums, Costa’s documentary-like,
harsh and understated filming continues the legacy of his compatriot
António Reis. Together with sculptor Rui Chafes, also exhibiting this
year at the Cuban Pavilion, they have presented FORA!/OUT! (2005), which alternated the view of four films and six sculptures, and then, again, MU (2007) –
a collection of five sculptures and five film installations that sat
next to one another, speaking two different languages, one static, and
one in motion. This year the two artists will be presenting separate
pieces, but no further details concerning Costa’s work have yet been
Sculptor Rui Chafes,
another of Portugal’s world-renowned artists, creates work that is
often dark in color, with iron as his material of choice. Having, in
the past, exhibited his work in several international art festivals,
including the Venice and Sao Paulo Bienniales, he will be returning this
year with a collection of works, among which is the steel construction Perfume (vertiginous and obscure) V.
Daughter of the Spaghetti Western master Sergio Leone and a prima ballerina of Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera, Leone
first studied Scenography Design, before dedicating herself entirely to
painting. Her father’s influence can be seen in her portrait of
renowned Italian maestro Ennio Morricone (his soundtracks for Leone are
cult classics), which won her the coveted Mc Kim Medal award from the
American Academy in Rome. Her portraits have also focused on true heroes
like Ghandi and Martin Luther King, which she executed in passionate
expressionist, dark and abstract strokes, fiercely and unmistakably
emitting a powerful, emotional clarity.
Viennese Actionist extraordinaire, performance artist and experimentalist, Nitsch (b.
1938) has been exploring the theme of controlled violence – from exhibiting a
skinned and mutilated lamb in the 1960s, to his later abstract Splatter
Paintings. He has been staging reality in his eloquent Theatre of Orgies
and Mysteries (Orgien Mysterien Theater) since the 1950s, aiming to
capture all five senses of his audience by provoking them to participate
in his equally disturbing and intoxicating rituals. Using pain and
horror as catharsis, Nitsch managed, through the years, to become successful
enough to be invited to direct Herodiade at the Vienna State Opera.
Liudmila and Nelson, Magdalena Campos Pons and Neil Leonard, Sandra
Ramos, Glenda Leon, Lazaro Saavedra, Tonel, Hermann Nitsch, Gilberto
Zorio, Wang Du, H.H.Lim, Pedro Costa, Rui Chafes, Francesca Leone
Commissioner: Miria Vicini.
Curators: Jorge Fernandez Torres, Giacomo Zaza.
Venue: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Venezia, Palazzo Reale, Piazza San Marco 17.
About The Culture Trip’s Venice Biennale Project
The 55th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale will take place from 1 June – 24 November. The Culture Trip’s Venice Biennale Series
is an article series leading up to the start of the exhibition. With 88
countries participating in this year’s Biennale – 10 of them for the
first time – and 150 artists from 37 countries, our coverage over the
next couple of months will highlight a selection of the National
Pavilions that will be participating in the 2013 edition of the Venice
Biennale. Watch this space for our daily Venice Biennale updates or
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By Danai Molocha