Angola’s pavilion won the Golden Lion at the 2013 Venice Biennale: what does this success signify for the future of the country’s art scene?
2013 marked Angola’s first participation in the International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale, and the inaugural pavilion won the Golden Lion. Art Radar finds out what this success might mean for the country’s art scene in an interview with the curators.
The Pavilion of Angola, titled “Luanda, Encyclopedic City”, presents the photographic work of Angolan artist Edson Chagas. Curated by Paula Nascimiento and Stefano Rabolli Pansera of London-based architecture company Beyond Entropy, the exhibition continues the research initiated by the architectural duo for the 13th International Architecture Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia 2012.
Reflecting on the overall theme of this year’s International Art Exhibition, “The Encyclopedic Palace,” Chagas focuses on the complexities of Luanda, the capital city of Angola, presenting a series of photographs, “Found Not Taken“, that capture abandoned objects repositioned in urban contexts chosen by the artist.
This displacement and repositioning of an object acts as a systematic cataloguing process, which creates new relationships between the object and its context. The photographs, presented in stacks positioned around the rooms of Palazzo Cini in juxtaposition with the classical art and architecture of the building, explore the relationships that are formed between space and images, and the role of imagination and creativity in the urban environment.
The pavilion won the Golden Lion for Best National Participation, awarded to the curators and the artist “who together reflect on the irreconcilability and complexity of site.”
Art Radar finds out more about the concept and ideas behind the exhibition and what the Golden Lion means for the future of the Angolan art scene, in an interview with the curators.
Curators Paula Nascimiento and Stefano Rabolli Pansera, Beyond Entropy
In an interview with the Biennale organisers, you said that this year’s pavilion at the International Art Exhibition ties in with what you presented at the International Architecture Exhibition last year. How do the two projects connect to each other?
Our interest in the African city emerges from the analysis of Luanda as a paradigm for the incredible transformations that are happening in many Sub-Saharan African cities: huge conurbations without basic infrastructure and cities with very high density without high-rise buildings.
In both projects, we explore the notion of a “morphing space” as a model to understand the city of Luanda: a morphing space is a condition where each space performs simultaneously a variety of uses and programmes. In fact, the urban spaces in the ‘musseq’ (the favelas of Luanda) operate simultaneously as residence, office, warehouse, public space and so on. This kind of spatial intensity is what Beyond Entropy explores in Africa.
Last year, for the 2012 Architecture Biennale “Common Ground”, we developed a common ground that performs simultaneously as public space, as natural sewerage and as infrastructure for the production of energy.
For the 2013 Art Biennale, we have shown the work of Angolan artist Edson Chagas. His works indulge precisely in the morphing nature of the urban space of Luanda. In the encyclopedic ambition of documenting derelict objects, Edson reveals how the urban context is modified by the presence of the object and how the object acquires a new aesthetic quality when it is placed in the city. A morphing encyclopedia.
How did you come to curate an art exhibition for the Art Biennale as architects? And how did your background as architects influence your curatorial perspective?
We do not believe in the distinction between Art and Architecture.
Beyond Entropy develops a research that is at the threshold between art, architecture and geopolitics: in other words, we want to explore the condition where the production of ideas (art) shapes the way we occupy space (architecture) and informs new models of territorial occupation (geopolitics). From this perspective, art and architecture are two moments of the same dialectic that entirely inform our curatorial approach.
The installation at the 2012 Architecture Biennale consisted in a one-to-one scale construction of a common ground. By planting Arundo Donax, a common cane that grows in Angola, filters dirty water and is ideal for biomass production. The installation at the 2013 Art Biennale is composed of morphing urban scenarios photographed by Edson Chagas. The two exhibitions are intrinsically intertwined, and they contribute to shape the same territorial position.
What influenced your choice of artist for the pavilion?
Once Massimiliano Gioni announced the theme of the “Encyclopedic Palace”, it became very clear to us that the work of Edson Chagas was incredibly suitable. For us, it is impossible for a palace to be encyclopedic. When a palace does reach that status, it is transformed into a city.
We were familiar with the series “Found not Taken” and thought that it presented a kind of Encyclopedia of the city of Luanda. Edson’s series of photographs, which we presented in the pavilion with the title “Luanda, Encyclopedic City” was simultaneously a coherent answer to the general theme of the Biennale and a continuation of Beyond Entropy’s ongoing investigation on Luanda.
You mentioned in the above interview that the venue for the exhibition wasn’t chosen by chance, but that it was a decision that you made. What made you choose the location and how does it relate to the artist’s work?
We have often collaborated with Fondazione Giorgio Cini. The mission of Beyond Entropy is “to change everything by changing nothing”.
We wanted to avoid building a new structure for the pavilion. Rather, we liked the possibility of inhabiting an existing museum and historical institution in Venice. Palazzo Cini is generally closed to the public, and we had the great opportunity to re-activate an existing space via the subtlest of interventions. The Angola Pavilion operates as some sort of catalyst that enters into a given context and activates a potential that remained latent.
What is the importance for you of juxtaposing an ancient and classical art venue with conceptual and contemporary artwork?
We were not allowed to make any changes to the hangings or the works that are in the exhibition rooms. The paintings by Giotto, Piero della Francesca and Botticelli were not available for us to touch. This is what brought us to choosing to fill the centre of the rooms with stacks of posters. The visitors wander among a new contemporary landscape, which is simultaneously the catalogue of the show and the exhibition itself.
This curatorial strategy inverts the position of the audience, which is not passive (like the viewers of Renaissance paintings) but plays an active role in the installations.
Did you envisage the possibility of winning the Golden Lion?
We did not expect it. It was a wonderful surprise.
Why do you think the pavilion won the Golden Lion? What do you think made your pavilion especially interesting and valuable as a contribution to contemporary art today?
We think that the jurors appreciated the curatorial approach and the consistency with which the theme of the Biennale (Encyclopedic Palace) has been explored and developed.
It is not up to us to evaluate the contribution of the pavilion. We just hope that a new interest for Angolan art may rise from this exhibition.
What’s the status of the Angolan art scene at the moment? Are there many art spaces that support local artists?
We are very interested in the Angolan art scene and are collaborating with well-established as well as young Angolan artists. The art scene in Luanda is vibrant, there are many young institutions promoting radical art.
Do you think that the attention precipitated by the Biennale and the award of the Golden Lion will bring about a renewed interest in Angolan artists?
We hope so. The real success of the Biennale can be measured in the discussions and debates that the Pavilion raises in its own country. We hope that the Pavilion has triggered the effect that the participation of Angola to the Biennale initially did.
What does the participation in the Venice Biennale mean to you, and what do you think it will contribute to the development and promotion of Angolan art?
For Beyond Entropy, the participation to the Biennale is crucial to being recognised as an institutional body that produces, not only interesting, but relevant research and discourses within the contemporary art world. It will hopefully bring awareness about what we do at Beyond Entropy. As for Angola, both the participation to the Art and the Architecture Biennales have allowed for an increase in attention towards Angolan art, the artists, and what they have to say.
Will this be the start for you of a future of curating exhibitions of Angolan artists and promoting them internationally?
We hope so. For this purpose we are creating a Residency programme for Angolan artists at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Calasetta (Fondazione MACC) on the western coast of Sardinia in Italy. This small institution, along with Mangiabarche Gallery, constitutes the headquarters of Beyond Entropy Mediterranean. The programme of residencies will be the first of a long series of collaborations intended to transform the museum into a geopolitical hub of cultural exchange between Africa and Europe. We are currently in touch with several Angolan artists including Rita GT, Antonio Ole and Kiluanji Kia Henda.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
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