From Japan’s video installation of post-quake memory to Turkey’s robots and tattoos, here’s a selection of five Asian pavilions at the 55th Venice Biennale.

1 June 2013 marked the opening of the 55th Venice Biennale’s international art exhibition, entitled “Il Palazzo Enciclopedico“, The Encyclopedic Palace. Featuring artworks by 150 artists from 38 countries, the exhibition reveals the diversity at play in contemporary Asian art.

Ai Weiwei's 'Bang' installation at the 55th Venice Biennale. This year the Chinese artist's work is being shown in the German pavilion.

Ai Weiwei’s ‘Bang’ installation at the 55th Venice Biennale. This year the Chinese artist’s work is being shown in the German pavilion.

Showing in the Arsenale and the Giardini parkland, “The Encyclopedic Palace” is curated by Massimiliano Gioni, the Associate Director and Director of Exhibitions at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. The exhibition takes its name from the fantastical museum planned by Italian-American artist Marino Auriti. The 1955 institution designed “to hold all the works of man in whatever field, discoveries made and those which may follow” was never built.

Elaborating on why Auriti inspired him on the Biennale website, Gioni writes,

The dream of a universal, all-embracing knowledge crops up throughout the history of art and humanity, as one that eccentrics like Auriti share with many other artists, writers, scientists, and self-proclaimed prophets who have tried — often in vain — to fashion an image of the world that will capture its infinite variety and richness. Today, as we grapple with a constant flood of information, such attempts seem even more necessary and even more desperate.

While Gioni’s exhibition may not realise Auriti’s imaginary museum, “The Encyclopedic Palace”, with its 38 national pavilions, provides an overview of international contemporary art practices today. Art Radar takes a closer look at five pavilions from Asia.

Jamal Penjweny, 'Saddam is Here', 2009-2010, photograph, size variable. Image courtesy the artist and RUYA Foundation.

Jamal Penjweny, ‘Saddam is Here’, 2009-2010, photograph, size variable. Image courtesy the artist and RUYA Foundation.

Welcome to Iraq

The Iraq Pavilion, “Welcome to Iraq“, curated by Jonathan Watkins and commissioned by the Ruya Foundation for Contemporary Culture in Iraq (RUYA), features work by eleven contemporary artists who live and work in the country. The pavilion organisers promote the space’s “salon atmosphere”, which allows visitors to sit and view the artworks while sipping tea and eating traditional Iraqi biscuits. The “Welcome to Iraq” press release highlights the curatorial determination to create art out of unlikely or unforgiving situations, stating,

Artistic emphasis is on the nature of everyday life as it is now lived in Iraq, exemplifying a determination ‘to make do and get by,’ an inventiveness borne out of necessity in extraordinary historical circumstances.

According to The Guardian’s Charlotte Higgins, “several artists address the devastation of Iraq’s infrastructure and environment caused by years of conflict and western sanctions.” As Higgins attests, the pavilion presents an entry point for viewers to contemplate art-making and its importance in this post-conflict scenario.

Koki Tanaka, 'Sharing dreams with others, and then making a collective story', 2013, collective acts, photograph and text. Image courtesy The Japan Foundation.

Koki Tanaka, ‘Sharing dreams with others, and then making a collective story’,
2013, collective acts, photograph and text. Image courtesy The Japan Foundation.

Japan: Re-imaging catastrophe

How is it possible to take on the experiences of others as one’s own? Three years on from the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters that shook Japan, artist Koki Tanaka and curator Mika Kuraya have mounted a video work in Venice based on their experiences of the events. Tanaka created a series of cooperative exercises that reference the disaster and will create videos based on those experiences throughout the Biennale. Entitled “abstract speaking – sharing uncertainty and collective acts”, Tanaka’s installation aims to bring people closer through common experience, says e-flux,

Turning the Pavilion into a platform for sharing these experiences through a number of projects that set up distinct “tasks”—tasks which place participants in and prompt them to deal with unusual situations, making reference either directly or indirectly to various aspects of unforeseen events such as disasters.

Ali Kazma, 'Resistance', 2013, video still. Image courtesy the artist and IKSV Medya.

Ali Kazma, ‘Resistance’, 2013, video still. Image courtesy the artist and IKSV Medya.

Turkey: Resistance and robots

Ali Kazma’s solo exhibition “Resistance”, curated by Emre Baykal, is an installation of 15 videos playing simultaneously and tackling subjects ranging from bisected genitalia to robots. According to e-flux,

During the almost one-year long filming process of “Resistance”, Ali Kazma visited various sites to record the processes that both construct and control the body, as well as the struggle to break its genetic, physical, social and cultural codes.

Quoted in ARTINFO, Kazma noted that “the body finds ways to escape when something is forced upon it.” His exhibition in the Turkish Pavilion tests the body’s outer limits of resistance to physical, psychological and metaphorical strain as well as, in the artist’s words, covering other “iconic stuff.”

Installation view of 'Transfiguration', the 2013 Chinese pavilion.

Installation view of ‘Transfiguration’, the 2013 Chinese pavilion. Image courtesy Creative Commons.

China: Transfiguration and the evolution of taste 

While China’s most notorious artist Ai Weiwei participates in the German cohort at this year’s Venice Biennale, his countrymen He Yunchang, Hu Yaolin, Miao Xiaochun, Shu Yong, Tong Hongsheng, Wang Qingsong and Zhang Xiaotao represent China in “Transfiguration”, curated by Wang Chunchen. The exhibition includes painting, photography, video and installation, all revolving around the theme of “transfiguration” (‘变位), “a word from classical art history echoing certain characteristics of contemporary international society”, says Xinhua News. Concentrating on the meaning “changing tastes” and ignoring transfiguration’s western Christian subtext, according to the Culture Trip,

Wang chose to adopt a word that evokes renewal as well as the rupturing of accepted boundaries to mirror the dramatic changes sweeping through not only the Chinese art world, but also through the country’s economic and social spheres. ‘Transfiguration’ also refers to the blurring between life and art, non-art and art.

Albert Yonothan Setyawan, 'Cosmic Labyrinth: The Silent Path', 2013. Image courtesy the Indonesian Pavilion.

Albert Yonothan Setyawan, ‘Cosmic Labyrinth: The Silent Path’, 2013. Image courtesy the Indonesian Pavilion.

Indonesia: Creative power and cosmic justice

The Indonesian Pavilion, showing at Venice Biennale for the first time in 2013, features six artists – Albert Yonathan Setyawan, Eko Nugroho, Entang Wiharso, Rahayu Supanggah, Sri Astari, Titarubi–curated by Carla Bianpoen and Rifky Effendy. Speaking to The Jakarta Post, Bianpoen called the country’s first pavilion a “huge step” which would “denote how Indonesia is repositioning itself amidst the ever-increasing global forces of today.”

The curatorial theme “Sakti”, meaning “cosmic energy” in Sanskrit, structures the pavilion. Based in Hinduism and having a significant role in Indonesian culture, Sakti has divine and magical connotations. In an interview with the Biennial Foundation curators Bianpoen and Effendy, said that while their theme was determinedly Indonesian, they were intent upon placing the country’s contemporary art in a global context during Indonesia’s first Venice Biennale:

An unprecedented influx of information through global exchange has no doubt made a mark on art production internationally. However, in Indonesia, the encounter between global forces and the existing culture has resulted in the sort of contemporary art which bears its own authentic and unique characteristics. Therefore, our main objective is to showcase a substantially alternative art practice amidst other international pavilions.



Related Topics: Asian artists, biennales, Art Radar lists, events in Venice

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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