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For a long time I had prejudices about the city of Venice, based on the fact that everything I had heard about it was loaded with sensationalism; I had always categorised it in my brain as a playground for tourists eating overcooked pasta at exorbitant prices.
After visiting it, I realised the great depth that is hidden in this place and the many possibilities it offers to those who openly approach its soul. I found it much more thoughtful than I had suspected and much less superficial than I had believed. Its aesthetics are only the first step on a long ladder that seems to want to take us down into the depths of existence. Its waters, which for many tourists will remain only mirrors for larks, can be precious reflections of knowledge for those who really want to dive.
Venice is one of the most beautiful and profound cities in the world, which is why it not only contains thousands of works of art, but is itself a work of art.
Venice as wonderland
I would start by saying that arriving in Venice is like entering Wonderland, where spaces are interconnected like in an Escher painting: a bridge, a square, a lane, skirting a canal that seems to have no exit, another tiny bridge, passing under a portico; the truth is that even google maps get lost in Venice! Like in Wonderland, there is an abundance of things going on during the Biennale (literally on every corner an exhibition) and all the fancy shops that look like museums.
The most beautiful and surprising thing I discovered about Venice is the silence that reigns there and a metaphysical atmosphere that slows everything down and immobilises it. It is the city of art par excellence: not because of all the works and events found there, but because of the possibility that the place gives to observe, contemplate, experience silence and solitude in a majestic and surreal context such as that of the canals. Leaving the tourist streams, one finds oneself in deserted squares, narrow and empty alleys where the desolation almost frightens. Time travel, with no cars, just the echoing footsteps and the feeling that you might run into a bandit or a great artist of the past intent on mulling over his next work.
Art for me is not matter, but the ability it takes to transport us to places and times that are not necessarily defined but nevertheless exciting and perhaps above all to the centre of ourselves, to the silence within us. Art is recreating a bubble of timeless sensations, reliving a moment from centuries ago, connecting us across epochs with other beings. This ability to disregard time and history makes Venice a work of art.
Despite being one of the cities most frequented by tourists, Venice seems to be a place where privacy is important: where each house has its own bridge connecting it and its own canal separating it. It seems the perfect place to keep a secret or hide a treasure, perfect for a masked carnival.
If, as soon as I land in the city, I find myself in Alice’s world, when I walk through the doors of the Biennale 2022, here comes the Mad Hatter, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat and everything multiplies: epochs, geographical locations, stories, materials, points of view and cultures. A flow of sensations and intentions that provoke in the viewer the perception of having perfectly connected works in front of him. Perhaps art really is that place where the collective unconscious is most realised and represented.
Becoming other than oneself
“The exhibition The Milk of Dreams takes its title from a book of fairy tales by Leonora Carrington (1917-2011), in which the surrealist artist describes a magical world in which life is constantly reinvented through the prism of the imagination and in which one is allowed to change, to transform, to become other than oneself…”
This is the incipit with which the curator Cecilia Alemani introduces the exhibition itinerary, and it is enough for me to understand that the answer to any doubt about the present and the future is not to be found in any certainty; rather, that it is precisely the concept of certainty that must be destroyed in order to face our human destiny. The whole arsenal seems to shout one thing to us: we must stop looking for answers in our history but strive to invent new, imaginative ones… just as Carrington says in his book; just as Alemani has tried to show us through the artists of 2022.
In this Biennale, there is an attempt to return a little to the origins, even if these origins seem at times to be imaginative visions as the truth seems to have been lost among the many masks worn by men over the centuries.
Moving between the works, I have the impression of witnessing games created with the carcasses of the decomposition of our times. Each artist uses the shreds of what remains, i.e. myths and archetypes of modern culture and unconsciousness, collected over the centuries, now rotten, become monstrous and sick. In this case, art does not give up, and in a perennial ecological approach tries to exhume these myths and recycle them. Hopeful, the artists of this biennial work in search of some of the purity with which our prehistoric ancestors gave them to the world, shaping different cultures.
Perhaps the intention of today’s art and artists is to re-create our origins: origins of the new century that is post-industrial, post-guerrilla, post-idealist, post-chemical; to seek the basis for a return to the real, to the reality that we have so drunk up with our omnipotent theories.
Rather than finding us at the end, the Biennial catapults us to day zero, when there is nothing but rubble, but also the will to rebuild the foundations for a new existence, more dreamlike and imaginative than ever. Our ancestors told fantastic worlds, clinging to oral traditions and ritual symbologies. We today, starting from the decadence of the present world, express ourselves with the unconscious and symbols of the modern/contemporary era. Our aesthetic imagery is that of the digital age, Pokemon, advertising aesthetics and technological materials. This is our primal milk that through art we would like to transform into dreams: legends of the new millennium, tales that are more visual than oral, to be used to transcend the evil part of what has been and reuse the thousands of colours, materials, theories, experiments and knowledge that the age of infinite possibilities has given us.
This is the journey I take as I discover one work after another. I was moved by watching Belkys Ayòn, Portia Zvavahera, Gabriel Chaile, Felipe Baeza, Ruth Asawa, Delcy Morelos, Ali Cherri, Tetsumi Kudo, Elisa Giardina Papa, Solange Pessoa, Barbara Kruger, Precious Okoyomon, Wu Tsang….
The italian metaphor and its pavilion.
During an aperitif overlooking the canal, I was asked what I thought of the Italian Pavilion, and only then did I realise what social dynamics an event like the Biennale is capable of generating: from May to October, it is a succession of aperitifs with spritz and opinions. So, just to put myself in the part, I looked for my own, and it occurred to me that the Italian pavilion has precisely the stale flavour of our country. Mine, far from being a criticism, is rather an acknowledgement to Gian Maria Tosatti of having perfectly rendered the atmosphere in which, for too long now, our country’s choices, beliefs, ideals and policies have been immersed.
Abandoned factories, the symbol of a dream from which we are now awake and which we have instead turned into a nightmare of overproduction, delocalisation, unemployment, taxation.
The bare house, walls strewn with dust that leaves only the imprint of a crucifix still visible, towering despite the emptiness around it. Our’ religion that has lost everything, even its physical form, but remains a sign on the wall, an empty memory that imposes itself. Our ‘Italian mentality’ still locked up in lawless factories, godless walls and policies without common sense.
Leaving the house, one arrives at the pier, from which one can see small lights, which should be fireflies, a symbol of the return to nature, but to me they remind me more of eyes in search of escape; in the background one can hear noises that sound like the engines of boats departing. In this space I personally heard the tale of clandestinity, that of migrants but also that of free thought, forced to clash or flee, locked up by the bigoted state, by a country where people’s energies are forced into a continuous struggle for dignity.
An image of Italy where everything is old-fashioned, everything is desolate, everything is abandoned; thanks to the artist’s request to let in one person at a time, the sense of loneliness felt in the face of the repressive logic that this country imposes on people is amplified.
Mention for hope: the present is in Belgium.
Amidst all the dreamscapes, surreal artefacts and futuristic visions, the present dwells in the Belgian pavilion, marvellously designed by Francis Alÿs, an artist on whom my trust was already widely placed. A master of the public act as performance, sociology, simplicity and direct language, Alÿs takes us out of Wonderland and lands us on planet earth, in those relegated and sporadic moments when wonder is still possible: when children play.
The poetry of his videos teaches us how insistently the stubbornness of children manages to recreate a safe and peaceful space, even in the darkest places and contexts. One can play with snow, with kites, with animals, with rubbish and even with rubble, the important thing is to remain convinced that play is a serious and important objective to be achieved.
All of Alÿs’ artistic energy lies in restoring dignity to one of the most important but most threatened activities in today’s world: play. By eliminating any accessory, he shows the world through images of the real that tell how primordial needs, no matter what, must find expression.
That is why his videos become images of hope, which lives alone and alone is nourished, even when everything is against it, even when there seems to be nothing left: a child who wants to play, will always look for a way to do so, and even if he has to fight hunger, war, the weather, disease or ignorance, somehow he will probably succeed.
After so much dreaming, one thing is certain, and if we want to awaken from the dream world of sleep, let us remember this: The best way to turn dreams into reality is through play.
And if we want to awaken from the world of sleep in which we have been bound, let us remember that the best way to turn dreams into reality is by waking up.