10 June 2015
I did not know Angelus Novus by Paul Klee before the Biennale, neither the description and critic made by philosopher Walter Benjamin, but when I discovered it, I found it really significant for the theme of this 56th edition of the International Art Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia.
The angel of Klee’s paintings is looking at the past, made up of a series of disasters, wars, ruins and human victims but he sees them as one enormous ‘single catastrophe’. When I visited the exhibition areas in the Arsenale I noticed that the installations, artworks and performances had one thing in common: they made me feel uncomfortable, because they reminded me of death and wars.
The first room I entered was full of long knifes and swords put on the ground to form flowers’(the artwork’ s title is Nympheas, I found it really evocative) and the visitors have to walk between them. During the walk, the only light is given by neon on the walls that intermittently show words such as ‘love’ and ‘peace’ ( the artwork is from another artist, Bruca Nauman). The words are lighted only for few seconds, they are not permanent, instead the swords and knives are well fixed on the ground. Maybe this could be an example of Angelus Novus’s struggling: an eternal battle between peace and war, but where the catastrophe seems to win.
After this first part, the atmosphere becomes even more distressing. Almost all the artworks I remember are linked with wars or personal tragedies, such as the one made of several drawings that show the artist’s nightmare.
However, the most suggestive, in my opinion, was the Untitled Trumpet by Katharina Grosse. When visitors enter, they are completely absorbed by the colors covering the entire floor and the walls of the building, they can rest for a while after the previous artworks, that are actually dark. However little by little, the visitors will notice that they are heaps of rubble and sheets. So the happiness given by the colors lasts only for few seconds, that is, history is history of catastrophes and the rubble are there to remember us what humanity did. The colors are the momentary ‘epiphanies’ where the artist and the philosopher focus on, trying to give sense to the past events.
My first impression about Enwezor’s exhibition was that he wanted to convey the most terrible thoughts about our past (and present), so the visitors could reflect on the world’s big catastrophes. Only after reading more about Angelus Novus’s description by Walter Benjamin, I could find a kind of dualism in some artworks and in their juxtaposition, as I explained before. My overall opinion on this exhibition is very positive, because its curator deals with an important (and delicate) topic in a way that shows great comprehension of the events, consideration of all world’s areas and also empathy with the social classes more unfortunate.
Okwui Enwezor shows us the past, the present and a possible future, but, maybe the last one might change.