The 56th International Art Exhibition - la Biennale di Venezia was launched recently with the usual round of previews and opening receptions, and is now opened to the public to 22 November, 2015. Set in its main spaces of the Giardini and Arsenale, as well as in satellite venues across the island, this edition saw strong representation from Southeast Asian and Asian artists and works, both in terms of the number of national pavilions as well as works curated into several cross-cultural collateral exhibitions.
Several of these artistic efforts stood out, and coincidentally, seem to explore overlapping concerns related to the voyaging, traveling through space and time, the waters as boundaries, state and displacement.
A clear favourite of early reviews is the exquisite installation The Key in the Hand by artist Chiharu Shiota, set within the Japanese Pavilion in the Giardini. The interior of the pavilion is filled with red yarn crisscrossed, suspended and stretched across the space, and old keys hang at the end of each thread. On the floor beneath, sit two old boats, forming a delicate but strangely haunting tableau.
Keys are familiar and very valuable things that protect important people and spaces in our lives. They also inspire us to open the door to unknown worlds.
- Chiharu Shiota
Next door, the Korean Pavilion presented The Ways of Folding Space & Flying, by Moon Kyungwon and Joen Joonho. This newly created site-specific multi-channel film installation depicts a fantastical archaeological quest told through a futuristic lens focused on the past, combining philosophical Taoist belief in time-compression, and humanity’s supernatural desire to fly across time and space.
Over at the Arsenale, the Singapore Pavilion makes its return with a multidisciplinary installation that connects to the historic former shipyards and armories. Ex Olympian sailor and artist Charles Lim presents SEA STATE, a project that reflects on maritime systems and land reclamation, and their impact on political boundaries and the national usage of resources. Lim’s installation consists of digital video works, prints and also a large buoy, still encrusted with signs of sea life.
Also in the Arsenale, is Voyage - Trokomod, a site-specific installation by artist Heri Dono, inhabiting the Indonesian Pavilion. Centre stage is a large vessel-like creature referencing the Komodo dragon and the Trojan Horse, described by the artist as “an ancient animal made futuristic” and whose interior is laid out with domestic woven mats, but hangs a telescope similar to that of submarines and other sea-faring warships.
Over at the Palazzo Mora, the Philippine Pavilion returns after fifty years of absence, with Tie A String Around the World. The exhibition takes its starting point from scenes from the seminal Philippine film, Genghis Khan, presented alongside a large spectral ship assembled from metal, velvet and wood, Shoal 2015, by Jose Tense Ruiz, and a multi-channel video piece, A Dashed State, by Manny Montelibano. This video work brings together perspectives from the vantage point of Palawan, and speaks to timely issues of the disputed South China Sea.
Also within the palazzo, is situated the Mongolian Pavilion, which presents works by artists Unen Enkh and Enkhbold Togmidshiirev, exploring contemporary states of mobility and displacement. Enkh constructs delicately balanced sculptures from natural materials made from his homeland, whereas Enkhbold presents large scale canvases covered with products from Mongolian traditions (felt, horsehair, horse dung, wood) and also screened video documentation of his performance placing his yurt at different locales around the world.
These installations stand out in particular from all the Asian national pavilions - with their visually strong artistic endeavours and coherent presentations. Experienced together as part of the wider Biennale’s theme of “All the World’s Futures”, the themes they explored conjure up together a broad sense of Asia’s colonial and migratory histories, the desire for self-reflexivity and zero in on current geopolitical crises in the region.
Any views or opinions in the interview are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
Update: Read our latest coverage of the 2019 Venice Biennale and the Asian Pavilions at the big event.
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