Modern times are progressively questioning many of their traditional and cultural aspects in the name of an upgrade and a renewal. It’s a natural process, that operates in every historical period and is linked with the progression of time, of society and of culture. But in the bustle of our time, if it actually takes place, the debate only involves a restricted circle of people, while the majority is left with just the bombshell, the scoop in the newspaper, the caption of a post: this happens because the debate is too long and expensive in terms of media coverage, therefore counterproductive.
It is true that also in the past the cultural reflection on contemporaneity was always prerogative of the élites, but today, in this globalized world where we have immediate access to information, in shouldn’t be like this. The truth is that the continuous stream of flashes constituted by the news we receive every day has made us unaccustomed to the critical approach to reality, and we all live the effects of this when we realize we feel lost and we despair and we give ourselves for doomed.
This year’s edition of La Biennale di Venezia, curated by Cecilia Alemanni – first woman in the story of the Biennale – does not host a single theme, because our global present is multifaced, plural, branched, spaced out, and the aim of the exhibition of this year is to present in a punctual and didactic way our contemporary, trying to describe it in a manner that is adherent to the way we perceive it and we react to it in the different realities all over the world (213 the artists present). This does not happen just in the different national pavilions in the Giardini della Bienale or across the city, but also in the exhibition curated by the director, unfolding between the central pavilion, the Arsenale and the Giardino delle Vergini.
This will articulate around 5 thematic capsules with a historical and didactic imprint, intertwined between them, in which 19th century artists that have started to approach themes such as the relationship with the environment, the rehabilitation of popular traditions, the redefinition of the human being in terms not only of social roles but also on a biological level – for the strict interdependence that it has today with the mechanical and the technological – are sided to contemporary artists, to show how situations and approaches evolved, getting to us, even if often their first steps are not yet part of general culture, since they are kept away from the spotlight.
Starting from a common imaginary, for modern culture, from the situations we are living and from current issues – global and local – we are faced with an organic journey that pushes us to collect our thoughts, remember, rediscover, and most of all think.
It is true, the Biennale is also this, it remains a fundamental place for contemporary art also regarding the visibility and the success of an artist, but it’s not only this: in its more than secular history it became an unmissable social appointment, but this event has changed and was able to reflect social changes, becoming the means to their diffusion to a wider public, specifically starting form the claims of Sixties and Seventies, documented by Ugo Mulas’s photographs, that led the Biennale, progressively assaulted by controversies and mutinies, to skip an edition, that of 1974. Before that, it was only suspended in the occasion of the two World Wars. The forth episode of absence was in 2020, because of the pandemic.
Last year the title of the exhibition of the Biennale Architettura was “How Will We Live Together?”: on this occasion we were already presented with some solutions, both ideal and concrete, to the necessity of resolving modern conflicts and issues regarding the coexistence on this planet, but now is the turn of the artists, that have always been somewhat magical creatures, able to makes us think and most of all dream.
Milk was our first nourishment: the title of this years’s edition invites us to be hungry – like children at the time of feeding – because that time has come, the now or never to be aware and act concretely to make a change in our way of existing. The exhortation is to feed ourselves to the most of our ability to understand what is happening around us, at a global and local level, and to take conscience of it in a process of growth that takes us from being dreaming children to hopeful active adult citizens capable of thinking and actin in a critical and conscious long-term optics. We need to grow in our mind and in our heart the awareness of the world, just like every being needs to feed itself to survive and live in the world.
The figure of Leonora Carrington is taken as reference to this theme: writer of fantasy tales and surrealist painter that lived refusing the social conventions of her time, Carrington starting from the Forties composed a series of tales talking of hybrid figures, often feminine, in which animal and human traits coexist, that generates and ambiguous feeling in the reader, of repulsion but also of attraction: in the upside down logic of the story, everything that at a first glace seems absurd, translated to reality, takes a meaning that ends up enlightens it up.
So it’s our turn to operate a selection of the contents presented to us in the Biennale: everyone as the person they are, according to the culture and the life they have, starting from the dreams they had as children. All this starts from a return, a retrieval of the conscience of what comes before us, towards which we shall present ourselves with awe and enthusiasm just as we felt as children when someone told us a tale, not with contempt and rejection of what we were. We need to do it with the awareness sometimes tales frightened us because they are ambiguous and invite us to undermine our systems, with the consciousness that everything turned out for the better.
We need to do it because, as Rosy Braidotti says “Desperation is not a project. Affirmation on the other hand is”.