Joan Jonas: US Pavilion, Giardini
This lived up to high expectations. An immersive installation (pictured above) featuring video, drawings and objects, it is an ode to storytelling where the constituent elements come together with Jonas’ characteristic alchemy. The mesmerising atmosphere is punctuated with striking and memorable images conjured from natural imagery – bees, fish, horses – all made mystical.
Christodoulos Panayiotou: Cyprus Pavilion, Palazzo Malipiero, Sestiere San Marco
An elegant presentation of sculptures investigating the use value of objects, both historical and modern. Icon paintings whose gods are absent sit alongside mounds of shredded Cypriot currency and rearranged ancient mosaic tiles. These ruined fragments tell new stories which are both politically astute and aesthetically resonant with the city of Venice.
Proportio, Palazzo Fortuny
A show about geometry and the golden ratio has potential to be rather dry, however this smorgasbord of artworks is anything but. Ancient carved stone fragments sit alongside mathematical diagrams, 20th century abstract canvasses, architectural models, portraits and much more. A triumph of juxtaposing the old with the new, making unexpected connections across centuries and disciplines.
Selected by Holly Slingsby
Chiharu Shiota: Japan Pavilion, Giardini
Thousands of keys, red string, a couple of small boats – and some jam – make up a single installation that fills the Japanese pavilion (pictured above). The work is both beautiful and mesmerizing, uplifting and positive. Don’t miss the four small videos tucked under the pavilion, where kindergarden children tell of their memories from before and immediately after they were born.
Jaume Plensa: Basilica San Giorgio Maggiore, Isola di S. Giorgio Maggiore
Figurative, sculptural and far from the political, Jaume Plensa shows a series of heads and drawings that are simply outstanding.
Selected by Aeneas Wilder
My East is Your West: Palazzo Benzon, San Marco
Featuring artists Rashid Rana (Pakistan) and Shilpa Gupta (India), and curated by Natasha Ginwala and Martina Mazzotta, this emotive show brings together two artists from the historically divided countries. Through the sharing of narratives and use of significantly different mediums, the artists successfully personalise the political and draw into focus the relevance of contemporary collaboration to empower change, friendship and growth.
Graham Fagen: Scotland + Venice, Palazzo Fontana
The first show I visited at Venice, Fagen’s audio-visual installation in the exhibition’s main room became my soundtrack for the Biennale. I connected to this work on a primal level and it has stayed with me, even now, on reaching home. Read our Q&A with Graham Fagen
Herman de Vries: Dutch Pavilion, Giardini
Focusing on the physical and natural world, Herman de Vries considers experience and reflection through the use of nature and its materials. If you can, join one of the boat trips this month to the deserted island of Lazaretto Vecchio – it was a privileged to get an insight into a space that few Venetians have experienced.
Selected by Sarah Lawton
Armenity/Hayoutioun: Republic of Armenia Pavilion, San Lazzaro degli Armeni
A deserving winner of the Golden Lion for best national pavilion (pictured above), this show takes place at the Mekhitarist Monastery, established in 1717 by the Armenian monk Mekhitar on the island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni. Featuring a diaspora of artists related to Armenia spanning Finland, Germany, USA, Iran, Palestine, Italy and more, the exhibition commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The curatorial concept of armenity implies, say the exhibition’s organisers, ‘the notion of displacement and territory, justice and reconciliation, ethos and resilience’. One artist’s work in particular, Nina Katchadourian (USA/Finland), stood out. Accent Elimination (2005), whilst not shirking from serious critique for a second, addressed an important topic with lightness and humour.
Hito Steyerl: German Pavilion; Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho: South Korean Pavilion, Giardini
Both Factory in the Sun by Hito Steyerl and The Ways of Folding Space & Flying, a project by Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho, tackle in high definition what the era of high frequency trading bots and environmental disaster might mean to an emerging subjectivity of a particularly post-human sort. Both interrogate through their productions what relevance might remain for art today – a hard thing to pull off within the walls of the Garden.
Selected by Ami Clarke
The Union of Fire and Water: Palazzo Barbaro, San Marco
Drawing on the rich historical links between Venice and Baku, Azerbaijan, this exhibition curated by Suad Garayeva creates a rich cultural interrelation of the two cities. The stunning restored 15th century palace collides perfectly with the sculpture and video installations by Almagul Menlibayeva and Rashad Alakbarov: a rich tapestry of layered dialogue and exciting site-specific work.
Vita Vitale: Azerbaijan Pavilion, Ca’ Garzoni, San Marco
Curated by Susie Allen, Laura Culpan and Dea Vanagan of Artwise, this mixed, multi-media exhibition shows an impressive range of strong work beautifully curated and installed in this sumptuous canalside palace. Highlights include a dramatic geometric wall painting by Paul Huxley, the inspiring 77-year-old former professor of painting at the RCA, and a quirky sculptural installation with railway sleepers and clay monkeys.
Selected by Susan Stockwell
Origins of Civilisation: Syrian Pavilion, San Servolo island
The Syrian Pavilion is in two violently dissonant parts, begging many questions. One is a room full of beautiful, colourful, seductive paintings and Heliopolis, an installation made of gorgeously painted packaging, all by non-Syrian artists. The other contains work by four artists from Syria, referencing the outrages committed by IS and the destruction of the country.
Selected by Jane Lawson
The 56th Venice Biennale, 9 May – 22 November 2015. www.labiennale.org
All selections chosen by recipients of the 2015 round of a-n’s Go and See Venice bursaries, which enabled 21 artists to attend the preview period for the 56th Venice Biennale
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