Spiegel-Wilks Seminar: Venice Biennale

Contemporary Art in East Asia and the World


China and Nordic Countries

The China Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale was centered around the theme of Re- 睿, combining the English prefix “re,” meaning to go back, with the Chinese character 睿, meaning wisdom. The curator, Wu Hongliang, modeled the pavilion as pushing for a “re-thinking of body perceptions, daily reflections, civilizational coincidences, and jointly explore the path back to the heart.” This statement felt baseless and vague, ultimately leading to a disconnect among the pieces by the four individual artists. However, when viewed as a commentary on nature and our bodily relationship with the natural world, the pieces begin to tell a more convincing narrative. The features included an interactive app made by Fein Jun, A large scale woodblock print by Chen Qi, a video piece that explores the human process of birth and reincarnation by the only female artist Geng Xue, and a perplexing pink room with tactile sculptures by He Xiangyu. 

The Nordic Countries Pavilion also explored the notion of humans among nature, but the artists worked together to create a more cohesive message. Responding more literally to the theme of “May You Live in Interesting Times,” the artists centered the exhibition around the age where climate change and mass extinction threaten our life on Earth. Their use of both natural and man-made materials encourage viewers to acknowledge our relationship to other living species and “nonhuman agencies.” This pavilion presented me with a greater sense of urgency and cohesion than the China Pavilion. It also shed light on the varying levels of collaboration between artists in a national pavilion. 

Reese Berman

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