Pavilions That Jolt Us between Past and Present; Venice BiennaleA Spectacular Show Full of Visual Beauty and Talking Points about Race, Identity, Migration and the Effects of Colonialism

The Evening Standard (London, England), May 13, 2019 | Go to article overview

Pavilions That Jolt Us between Past and Present; Venice BiennaleA Spectacular Show Full of Visual Beauty and Talking Points about Race, Identity, Migration and the Effects of Colonialism


Byline: Matthew Collings

IF YOU don't know what the Giardini and Arsenale are, fair enough. If you don't think videos and robots can be art, then the Venice Biennale may not be for you. But if you are thinking of joining the half-million visitors who will see this spectacular show between now and November, then here are the main talking points.

Watching prizewinner Arthur Jafa's The White Album is both a thrilling and painful experience. The video shows white selfhood expressing itself by violent separation from an imagined horrible Other. Some of the footage is lifted YouTube material that went viral. For example, a young US police officer who is black, stoically resists responding to a handcuffed white man on the ground, who endlessly chants the word "n*****" at her. Jafa shot beautifully grainy scenes of white bodies with tight close-ups on the faces, the expressions distanced and lost, that drift into scenes of white psychodrama. The latter are public displays of mania or else quietly seething anger ("I'm not a racist, but").

Jafa's approach to pure rage -- people's ugly venting, their silky and self-deluded attempts at persuasion, one crazed white nationalist's glaring silence as he films himself loading and reloading a variety of terrifying weapons -- is to make it something like paint on a painting: amazing in all its manipulated variety, its textures and tones. Disturbing in a different way is Can't Stop Myself, a transparent box as big as a building containing a giant robotic spatula. The robot is programmed by Chinese artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu to scrape up a pool of red liquid from the ground in convulsive movements and fling it around. A perpetual transparent oozing red residue on the glass walls is reminiscent of cleanups after a torture session. Maybe it's about the violent origin of all the money available for art nowadays.

More humorous than either of these, but still menacing, is a strange expanded dolls' house by Los Angeles artist Kaari Upson. Dotted around its cartoonish forms are video monitors playing hilarious-horrible scenes of a dissolved sense of being. Titled There Is No Such Thing As Outside, it is all an evocative bit of playful nonsense, whose meanings include woman/self/domesticity gone wrong, and a clever theme of soul hunger, where our choices if we are women are unreal because they are only husks and formats: a USA false model of freedom. We are given only a fake self to inhabit, and all we can say and do seems to be said and done by somebody who isn't us. A 7ft high clitoris with five piercings is a comic prop in this funny/sad entertainment, a weirdo pantomime, in which women are being as nice as they can be, trapped in niceness.

Ghanaian artists are extremely strong this year. John Akomfrah's mighty threescreen video shows African life, including deep-sea creatures, the stars, awesome sunsets and elephants squelching through mud. He counters pleasure with intimations of finality. If a species of animal whose beauty overwhelms us is threatened, so is our own species. Migrants with their belongings in laundry bags cross desert terrain. Whatever is natural is seen to have a looming industrial modernity nearby, as if power takes over. Whatever is about life will soon be about profits alone.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye's paintings seem equal amounts acting and sincerity. She appears to stage a masterpiece: it might be any western great painting from Titian to Manet, three centuries of figures in shadows and light. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Pavilions That Jolt Us between Past and Present; Venice BiennaleA Spectacular Show Full of Visual Beauty and Talking Points about Race, Identity, Migration and the Effects of Colonialism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.