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MDM Claire Fantaine 3 Ph By Matteo De Maydaoriginalsize

Claire Fontaine, Foreigners Everywhere / Stranieri Ovunque, 2004-2024, photograph Matteo de Mayda. Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

Foreigners Everywhere

Text by Liliana Muñoz Flannery, Matteo Pini, Thomas Roueché, Nell Whittaker & Joseph Zeal Henry

The Venice Biennale can feel like a toy-town version of the world, where each country has a pavilion clustered around a central show, like planets orbiting a star. The pavilions evoke dollhouses for artists to play with, in some way representing national concepts or concerns. During opening week in April, perspective can slip out of view, and it is easy to forget the political realities in which the Biennale, as a project of the Italian state, operates.

Adriano Pedrosa was named curator of the 60th Venice Biennale in December 2022, just a couple of months after the election of Giorgia Meloni as Prime Minister of Italy. Pedrosa is the first openly queer curator of the Venice Biennale, and one of only four non-Europeans ever to hold the position. He was appointed by Roberto Cicutto, the president of the Biennale foundation, in part “to build on what emerged from the previous exhibition”, Cecilia Alemani’s 2022 edition which foregrounded women artists.

Pedrosa was the only curator chosen by Cicutto before his own tenure was abruptly terminated, the new Meloni government installing in his place the neo-fascist politician and commentator Pietrangelo Buttafuoco. Buttafuoco’s impact on the “Olympics of art” remains to be seen, but these machinations lend a particular poignance to Pedrosa’s show Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere, which takes its name from a work by the collective Claire Fontaine, who in turn took it from a 1980s radical political organisation in Turin. 

Pedrosa has said that he had the idea for the Biennale before being invited to curate the show. As director of MASP (the Museum of Art of São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand) arguably the most important contemporary art institution in Latin America, he has instituted a series of programmes that explore thematic topics as broad as, most recently, indigenous and queer histories. Pedrosa’s museological impulse is present at every turn in this remarkably poetic and moving show, which flows from the historical to the contemporary, weaving less of a thesis and more of a tapestry of sensibilities. 

Much criticism of the show – and it has received far more than its fair share – has hinged on Pedrosa’s inclusion of many deceased artists, and a supposed “lumping” together of Indigenous, migrant, non-Western and LGBTQIA+ artists. Diversity, in this reading, shares the logic of othering with the far right. The framing of the show, to many critics, has been didactic, point-scoring, unwilling to engage with the young contemporary artists in Western metropolises who form the bread and butter of the contemporary art market. The reliance on painting and textile forms, moreover, to some critics has been seen as irrelevant at best and retrogressive at worst.

But this is precisely what feels so exciting, and so moving, in Pedrosa’s show. This is a Biennale willing to ignore the market forces that dictate, to a greater or lesser extent, the art we get to see in Venice. (In our era of austerity most countries cannot foot the bill for a major show in their national pavilion, so private galleries tend to step into the breach on the premise that this investment will see returns as sales of their artists’ future work.)

The show in the Giardini opens with a 1965 work by the Turkish-French artist Nil Yalter, “Toprak Ev”, a felt yurt surrounded by a wall of videos of migrants discussing their exile and the slogan “Exile is a hard job”. Subsequent rooms contain paintings by a diverse range of artists such as the contemporary queer painter Louis Fratino, the outsider artist Madge Gill, the artist and “namer of plants” Abel Rodriguez, the queer artist Dean Sameshima. At the Arsenale, the painter Salman Toor’s works depicting queer community sit among a celebration of works in fabric, a febrile performance-based installation by Isaac Wong Kai and revelatory paper cuts by Xiyadie, described in the wall text as “a father, farmer, gay man, migrant worker, and artist”.

The overall show is broken up by a series of “nuclei storici”, the strongest of which is a collection of portraits by artists from the non-West. The appearance of figures like Semiha Berksoy and Ibrahim El-Salahi in dialogue with Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Lê Phổ creates a moving set of confrontations. It almost feels like a chorus of the excluded, overlooked and forgotten, with remarkable artists like Lai Foong Moi, the the first Malaysian-born woman to study art in Paris, each offering a story of their own. 

Overall, the effect is a provincialisation of the West, a sense of a rich set of conversations, preoccupations and ideas stretching back over the last century in cities beyond the purview of the usual arbiters of events such as this. One work by the Italian artist Alessandra Ferrini brings this into sharp focus. Telling the history of the colonial relationship between Libya and Italy as a backdrop for the ongoing migrant crisis, it draws the works around it into a sharp political and historical context. Likewise Bouchra Khalili’s video installation of migrants tracing the routes they followed to come to Europe in pen on maps pulled the act of visual and creative meaning-making into the political context of the crisis of humanity at Europe’s southern borders. In these works the stakes of the Biennale, in a European political environment that seems to be becoming ever darker, were abundantly clear. – TR

Production Still Eimear Walshe ROMANTIC IRELAND 2023 Photo @ Faolán Carey Courtesy Eimear Walshe And Ireland At Venice 5 ORIGINALSIZE


Eimear Walshe’s Romantic Ireland is a video installation surrounded by walls built out of earth. The video depicts an opera telling the story of an old man’s eviction from his home in the 1940s. A series of melodramatic scenes are told through a series of actors wearing green rubber gimp masks, playing the roles of character archetypes. The result is an atemporal scene of ruination, a work that traces the colonial histories of land contestation in Ireland, its intertwinement with property and sexual conservatism, still evident in Ireland’s housing crisis today. Walshe is interested in the tradition of the meitheal, a form of community that comes together to work and enact mutual aid, and he has the performers cycle through roles as camera people, directors and actor/dancers.

Walshe’s installation captures a striking, raw energy that was otherwise absent from many of the national pavilions. Rather than the staid and weighty sense of political darkness and futility that characterised a number of major installations, Romantic Ireland, in its politically charged performance set amongst raw building blocks of earth, felt both grounded and alive with energy, a deeply political work that seemed to radiate with the possibility of ways of being, of collaborating and engaging with dark, difficult and heavy histories that was liberating and uplifting in its iconoclasm. – TR


Gweedore, Donegal. An Evicted Family Who Have Rebuilt A House Out Of The Very Land From Which They Were Evicted.CROPPED

Gweedore, Donegal. A family who have rebuilt a house out of the very land from which they were evicted.




Archie Moore, kith and kin 2024 / Australia Pavilion at Venice Biennale 2024 / Photographer: Andrea Rossetti / © the artist / Image courtesy of the artist and The Commercial


Archie Moore’s kith and kin, which was awarded the festival’s Golden Lion award for Best National Representation, portrays a 65,000 year genealogy in two ways: a crowded, chalk-drawn family tree that extends up the walls and creeps over the ceiling, and blocks of impassive documentation that stand on a table set in an onyx-black shallow pool, like an architectural model of a white city. The systems are in conversation. The reams of paper are print-outs of legal documents concerning some of the people whose names climb the walls – mostly files from inquests and incarcerations, with names redacted – and some of the descriptors from the documents, designating full or mixed Aboriginal descent, often using racist slurs, appear among the names on the wall. Both describe different forms of information: one a documentary record of how First Nations people are policed and criminalised, and the other an imperfect, teeming description of how people are related.

As a whole, the installation is about population but also the void, and describes both the extent and the limit of recorded information.

As Moore writes in the exhibition notes, “holes occur in the lineage, signalling the severing of families through massacres, diseases and the deliberate destruction of records.” There is a tension in the room between openness and obfuscation. The white names create a starry cosmos on the ceiling, but the impassive black walls conjure the mausoleum, an effect amplified by the way that the black pool reflects the overhead strip light. The pool is a monument to those named in the reports who have died in incarceration: Indigenous Australians are one of the most incarcerated people globally, comprising 3.8% of the Australian population yet 33% of prison inmates. It also creates a marked-off area within the room, as the viewer is forced to lean over the pool to peer at the documents, which makes that history essentially unreadable: documentation of a reality that, despite its claim to be the official record, does not cohere into something sensical.

In a conversation between Moore, Raymond Kelly, Felicity Meakins, Diane Bell, Grace Lucas-Pennington and Ellie Buttrose published in the exhibition’s catalogue, Bell, an anthropologist, describes the way that among the Ngarrindjeri of Southern Australia, genealogy is reflected in the way that a mat is tightly woven from a coil and a central anchoring fibre. Kinship is an active process, not an inert arrangement of information. “This way,” Bell says, “you could see kinship as a dynamic form.” – NW




In the Belgian Pavilion, seven large people stand on a raised scaffold. They vary in looks. Akerbeltz (“Black Goat”), is from Basque Country; Babette is a textile worker from Tourcoing, France; Dame Nuje Patat has a potato for a head and hails from the potato market in Baaigem; Edgar l’Motard is a smuggler from Steenvoorde; Erasmus, in a long brown robe, is Erasmus; Julia represents the immigrant workers of Charleroi; and Mettekoe resembles a Bornean orangutan, because that was the animal assigned to his district in his hometown of Petit-Enghien, Belgium, during the Equinox Festival in 2022. The space is intended as a “place of passage” and a stopping-point along a journey that began on January 28, when the giant Dame Nuje Patat set off from Baaigem. All of the giants travelled from Belgium, France and Spain’s Basque Country to the Alps and then the Venetian Lagoon.

The work is devised by the Petticoat Government collective, made up of Sophie Boiron, Valentin Bollaert, Simona Denicolai, Pauline Fockedey, Pierre Huyghebaert, Antoinette Jattiot and Ivo Provoost. The artists note that as “giants are bigger than we are … [they] reflect our appetite for excess. But their size is to be put into perspective.” Issues of scale abound in our large-system era – how to situate oneself in the context of platform capitalism, commercial shipping, conglomerate literary production and Elon Musk’s Starlink – but Petticoat Government intend to show us how we might consider scale as a product of collaboration.

The website asks, “What if a collective could be a giant? A potato-head giant for those who honour potato cultivation at a small local market? A giant for an association of friends? Or giants magnifying, in village parades, women working in local factories?” Generating an aesthetic approximation of the collective means celebrating the environments where collectives coalesce – as well as illustrate the reach of productive action, and our own ability to generate things of scale. – NW



Petticoat Government, 2024, photograph Matteo de Mayda. Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia






Peter Hujar (1934–1987) documented the artistic life and characters of New York City from the 1960s until his death. This small, elegantly curated exhibition brings together his portraits of famous cultural figures from the Downtown scene with photographs from the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, which he visited with Paul Thek in 1963. – TR


Left to right, row one, Divine, 1975; Anita Steckel (II), 1975; Edwin Denby (I), 1975; Bill Elliott, 1974; James Waring (I), 1975. Row two, H.M. Koutoukas (I), 1975; May Wilson, 1975; Anne Waldman, 1975; Fran Lebowitz, 1975; Michele Collison, Hotel Chelsea, 1974. Row three, Linda Moses (I), 1975; John Waters (I), 1975; John Ashbery (I), 1975; Ray Johnson, 1975; Lola Pashalinksi Backstage, “Camille”, 1974. Row four, José Arango Backstage at the Palm Casino Revue, 1974; Charles Ludlam (III) (Morton Street), 1975; Remy Charlip (II), 1975; Larry Ree (I), 1975; Susan Sontag, 1975. All images/works © The Peter Hujar Archive/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY


01. Tunji Adeniyi Jones, Celestial Gathering, 2024 CROPPED

Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, “Celestial Gathering”, 2024. Photography Marco Cappelleti Studio. Courtesy: Museum of West African Art (MOWAA)



“Nigeria Imaginary” is the title of Nigeria’s conceptually rich, slightly unwieldly pavilion at the Palazzo Canal. Of the eight artists exhibiting, who each occupied a zone in the building, legacy artists like Yinka Shonibare drew the largest crowds at the opening, his “Monument to the Restitution of the Mind and Soul” an exacting recreation of artefacts stolen by the British during the Benin Expedition of 1879. The 150 objects, here displayed on a towering clay ziggurat, are only a small proportion of bounty taken, much of it housed in the British Museum. Yet the smaller rooms showed work of equal accomplishment if not scale, like Fatimah Tuggar’s intriguing investigation into the calabash plant by way of animatronics and integrative AI. Taking inspiration from Yoruba mythology, non-Western Modernism and the Italian ornamental tradition, Tunji Adeniyi-Jones’s ceiling mural of intermingled bodies “Celestial Gathering” performed similar conceptual juggling, hued in rich reds and vibrant yellows. Elsewhere, Precious Okoyomon dispensed with the corporeal realm altogether, presenting a sound piece of confessions and revelations. The freneticism of the Biennale was not conducive to the contemplation which some of these artworks required, Ndidi Dike’s work on the #EndSARS protests in particular, yet the breadth with which curator Aindrea Emelife has imagined her country’s artistic landscape impressed. “The body can be a vehicle for storytelling” Adeniyi-Jones told TANK, discussing the hands and faces of his painting, and the national story being told at the Nigerian Pavilion, only the country’s second showing at the Biennale, is one of similar emergence. – MP

25. Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, Monument To The Restitution Of The Mind And Soul, 2023

Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, “Monument to the Restitution of the Mind and Soul”, 2023. Photography Marco Cappelleti Studio. Courtesy: Museum of West African Art (MOWAA)


Gülsün Karamustafa VB5

Photograph Göksu Aydoğan. Courtesy the artist and BüroSarıgedik


Gülsün Karamustafa’s work has long been preoccupied with the entanglement of gender, migration and globalisation. Her work at Venice for the Türkiye Pavilion, Hollow and Broken: A State of the World riffs on the form of the classical column, in her version white plastic moulds ordered from China, to speak about fragmentation and collapse. Turkey’s pre-eminent narrator of the evolution of its cities during the 1980s and 1990s, her work has employed the domestic and the twee – spoons, blankets, baskets – to evoke the intimacy of both migration and displacement. 

TANK Your work has engaged with the idea of kitsch as a sort of hybrid form emerging from threats to the established political order. Is that something which is still felt?

Gülsün Karamustafa My focus through the 1980s and 1990s was on the transformations of the city. During those years there was a rising urban population as people moved from the countryside to the city, and those cultures clashed to create a new hybrid. I wanted to look at that closely. The end of the 20th century was a very closed time for Türkiye – which is the name I prefer, as it is more inclusive – and a very traumatic time. This might also be true for cities beyond Istanbul, like Mexico City or Cairo, but I didn’t live through the trajectory of what happened there or anywhere in the world which has been characterised by such speedy population change. Right now, we are living through something quite different, but I really don’t know what it is. Maybe I'm getting old, but something superficial is happening to the city. It’s not the city I knew anymore. There was a chain that connected my father and mother to me to my daughter, who all lived in the same city, but this has been a big break.

TR You studied art in Ankara in the 1960s, when arts education was radically different. How do you think about the formation that you had then from the perspective of today?

GS Starting at the Academy was great. To study art was challenging at the time for anybody in this country. The teachers at the Academy had a high, French-style culture they hoped to give to their students. We were taught mythology and anatomy. For two years we studied dissection. We studied printmaking, history of art, history of Turkish art. It took us five years to finish and was the equivalent of a master’s level diploma. I chose to study under Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu because his approach was to teach his students how to be: how to drink, how to go to meyhanes [taverns]. More than doing your art, he taught us how to have an involvement with life. Maybe I didn’t learn much, but it gave me the courage to continue with contemporary art. We were such rebellious students at the time; in 1968 we occupied the school because we thought that the system should change. I think this democratic approach led me to using every medium.

TANK Eyüboğlu was also interested in finding a continuity with Anatolian traditions. Is there a through-line between his work and yours?

GK I was certainly more interested in what was going on around me than going deep into making things, the main reason for which being that I didn’t like oil painting because it took so long to dry. Later I began to use gouache on paper, and then, while living with a graphic designer, using his tools. I began to make pictures – I call my paintings pictures – when I found out about acrylic. I had the urge to look around me and I was lucky that what was happening around me was this great migration to the city from the countryside. I just wanted to grab it and make something out of it. At some point the surface of a painting was not enough for me and I began to do things with real materials.

TANK Your installation at Venice is reminiscent of the work “Insecure” at the Pera Museum. It was so extremely visceral.

GK You saw it! Yes, it is one of the most physical but also one of the most obscure works of mine. I got very little reaction to it. I made the work as a commission from the 2022 Istanbul Biennale. The pandemic meant the work changed and its location changed, but I was happy with the result. In the end the installation was enclosed by a woollen curtain which meant that to view it you had to go into a cave, face these screens and hear the sound of breaking glass. We had been closed up for two years, and that sense of claustrophobia came from that. The sound of breaking glass is powerful – it creates a feeling you might connect to protest, to claustrophobia, to something pushing you out. But one thing that was important to me was the sense that you don’t know whether the stone you hear is being thrown from the outside in or from inside out.  – TR

Trevor Yeung Installation View 2.ORIGINALSIZE Jpg


Trevor Yeung’s meditative installation – representing Hong Kong – takes familiar forms from his city and places them in dialogue with the city of Venice. Fish tanks, ubiquitous in the seafood restaurants of Hong Kong, are a recurring motif, one that he uses to construct a fountain of constantly filtering canal water. Surrounding his fountain are buckets of debris, out of which the hard-working lotus flower, native

to Hong Kong, is growing. The lotus can flourish even in the most polluted water. Again and again Yeung’s work draws us to the climatic realities of the city of Venice, with a jar filled with the salt that collects on the walls of Venetian buildings, and a recurring motif of filtration. The small show builds towards a pet shop-like room of fish tanks, fizzing and bubbling, lit in pink neon, but empty. It’s an eerily beautiful space, in which water is purified yet animal life is absent. – TR

Huyghe Untitled Human Maskoriginalsize

Pierre Huyghe, Untitled (Human Mask), 2014, Pinault Collection. Courtesy of the artist; Hauser & Wirth, London; Anna Lena Films, Paris © Pierre Huyghe, by SIAE 2023



In Dorsoduro the Punta della Dogana, a vast customs house built between 1678 and 1682, has been turned into a black void. The exhibition leaflet recommends that you stay for a while in the first chamber to let your eyes adjust to the darkness, which I didn’t, and immediately nearly flattened a woman standing against the wall. In that chamber, a video depicts a woman with a convex space where her face should be, standing and sitting; in another, a screen shows a small monkey navigates an abandoned restaurant in Fukushima, wearing a black wig and a child’s mask; in a third, robot arms are erected around a skeleton of a young man, slumped atop Chile’s Atacama Desert. In another ventricle, there are tanks in which a thin-legged spider crab stands motionless beneath a rock; in another, a hermit crab has, for its shell, a reproduction of the face of Constantin Brâncuși’s Sleeping Muse (1910). The guide informs you that the works – one of which is a huge humming transmitter – are gathering information about the visitors, and turning it to some obscure purpose.

The seam in the art world that produces the same tired tropes about cyborgian existence often tends to focus on the interplay between technology and the human as an opportunity for optimisation, but what Huyghe’s work achieves is an uncanny rendering of the unreality of animality, which also includes human corporeality. The animal is nearly always used as a metaphor for crude, instinctive action, but animal behaviour can be deliberate and meticulous. So when the masked monkey trails a finger over the grain in a wooden tabletop, it expresses an aimless and unknowable interiority in the same family as the spider crab in its tank, and the robots clustered around the skeleton in the desert, and the woman with a hole for a face; animal thought, and human action, becomes as unreadable as the robotic.

The show’s description notes that Huyghe “invites us to follow other realities, to become strangers to ourselves, from a perspective other than human – inhuman,” and the show is intensely observational. The robot arms studying the skeleton move with unambiguous grace, and when we watch the hollow-faced woman scratch her abdomen, movement is so minutely documented – a zoom-in makes her fingers metres high – and the sound is so crisp that it makes you feel not like a watcher, but as a tool for filtering precise yet unreadable information – exactly what all animal bodies are. – NW

Huyghe Liminal 2

Pierre Huyghe, Liminal (temporary title), 2024 - ongoing. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Marian Goodman Gallery, Hauser & Wirth, Esther Schipper, and TARO NASU © Pierre Huyghe, by SIAE 2023

1. Karbala M.F. Husain 1990

M.F. Husain, Karbala, 1990. Courtesy the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art


The great Indian artist M.F. Husain is perhaps the best-known proponent of modernist painting in India. Associated with the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group, Husain drew on diverse religious and historical motifs including representations of Hindu deities, controversy over which would eventually lead to his exile from India during the last ten years of his life.

The decision to show his work in a gracefully curated show by the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art is a masterstroke. Husain embodies the figure of a forgotten generation of modernists from beyond the shores of the West, and as such his work sits in elegant conversation with Pedrosa’s main exhibition and its historical bent. Pedrosa’s challenge to us to rethink the origins and nature of modernism, his opening up of alternative narratives around the history of art all too often seen as fixed and narrowly defined, finds an elegant thesis in these paintings.

Husain, who spent the last decade of his life in exile between the UK and Qatar, is the sort of figure deeply deserving of a major retrospective in London. The breadth of his work represented in Venice – from cubist painting to photography – shades depth on an underrepresented art historical moment. The painting that is arguably his masterpiece, “Karbala”, brings together the many different currents visible through his career, held together in an elegant tension: his Sulaymani Bohra family background, his commitment to modernist aesthetic principles, and the vivid life and action captured by his brush strokes.

Against this, his photography, which displays his easy comfort with bold shapes and striking composition, at the same time captures scenes of mundane life. That Husain spent so many years in exile brings a poignancy to his representations of the motifs, life and culture of the Indian subcontinent. The show feels like a rallying cry for a fresh perspective on alternative modernisms, particularly those emerging from the end of the British Empire and in the context of post-colonial nationalisms. – TR


M.F. Husain in New Delhi, c.1970. Photograph by Richard Bartholomew. Courtesy of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art


02 Willem De Kooning Untitled (Rome) 1959 The Renee And Chaim Gross Foundation


Coinciding with the Venice Biennale this year, the exhibition held at Gallerie dell’Accademia Willem de Kooning and Italy explores the effect of visits to the country on Dutch-born de Kooning’s artistic journey. A pioneer of abstract expressionism, the notable impact of his visits to Italy in 1959 and 1969 has gone largely uninvestigated, but now 75 works across sculpture, drawing and painting coalesce to trace the inspirations and emotions elicited by his sojourn in the country. A notable presence are works from de Kooning’s “Black and White Rome” series, produced in two months between December 1959 and January 1960. With large sweeping strokes of black enamel on white paper, they contain vibrant energy, encapsulating the emotions of an artist encouraged by recent sell-out success in the US and intoxicated by an infusion of inspiration in a new country. – LMF


Willem de Kooning Untitled (Rome), 1959. The Renee & Chaim Gross Foundation, New York © 2024 The Willem de Kooning Foundation, SIAE


01 Nebula Ph Lorenzo Palmieri HIGH Basir Mahmood

Basir Mahmood, “Brown Bodies in an Open Landscape are Often Migrating”, 2024. Photography Lorenzo Palmieri. Courtesy of the artist and Fondazione In Between Art Film



Nebula is an exhibition of eight new video works by the Fondazione In Between Art Film, installed in a baroque church-turned-hospital of the sort that only exists in a city like Venice. The contrast between the church’s frescoed interior and the sparse, tiled rooms of the hospital spaces, is elaborated on with design by the studio 2050+, creating a deep and textured setting for a number of striking new works by Giorgio Andreotta Calò, Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, Saodat Ismailova, Cinthia Marcelle and Tiago Mata Machado, Diego Marcon, Basir Mahmood, Ari Benjamin Meyers, and Christian Nyampeta. The show reaches a crescendo with the work of Marcon, a sobering and macabre video that sits all too well in the unsettling spaces of the show itself. – TR


Wallace Chan 'Transcendence' ©Federico Sutera (17) ORIGINALSIZE

Wallace Chan, Transcendence, 2024 ©Federico Sutera


Wallace Chan’s Transcendence, curated by James Putnam, is hosted by the narrow space of the 18th-century Chapel of Santa Maria della Pietà, just off the busy frontage where the Grand Canal becomes the sea. Turning from the street, the space opens up darkly before you, a process of travelling from conflict to serenity that Chan intended as a function of the Buddhist belief that the realisation of a state of transcendence derives from the overcoming of physical limitation. 

The exhibition features three large-scale, ponderous heads, suspended from the ceiling, and a large, twisted tulip. The heads are oblong, which offers a sense that they are dripping from their support, or perhaps continually sagging. The faces are conjoined, so that skin mashes against skin – ears appear from the side of a face whose eyes and nose are invisible. 

Material and materiality have been central to Chan’s work since he first began working as an artist. Chan was born in Hong Kong and began carving gemstones at the age of 16 in 1973, and by the 2010s, was considered one of the foremost gemstone jewellers in the world. His gemstone work is technically innovative – he invented the Wallace Cut, an illusionary three-dimensional carving technique, in 1987 – and elaborate, explosions of colour in precise, sophisticated detailing, with egg-sized gems cut into constellations of light, set delicately among sprays of metal. 

In Transcendence, the sculptures are made from titanium, a material that Chan has used in his previous two shows, Titan and Totem – with Transcendence, they form a loose trilogy – a material that melts at 1,700 degrees Celsius. As Chan tells me via a translator, Crystal Lee, “Titanium is very special. It is biofriendly, it is colourful, it is light and durable. It can even fuse with the human body.” Titanium, of all the metals, is most capable of cohabiting with the human; with cohering and continuing the body’s material presence.

These faces also communicate a strange intimacy. Beings merge into one, with ears and eyes emerging from the sides of other faces. The tulip has faces pressing against the skin of its stem. They function as channels for the sound – a piece of instrumental music titled “I Dormienti” by Brian Eno – with the hollow spaces within the heads reverberating and amplifying the notes. The chapel – dimly lit, vibrating with sound – becomes an opportunity, rather than an exhibition space. This sense of movement is expressed by their creator as a continual cycle of rebirth. As Lee explains, “Every day when he sleeps, he dies. When he wakes up, he is reborn again, to see things with renewed curiosity. If you pay attention, art and beauty is everywhere, waiting for you to discover them.”

The faces have strange expressions, representing the hush of serenity or the ecstasy of enlightenment, but the most striking element is their sense of motion: the morphological implication of their twisted, drooping form. The works metaphorise how transcendence of one’s personal boundaries can lead to incorporation of the other; the humming room, in which bodies become conductors themselves, suggests that transcendence can be collective. – NW

Wallace Chan 'Transcendence' ©Federico Sutera (14)ORIGINAL SIZE

Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, “Monument to the Restitution of the Mind and Soul”, 2023. Photography Marco Cappelleti Studio. Courtesy: Museum of West African Art (MOWAA)


Installation View Of Your Ghosts Are Mine On View At ACP–Palazzo Franchetti. Photo By David Levene. Courtesy Qatar Museums 2 ORIGINALSIZE

Installation view of Your Ghosts Are Mine at ACP–Palazzo Franchetti. Photography: David Levene. Courtesy Qatar Museums



Your Ghosts are Mine, Qatar’s not-a-pavilion at the Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, tours across the past four decades of Arab, African and Southeast Asian cinema. Themes of civic identity chafing against the compromises of a globalised world recur: Sophia Al Maria’s dreamlike “Black Friday” identifies the shopping mall as a site of mediation and secular worship, while Tala Hadid’s intimate “House in the Fields” explores the impacts of modernity on an isolated Amazigh tribe in the Atlas Mountains. Sharing themes of “community life, recollection, transnational crossings and exile,” the sheer breadth of material covered by curator Matthieu Orléan, from scratchy home-movie style footage to slicker, more Cannes-ready films proved bewildering at times. The sight of Tilda Swinton in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Memoria” was enough to draw attention away from Davy Chou’s less immediate, but equally invigorating “Diamond Island”, an inquiry into Cambodian wage labour. But as Wael Shawky’s 2013 work “Al Araba Al Madfuna II” proved, pleasure, production value and political import do not have to exist in opposition. Drawing upon the stories of Mohamed Mostagab, Shawky’s monochrome blend of fable and cinematographic trickery was among the most successful works here, making 2024 something of a banner Biennale for the artist. Although each film here was granted mere minutes of runtime, an expanded screening programme over the following months will give these films the airtime they deserve. – MP


3 Fondazione Prada Monte Di Pietà Christoph Büchel

Installation view of “Monte di Pietà”. A project by Christoph Büchel. Fondazione Prada, Venice. Photography: Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy: Fondazione Prada


The assumption is that artists are working in a different dimension than the rest of us; that they are weaving conceptual patterns beyond the mortal human. Christoph Büchel filled the Fondazione Prada full of junk (and some actual art) and people clapped as invigilators explained a story about its origins that may or may not have been true.

Is the exhibition a commentary on collapsology, the idea the world is descending into ungovernable chaos? I’m not sure it matters. It wasn’t the art that bothered me, it was the fact that I wasn’t encouraged to steal it – we were as policed as if we were looking at the Mona Lisa. Whose value is being protected, and how did they pay for all of it? The art itself almost washed past me, except for a few misjudged moments including a so-called live stream of the Palestinian border that had the wrong date on it and appeared to be a screenshot. It was distasteful for an artist to handle this with so little care and context. Maybe it was some of the famous Swiss neutrality in action.

Is the project just a send-up of the art industry? If that’s the case, why treat it with the reverence usually reserved for traditional art? Why couldn’t I steal some of the objects in the exhibition? Surely that is what the art wanted – otherwise, why bother to do all of this and then maintain a resemblance of dull galleristic normality? – JZH


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Wael Shawky, Drama, 1882, 2024 © Wael Shawky. Photo Credit Mina Nabil Courtesy of Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Lisson Gallery, Lia Rumma, and Barakat Contemporary


DRAMA 1882

In the Egyptian pavilion, Wael Shawky’s 45-minute film Drama 1882 plays, a musical composed, choreographed and directed by the artist. The film depicts Egyptian Colonel Ahmed Urabi’s revolution against European imperialism between 1879 and 1882, which was crushed by the British in 1882 who then occupied the country until the middle of the twentieth century.

The foreigners in this instance – as per the formulation of the overarching Biennale theme– are the Europeans, who the film depicts as a consortium of ambassadors and envoys, deciding how to respond to Urabi and his army’s challenge to the Khedivate of Egypt on the grounds of his obsequience to the French and British. The performers sing in classical Arabic and all are professional actors, though the choreography is deliberately stilted and the singing

is looping and sonorous – no big show tunes – producing a strange sense of realism. The viewer feels they are watching the revolving, sensual flow of politics as opposed to the quick vibrancy of character-driven drama; there is a refrain involving a see-saw action in which figures or groups of figures lean into one another and back again. The artist has described the work as a “moving painting”, with a minimum of action front of stage; the movement of this theatre corresponds to more tectonic shifts of rising popular anger and behind-the-scenes state response.

In a scene in the middle of the drama, representatives of Britain, France, Russia, Hungary, Germany, Italy and Austria identified with floating captions – including the Marquis de Noe, French envoy, and Baron Hatzfeld, German first secretary at Constantinople – decide how best to respond to the revolution, orbiting and rubbing a large table that has irregular, insect-like legs. The British representative perches on top with bare feet; all have over-tall top hats. The word “drama”, Shawky also points out, relates to catastrophe, and here we see Britain conniving to seize control; later, after they have violently put down the revolution, the assembled uniformed soldiers sing that “the fields were scattered with skulls / and strands of hair covered in blood”. Urabi progresses off stage left, singing that he is sad to leave, that “reasons have arisen”; the historical record reads that after he was captured by the British, he was exiled to Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon.

Shawky often draws on historical sources, and a film showing simultaneously at the Palazzo Grimani I Am Hymns of the New Temples (2020) shows people with vast paper-mache heads, re-enacting some of the mythology linked to Pompeii. By transposing certain narratives into new forms – myth into ritual, and history into musical – Shawky disrupts the idea that any narrative might be settled or stuck, just because it has already happened. He has also made a film of impassive and majestic beauty. – NW


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Ka’a Pûera: we are walking birds, 2024, photography Matteo de Mayda. Courtesy: La Biennale di Venezia


The crunch of dead leaves littering the floor, the musky wafting of bird feathers, groupings of cassava, yam and achiote atop a mound of soil: Glicéria Tupinambá’s Brazilian pavilion is concerned with the sedimentary history of her land and its “500 years of invasion”. Renaming the space the Hãhãwpuá pavilion in reference to Brazil’s pre-colonial name was the first of multiple interventions related to Indigenous identity, specifically her own Tupinambá tribe, a group which only saw federal recognition in 2002. Violent imagery, expressed figuratively in Ziel Karapotó’s installation of maracas and bullets suspended in frozen animation, recurred. A 17th-century Tupinambá mantle, one of only 11 extant examples, stood proudly alongside endless letters to European museums asking for its return. That these letters went mostly unanswered speaks to a violence of a more bureaucratic shade. In a Biennale outwardly concerned with the wide spectrum of Indigenous experiences, the Hãhãwpuá pavilion spoke to the strangeness of being made to feel like a foreigner in one’s own home, and the potential pathways to retribution. – MP



Ka’a Pûera: we are walking birds, 2024, photography Matteo de Mayda. Courtesy: La Biennale di Venezia


Hildigunnur Birgisdottir's Studio Photo By Ólöf Kristín Helgadóttir Courtesy Of Icelandic Arts Center 7 CROPPED

Photo Ólöf Kristín Helgadóttir. Courtesy of Icelandic Arts Center


At Iceland’s pavilion, a slab of the floor from the country’s previous Biennale offering is adhered to the wall, covered with logos. The show is called That’s a Very Large Number – A Commerzbau. “Commerzbau” is a neologism taken from the concept of the “Merzbau”, pioneered by German Dada artist Kurt Schwitters, who began using the term “Merz” in his work after discovering a fragment of newspaper printed with the end of the word “Commerz”. The artist Hildigunnur Birgisdóttir restores the “com”, creating a “commerzbau” that welcomes into the space the normally invisible systems, processes and products that enable or co-create the work, from InDesign to Zoom to EasyJet. The result is a playful work that creates intimacy from anxiety, namely the dizzyingly excessive fretwork of physical and intangible products that surround each of us. TANK spoke to Birgisdóttir, about the work’s enmeshment with the products and programmes of capital.

TANK How difficult was it to trace the huge number of products and companies used in the production of the show? Did you have to invent limits?

Hildigunnur Birgisdóttir Limits were not really invented but felt. As with many things in life, there is the problem of definition: when do a few grains become a heap? Borders are problematic; there were no rules, just a lot of logos that were immediately relevant to the production, a few silly but important ones. Then at some point, the sordid self-reflective piece needs to go to print…

TANK How does material culture illuminate human systems?

HB What does it tell us that a species has made a tiny plastic hanger for socks, many tons of plastic hangers in fact, only to be hung seasonally for the gentle, consuming gaze? I believe that from every man-made object truth about our human existence can be found – beauty even.

TANK The weird, small lives of products and their adjacent accessories – “packing materials, price tags, signage and systems of display” – might seem excessive and pointless. Is this a projection outward from anxiety about the value and meaning of human life?

HB Man-made materials speak to me; they tell a story of a self-absorbed species that has made many decisions, some beautiful, some less so, and others plain ridiculous. I see this in how an Action Man toy needs to be placed mid-action in full armour with the aid of ten specially made thingies – a plastic shield that partially mimics human muscles, bold graphics in agitated colours, and slogans like “Action Man, the greatest hero of them all!”. The system we have made permeates through this product, and this is obvious in the case of the Action Man. But what I find even more appealing is when there is some unclear purpose dancing on the event horizon of need and greed. Those items, which might be anything from a piece of paper on a communal notice board to a plastic hook washed ashore, fascinate me, speak to me and even evoke a similar feeling as confronting a large waterfall. It does not make me anxious anymore; I feel its power.

TANK The feeling in the pavilion is of a zaniess, as in the Sianne Ngai formulation, of being “funny and tragic all at once”. What were you intending the affective impact of the work to be?

HB Zany is definitely something one could use to describe many of the things that spark my interest, or rather, as Sianne Ngai has talked about in her work, how our value system is formulated. I am very aware of my biases when it comes to beauty – what is nostalgic to me? What is classy? What is kitsch? When I find something profoundly ugly or uninteresting I am immediately excited, though this is a very slippery slope! However, I lack clear intent. I am driven forward by the need to share the beauty and connections I discover from deep within the global belly of the consumer-whale, the art world included. There is humour, tragedy, but above all, beauty. Whether people want to see the funny side, the horrid world of plastic, statistics, form and colour, or just sit in the beautiful windowsill I made, it pleases me greatly. I don’t expect everyone to deep dive with me through the difficult but exciting layers of human “civilisation” – but I love it when it resonates with a kindred spirit. – NW ◉