On the 120th anniversary of its inaugural exhibition in 1895, Nigerian-born curator, Okwui Enwezor, has this year directed the 56th iteration of the Venice Biennale. Titled All The World’s Futures, the exhibition is centred on re-articulating the politics of representation in the wake of colonialism. Since the nineties, the spike in popularity of the periphery has provided new interest for the so-called Global South, with growing awareness in art from outside the centre. Despite this, international opportunity in both contemporary art, and in life more broadly is certainly far from horizontal, which is why the politics driving the methodology of All The World’s Future, is timely. A total of 136 artists, from 53 different countries appear in the exhibition, including the highest number of Australian artists in the biennale’s history.
Furthermore, this year Australia opened a new pavilion, a moment of spectacle, comfortably positioning the country further within the scope of the international art world. Artists from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and the central desert region, presented a challenging array of perspectives addressing urgent socio-political issues through painting, social-sculpture, event-based publishing, protest and performative modes of display.
Daniel Boyd presented new painting works for All The World’s Futures in both the Giardini Central Pavilion and the Arsenale sections of the biennale. Boyd’s practice targets a colonial gaze, and engages with a re-articulation for the representation of Indigenous Australians throughout history. In the Central Pavilion, the oldest building in the Giardini, Boyd’s painting is placed in dialogue with artist Robert Smithson, despite their trajectories; this could be a nod towards both artists connection to land. In addition to the Central Pavilion, two paintings by Boyd are also positioned in a long corridor within the Arsenale.
Emily Floyd is concerned with the relationship between play and pedagogical infrastructure. The early 19th-century German educator Friedrich Fröbel imagined what we know today as colourful building blocks, which were designed to expand children’s learning capabilities. Similarly, he and his peers developed theories surrounding the criticality of play in relation to a learning environment during formative years. Inspired by these forms and associated theory, Floyd draws reference to these objects as a framework to explore ideas concerning protest, typography, public art, design and the legacy of modernism, often within an overall binary comprised of education and art.
Imagined as a public library, the sculptures house a selection of curated texts dedicated to critical perspectives on work and labour conditions. These documents are seductively published in similar primary colour hues as her sculptures. The collection consists of readings from publications such as Asia Art Archive and e-flux, among others. These pre-existing readings and are then placed in context with newly commissioned texts by the artist. Floyd here re-distributes the collection of documents to new networks. Due to the works location, the site becomes an ideal setting for a moment of retreat and reflection from the overall biennale.
Through a combination of a leftist lens and an interdisciplinary practice, Marco Fusinato explores extremist concerns within art, sound and politics. In the Arsenale, Fusinato’s work From the Horde to the Bee (2015) is positioned within an intersecting rhombus chamber. Within an exhibition crowded with didactical works, Fusinato’s contribution presents an active break from a more normalised system of display. Upon witnessing the work, the viewer is faced with a large table, with publications stacked up around the edge and in the middle of the table are some discarded Euro notes. The viewer is invited to take a publication upon exchange for a payment to be left on the table. Over the course of the exhibition period, the monetary value in the middle of the table will increase, and the amount of publications surrounding the table will consequently decrease, clearly documenting the process of a capitalist exchange-value.
Emily Kame Kngwarreye (1910 –1996) was among the first generation of Indigenous Australian artists who resisted the Australian government’s policies of assimilation; instead opting for Indigenous autonomy. Kngwarreye is an Anmatyerr woman, and central to her practice is the exploration of her history as an Indigenous Australian woman, specifically aboriginal concerns pertaining to oral histories and sacred relationships to land. Her practice emerged alongside the growing interest in Aboriginal art from the centres of the art world, which grew rapidly from the 1970’s onwards. Kngwarreye is famous for shifting the expectation that aboriginal art must be bound to traditional iconography, instead exploring colour-based abstraction.
In All The World’s Futures, audiences can see Kngwarreye’s work Earth’s Creation (1994) in the Giardini Central Pavilion. The painting is an abstracted representation of the Australian north-central desert region of Alhalkere after the rain season. As mentioned in the didactics accompanying her work, the artist said that the painting represents ‘green time’. In a crowded exhibition, it was refreshing and comforting to see the work given an entire room of its own, allowing for a certain respect for the artist’s spatial concerns and connection to land. In context of the biennale, Earth’s Creation, even today, challenges the tropes placed on Indigenous Art from a colonial gaze.