“Activism is top of Venice Biennale’s agenda,” By Gareth Harris, Javier Pes

Mark Bradford speaking about his project Tomorrow Is Another Day at the US pavillon at the 57th Biennale Arte in Venice, Italy. (Image: Awakening/Getty Images)


“Activism is top of Venice Biennale’s agenda”

‘Mark Bradford is among artists using the event to spread humanitarian message’

By Gareth Harris, Javier Pes


The Los Angeles-based artist, Mark Bradford, who is the toast of the Venice Biennale for his US pavilion, delivered on Thursday (11 May) a masterclass in making the art world part of the real world. He said that if you want to work with people facing real hardship, you really have to “listen and be prepared to write the check” for what “they want”, with the stress on the word “they”. Puncturing pretensions, he criticised those seeking a “photo-op” at others’ expense. Bradford was speaking at an event organised during the Biennale’s preview week by Pamela Joyner, a leading US philanthropist and collector of his work, and other African-American abstractionists.

The talk was moderated by Katy Siegel, the co-curator of Bradford’s exhibition, Tomorrow is Another Day, which turns the ideologically loaded space of the neo-classical US pavilion on its head. Forget ivory tower, or Camelot, think grotto and Greek myths meets the scrappy street life of South Los Angeles.

Back home in America, Bradford’s activism includes Art + Practice, a project he co-founded, which provides access to art and support to young people in foster care among others in his local community. Meanwhile, in Venice he has backed a shop where prisoners can sell the products they make in partnership with a local co-operative, Rio Terà dei Pensieri. It will stay open long after the Biennale closes in November—Process Collettivo is a six-year project—as the artist has invested in it for the long-term. Institutions have a responsibility to put others’ needs first he said, particularly when working with local communities “used to being exploited”.

Another leading artist, the Mexico-based, Belgian artist Francis Alys, is showing paintings, drawings and a film produced on the front line in Mosul last year at the Iraq pavilion in the Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti. Alys spent time meeting refugees of the conflict as well documenting a Kurdish battalion’s campaign to liberate Iraq’s second city from Isis. Why take on the role of a war artist? This war is “medieval barbarism perpetrated and spread with the most modern of technologies”, Alys recently told Artforum. The Baghdad-based Ruya Foundation, the pavilion commissioner, also invited Alys on a research trip last year to refugee camps in northern Iraq where he held a series of workshops.

Francis Alys, Untitled Mosul Iraq, 31 Oct 2016

Numerous national pavilions, works of art in Viva Arte Viva, the main show of the 57th Venice Biennale and its collateral exhibitions aim to raise awareness about people facing hardship and exploitation. In a contentious move, the Tunisian pavilion (The Absence of Paths) is issuing “freesas”—fictional travel documents permitting freedom of movement worldwide—at three kiosks around the city.

The freesa document points out that the current humanitarian crisis stemming from forced migration across the Middle East and beyond underpins the project. The imitation visas are issued by “aspirational [Tunisian] migrants”, nationals who are expected to return home after the Biennale ends.

There are, meanwhile, around 40 refugees, living in Mestre on the mainland near Venice, who are taking part in Studio Olafur Eliasson and TBA-21’s Green Light project in the Central Pavilion in the Giardini. The initiative is led by the Danish-Icelandic artist who has designed a special lamp for Venice on sale at €250 each (proceeds go towards the project). “It takes two people to create a lamp,” Eliasson told us, stressing that the creative process involves both visitors and refugees who cooperate in making the lamps, getting to know each other a little better.

This is the Biennale that wears its social responsibility on its sleeve, literally. The tote bag to be seen with is printed with the slogan: “Refugee Rights” and on the reverse: “Indigenous Rights”, spreading the message that the Australian artist Tracey Moffatt’s pavilion, My Horizon, refers to both. For Vigil (2017), Moffatt has spliced together shocking photographs of migrants in distress at sea with stills of Hollywood stars’ faces frozen in horror.

The US-Taiwanese artist Tehching Hsieh is living proof of how a country’s art can benefit from a migrant artist. Hsieh arrived in New York in the late 1970s as an illegal immigrant. As “Sam Hsieh”, the young artist created epic durational performances, such as Manhattan (Outdoor Piece, 1981-82). In Venice, he shows photographs and ephemera documenting the year he wandered homeless around New York. The show includes an installation documenting another year-long performance. For (Time Clock Piece, 1980-81), the artist spent 365 days with limited sleep, punching a time clock every hour. The curator of the Taiwanese pavilion Doing Time Adrian Heathfield, tells us that “Hsieh’s work is a prescient commentary on the statelessness of migrants”.


Biennale Arte 2017: VIVA ARTE VIVA
57th Venice Biennale
May 13 — November 26, 2017
Info: http://bit.ly/2r4nQAf


By Gareth Harris, Javier Pes; Reprint from The Art Newspaper, 12 May 2017, © 2017 The Art Newspaper.

15 Comments

Got Something To Say:

Your email address will not be published.

Everyone loves what you guys tend to be up too. This kind of clever work and reporting!

Keep up the excellent works guys I’ve added you guys to my personal blogroll.

Good day! I know this is kinda off topic however ,
I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in exchanging links
or maybe guest writing a blog post or vice-versa?
My blog discusses a lot of the same topics as yours and I feel we
could greatly benefit from each other. If you might be interested feel free to
send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you!
Great blog by the way!

I used to be recommended this website via my cousin. I’m not positive whether or not this post
is written by means of him as nobody else understand
such distinct approximately my difficulty.
You’re amazing! Thanks! adreamoftrains web host

When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added”
checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four e-mails with the same comment.
Is there any way you can remove me from that service?
Thanks a lot!

Hi there to all, for the reason that I am truly keen of reading this web site’s post
to be updated on a regular basis. It includes pleasant data.

Hello would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re working with?
I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m having a difficult time
choosing between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most blogs and
I’m looking for something completely unique.
P.S My apologies for getting off-topic but I had to
ask!

I’m gone to say to my little brother, that he should
also visit this website on regular basis to obtain updated
from most recent news update.

Have you ever thought about writing an e-book or guest authoring on other sites?
I have a blog based upon on the same information you discuss and
would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my viewers
would value your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e-mail.

Great post. I was checking constantly this blog and I’m impressed!

Very helpful info particularly the last part 🙂 I care for such info
much. I was looking for this particular information for a very long
time. Thank you and good luck.

Hi, yeah this piece of writing is in fact pleasant and I have learned
lot of things from it about blogging. thanks.

Link exchange is nothing else except it is only placing the other person’s webpage link on your page at suitable place and other person will also do same for you.

Wow, this piece of writing is good, my sister is
analyzing these things, therefore I am going to convey her.

If you would like to take much from this piece of writing then you have to apply these methods to
your won web site.

Ridiculous story there. What happened after?
Thanks!