'Fare Mundi': Making new worlds

Venice Biennale

'Fare Mundi': Making new worlds


Begun in 1895, today it has an immense influence on the making and viewing of new art histories. It is sad therefore that India lacks a permanent pavilion within the exhibition, considering the range, popularity and standard of contemporary Indian art.

Titled ‘Fare Mundi’ (Making Worlds) this year’s main exhibition was curated by Daniel Birnbaum, the youngest curator in the Biennale’s history. The curated show displayed works by 90 artists from the world over.

There were also 77 participating countries with displays of one or more artist in their own pavilions, and 44 collateral events from international institutes and organisations exhibited across Venice.

Birnbaum chose to include the work of deceased artists alongside well known and virtually unknown contemporary artists, layering the show with rich dialogue. Birnbaum said in his note, “A work of art is more than an object, more than a commodity. It represents a vision of the world, and if taken seriously must be seen as a way of making a world. A few signs marked on paper, a barely touched canvas, or a vast installation can amount to different ways of world-making...

“It is only through the plurality of languages that the theme of this year’s International Art Exhibition emerges …”

The exhibition’s graphic design identity constituted familiar symbols from national flags, and shaped the basis for the idea that the exhibition brings together individual visions that also reflect nationalities and cultures but which unite in ‘making’ a common picture, with new worlds emerging from the intersection of individual ones. 

‘Making Worlds’ included work by four Indian artists. Sheela Gowda’s large-scale installation ‘Behold’, of metal bumpers and lengths of ritually shaved hair continued her longterm engagement with gender politics and caste consciousness underlying Indian society, also critiquing the ‘use and throw’ mentality of today’s world, creating a paradox through juxtaposition of material. Sunil Gawde’s minimalistic metal construction ‘Aliteration’ depicted astronomical bodies that appeared and disappeared following a motorised mechanism within the piece.

Anju Dodiya’s paintings had a room to themselves; her finely layered narrative compositions from the series ‘All Night I shall Gallop’ mixed stories and symbols from personal memory and observed realities, referring to techniques as diverse as Japanese Ukiyo-e prints and European Tapestries. Nikhil Chopra, whose work was housed in a separate shack, presented part of a series of performances where he assumes a character — here, his grandfather — and makes drawings and paintings exploring issues such as post-colonialism and ethnicity in Indian contemporary life through the charade.

The biennale displayed every possible artistic medium — painting, sculpture, photography, video and sound art, multimedia construction, installation, site specific, performance and interactive art. Venice’s entire cityscape takes on the mantle of the biennale while it is going on. In the vast number of works one got to see, some made strong impressions — Tomas Saraceno’s space construction resembling constellations that examined the innate geometry of a spider’s web; Michelangelo Pistoletto’s dramatic installation of massive cracked mirrors delving into identity issues; Andre Cadere’s innocuous coloured rods that were inserted randomly through the display; Tobias Rehberger’s transformation of the cafeteria into an atmosphere of optical illusion, this having won him the Golden Lion for the Best Artist of the exhibition.

The biennale provided a treat for the senses — and to recall the nine rasas of Indian philosophy — there were works that shocked, confounded, disturbed and disgusted, there were those that produced awe, urged laughter and provoked thought, there were many so aesthetically harmonious that the audiences kept coming back — people of all types from every corner of the world making a bee-line for their national pavilions. If only the Indian government can be urged to change the status of India’s absence!

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