May you live in interesting times

The Venice Biennale is traditionally structured in two halves: the main international exhibition, curated this year by Ralph Rugoff comprising around 80 artists and the country pavilion section with 90 participating countries in independently curated pavilions. A jury awards prizes to artists in both sections. This year, the top award for best national pavilion went to a performance piece by three artists from Lithuania. McCaslin Art Advisory thinks not to be missed when visiting the Venice Biennale this year are:

Lithuania: ‘Sun & Sea (Marina)’ (image above)

To reach the Lithuanian pavilion requires a long walk north to an active military site near the

Arsenale. Enter the hangar, climb some stairs to an empty attic, look down through a large hole in

the floor, and you’ll find an artificial wonder, a “tableau vivant”. Here, in this city on the water, is a

pristine sandy beach. The beach is full of bathers, young and old, fit and fat and they sing, all 20 of

them, throughout the day, while spectators look down, as benevolent and pitiless as the

sun. Ms. Barzdziukaite, Ms. Grainyte and Ms. Lapelyte understand that the beach is not an eternal

human reality, but a bourgeois invention: Only in the 19th century did the once dangerous seaside

become a place of public leisure. That century also gave us the Industrial Revolution that has

since pushed human existence on the planet toward catastrophe, making the opera at the beach

sound like a climatic requiem.

Ghana: “Ghana freedom”

This is the first outing at Venice for Ghana and the country has enlisted British-Ghanaian architect

David Adjaye to design its national pavilion at the Arsenale’s Artiglierie. Inspired by the Gurunsi

earth houses of northern Ghana and Burkina Faso, the pavilion comprises a series of elliptical

spaces that are plastered with African soil. It host its inaugural group exhibition, ‘Ghana Freedom’,

with large-scale installations from Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, El Anatsui, Ibrahim Mahama, Selasi

Awusi Sosu, and John Akomfrah, that explore Ghana’s cultural impact.

France: ‘Deep See Blue Surrounding You’

The longest queues during the vernissage were for the absorbing video installation by this psychologically inclined artist, Laure Prouvost. In “Deep See Blue Surrounding You,” a group undertakes a rattling journey southeast from the Paris suburbs, galloping through a forest, teleporting to a cafe with a largely Arab clientele, sunning on the rocky coast of Marseille, and, at last, reaching this pavilion in Venice.

Laure Prouvost’s film deftly mixes high-resolution footage with shaky smartphone video, and is so

up-to-the-minute that, at one point, we see the crumbling steeple of Notre-Dame. Its propulsive

images of slithering octopuses and singing migrants imagine a community of bodies on the move,

while Ms. Prouvost whispers in her signature breathy Franglais.: “Can’t’ help myself”.