All the World’s Futures: the blazing Venice Biennale packs some heat

All the World’s Futures: the blazing Venice Biennale packs some heat

Just in case there was any doubt as to the tone of this year’s Venice Biennale, the first thing you see is the end. It comes in the form of a series of cinematic drawings inscribed ’THE END’ (or ’FINE’) by the Italian artist, Fabio Mauri (who, somewhat ironically, is himself no longer alive). A video of a man coughing incessantly (another historical work, this time by Christian Boltanski from 1969) and films combining slapstick, slavery and environmental catastrophe add to the sombre mood of this seven-month, artistic state-of-the-union address.

The serious tenor of Okwui Enwezor’s curated show, ’All the World’s Futures’, follows a number of similarly grave productions from the Nigerian museum director - whose impressive CV already includes Documenta 11 and the Paris Triennale. Only this time he has chosen, unapologetically, to foreground African and black diaspora artists among the sprawling selections that fill the two giant venues in Venice’s Arsenale and Giardini. Familiar names such as Americans Theaster Gates and Kerry James Marshall are joined by the likes of Gonçalo Mabunda from Mozambique and Abu Bakarr Mansaray from Sierra Leone, both of whom fashion fantastical imaginary weapons from either pieces of actual guns or just good, old-fashioned graphite on paper. Staring down the barrel of Pino Pascali’s classic replica cannon sculpture of 1965 or marvelling at the fusing of bullets by Vietnamese artists The Propeller Group, from a series entitled A Universe of Collisions (2015), there is a keen sense that Enwezor has the Western visitor firmly in his politically-targeted sights.

Yet this is far from a gloomy affair, lifted both by performative interventions such as Allora & Calzadilla’s rousing mobile operetta and the large-scale theatre designed by David Adjaye. Dubbed the Arena, it is to house a rolling programme of concerts, readings and recitals, including prison and factory songs by Charles Gaines and Jeremy Deller throughout the festival. Karl Marx’s four-volume Das Kapital takes centre stage here, being performed throughout the exhibition run, as a spine of anti-commercial radicalism, but again that doesn’t stop others having some fun of their own. Carsten Höller clearly had a blast filming two raucous sound clashes in Kinshasa, while his slowly revolving funfair ride is a witty metaphor for getting off the financial merry-go-round and shunning the consumerist rat race. Even Adel Abdessemed’s show-stopping room of machetes embedded in the floor with Bruce Nauman’s neons beaming death and war from every wall has an absurdist humour that suggest the future is not yet over, even if it is ours to doom.

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