This past summer I had the opportunity to visit the Venice Biennale All The World’s Futures multiples times. Visiting primarily as a student with IDSVA then while living in Venice attending an arts and printmaking residency at the Scuola di Grafica Internazionale and finally with The National Academy Museum and Art School through an artists residency/travel and study scholarship. Upon multiple visits to the Biennale it became second nature to examine the exhibition through the lens of our studies at IDSVA.
Prompted by discussions amongst fellow students and artists it was decided to that we deconstruct the Biennale through ideas and concepts in Franco 'Bifo' Berardi’s, The Uprising. Bifo is an Italian Marxist theorist, activist, writer and poet who mainly focuses on the role of the media and information technology within post-industrial Capitalism. Our discussions compared Bifo’s ideas to the concepts presented by the exhibition. After visiting the space of the Giardini, the various international pavilions and analyzing the introduction provided by the Biennale’s curator Okwui Enwezor, an imaginary conversation began to take place. How does the work of Bifo—his concepts and ideas within The Uprising—speak to Okwui’s curatorial platform?
In the written introduction to All The World’s Futures in the catalogue Okwui’s premise for the Biennale focuses on the ability of artists to bring together the public through art and make sense of geopolitical upheaval. This premise is addressed in Bifo’s writing in The Uprising: “I am looking for a way to subvert (economic) subjugation and I try to do it through unusual forms of poetry and sensibility.” Okwui’s three filters for the Biennale are The Garden of Disorder, described as a metaphor for the “pervasive structure of global and economic politics.” Second, Liveliness: On Epic Duration, in which he describes two things, first the spatial and temporal and second the “logic of unfolding.” In the third filter, Reading Capital, he writes: “preoccupation is at the heart of modernity; capital is the drama of our age and a weakening of the broader social contract.”
In relationship to The Garden of Disorder I decided to reference the work of American multidisciplinary artist Taryn Simon located in the central pavilion. The Impossible Bouquet, Paperwork, and the Will of Capital (2015) represents the idea of hybridity as an integral part of globalization and the socio-political world. In this work, floral prints represent the flowers on the tables where treaties and pacts were created during the Bretton Woods conference of 1944 that led to the creation of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Bouquets signify the power of impossible futures directly connecting to both nature and people. Bifo’s ideas coincide as he refers to the emancipation of money and the financial sign from the industrial production of things. This follows the same semiotic procedure as the emancipation of the sign from its referential function. Okwui interrogates the audience on this stance further stating in his introduction, “Is the future a wager or a prediction? My focus is on the plurality of futures: All the Worlds Futures is predicated on the logic of multiplicity based on the view that new global arrangements cannot be imposed, nor can the view and prospects of art be defined through one singular system of unitary vision and creativity.
Okwui’s second filter, Liveliness: On Epic Duration, is referenced within the Japanese Pavilion installation entitled The Key in the Hand by Chiharu Shiota. This work illustrates duration through the representation of a semiotic language where boats are signs for carrying time and people. The endless web of interconnectivity (red yarn and keys) highlights the limitlessness of duration, an outlier of this Biennial retaining a seemingly hopeful undertone. Okuwi’s filter of duration can be viewed as a curatorial methodology to illustrate what Bifo might call a “deterritorialized rhizomatic proliferation of economic power relationships.”
Okwui’s third filter, Reading Capital, is interpreted through the interactive artwork of Adrienne Piper. Piper asks the audience to sign a petition entitled I will always do what I say I am going to do and I promise to always be too expensive to buy, asking for a signature and a comment to be placed by the audience in an online contract as part of the artwork, specifically asking the public to make a written commitment. This contract is capitalizing a gestalt, form or action as a signifier that underscores the exchange, effectively questioning our idea of commodification. This work exemplifies Bifo’s idea in which he states: “The shift from the industrial form of production to the semiotic production, the shift from physical labor to cognitive labor, has projected capitalism out of itself, out of its ideological self consciousness.” Bifo asks how can we measure value in terms of time if the productivity of cognitive work cannot be qualified and standardized.
Each time I returned to the Biennale this summer I saw and experienced things in a deeper way, trying to understand how meaning changes depending on the moment. An interesting part of my experience in Venice was that ironically, not one of the Venetian-based artists that I knew and worked with had visited the main pavilion of the exhibition. Each of them had to work long hours during opening times, or found the cost of entrance unaffordable. It would be interesting to know what Bifo's and Okuwi's thoughts would be on this response to the exhibition.
Enwezor, Okwui. All The World's Futures. Biennale Catalogue, 2015. Accessed at:
Berardi, Bifo. The Future After the End of the Economy. E-Flux Journal #30, Dec 2011.
Accessed at: http://worker01.e-flux.com/pdf/article_8943121.pdf
Berardi, Bifo. The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance. New York: Semiotext(e) Intervention Series, 2012. Print.