In 1974 la Biennale di Venezia, following a major institutional restructuring and the revision of its rules and articles of constitution, launched an ambitious and unprecedented four-year plan of events and activities. Part of the programs of 1974 were dedicated to Chile, thus actively foregrounding a gesture of solidarity toward that country in the aftermath of the violent coup d’état, in which General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the government of Salvador Allende in 1973. Bringing practitioners across the fields of visual art, cinema, music, theater, dance, and performance, the events of the 1974 Art Biennale were spread across the entire city of Venice. That year’s Biennalebrought together students, intellectuals, activists, labor union members, cultural associations, and the public at large to discuss and debate the place of art and culture as instruments of social transformation. Today, this remarkable and transformative episode in the history of the Biennale is largely forgotten. But it is extensively documented in an impressive publication Annuario 1975-Eventi del 1974, published by the la Biennale di Venezia.
The dedication of the program of events to Chile and against fascism remains one of the most explicit attempts, in recent memory, by which an exhibition of the stature of the Art Biennale not only responds to, but courageously steps forward to share the historical stage with the political and social contexts of its time. It goes without saying that, in view of the current turmoil around the world, that the Biennale’s Eventi del 1974 has been a curatorial inspiration.
In response to this remarkable episode and the rich documentation it generated, the 56th International Art Exhibition: All the World’s Futures, will introduce the ARENA, an active space dedicated to continuous live programming across disciplines and located within the Central Pavilion in the Giardini. The linchpin of this program will be the epic live reading of all three volumes of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital (Capital). Here, Das Kapital will serve as a kind of Oratorio thatwill be continuously read live, throughout the exhibition’s seven months’ duration.
Designed by award-winning Ghanaian/British architect David Adjaye, the ARENA will serve as a gathering-place of the spoken word, the art of the song, recitals, film projections, and a forum for public discussions. Taking the concept of the Sikh event, the Akhand Path (a recitation of the Sikh holy book read continuously over several days by a relay of readers), Das Kapital will be read as a dramatic text by trained actors, directed by artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien, during the entire duration of the Art Biennale, from May 6 to November 22, 2015. Accompanying the live reading of Marx’s seminal and still controversial book (a classic work of economic and social analysis which could not be more relevant for our times) will be a continuous sequence of other oral performances involving the recital of librettos, lyrics, scripts, etc.
Carrying out the concept of “Liveness: On Epic Duration,” the Art Biennale has commissioned several new scores and artists’ performances, to be presented continuously in the ARENA. Here, we are especially interested in the concept of the song and the potential for the human voice to be an instrument that carries forward the pace of a narrative. Several projects will articulate this theme:
Olaf Nicolai is developing a new performance work that draws inspiration from Luigi Nono’s two-part composition Un volto, e del mare / Non consumiamo Marx (1968), an innovative piece for voice and magnetic tape, as well as the Italian composer’s later attempts to develop a critical and political statement by means of music, drawing inspiration for his lyrics from Cesare Pavese’s poems, from wall writings seen in the streets of Paris, and even found voices which he randomly recorded live during street demonstrations. In his performance piece for the Art Biennale, Nicolai reflects on Nono’s approach to the material, the body, and the voice as politically relevant in his articulations of silence and, conversely, the use of text as a source of Klang (sound) or Atem (breathing): the idea of text as material and form as information, instead of only content as information. How can a text be translated with sound and music? Nicolai’s new work will be developed with a group of singers who are familiar with the concepts close to Nono’s music. By their presence at various locations around the world, these singers will perform and record brief songs and scores that will then be transmitted digitally into a portable backpack system available to ARENA visitors in Venice. The playback sequence will be randomly programmed by an algorithm, and thus not predictable, providing each visitor a unique experience of the sound piece and its evolving score.
Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige will present a daily reading of their artist book Latent Images: Diary of a Photographer, the third part of their Wonder Beirut project. In addition to its text, this book includes thirty-eight photographic plates selected from among hundreds of reels of film exposed, but until now never developed, by the Lebanese photographer Abdallah Farah between 1997 and 2006. Farah’s work bears witness to postwar Beirut, relaying political, social, personal, and everyday events over almost a decade. This limited-edition volume, comprising 1,312 pages, invites viewers to delve deep into these latent images. The image descriptions replace the photographs; short fragments of text describe the invisible images while creating a new imaginary space. A diverse group of individuals will take turns reading the book with their multiplicity of voices, thus echoing the character of Abdallah, his story, and his photographic research, as well as Lebanon’s contemporary landscape and history. The point is thus to communicate a narrative orally and to displace the notion of latent image in favor of an emergence of the image through the body.
Jason Moran’s STAGED will map and investigate the tempos of work songs sung in prisons, fields, and houses. In a sampling of songs that inmates sing while working in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, the tempos range from 57 to 190 beats per minute. The subjects of the songs range from a woman banging or clapping her hands to the plowing power of a mule. The tempos fluctuate from beat to beat, meter to meter. The repetition of the rhythm (with a hammer, a foot stomp, an axe) is as much a way of marking the time as it is a way of masking it. The work songs untether the workers from the boss’s clock by making their own internal clock, which operates on a different time scale. Moran has set out to map these work songs both conceptually and emotionally. In the ARENA, a solo voice will perform a cycle of work songs. Sometimes the voice will be heard with a pre-recorded song, and sometimes with only the accompaniment of a percussive instrument: tambourine, hand clap, or foot stomp. The performer will announce each work song and will distribute a lyrics sheet in both English and Italian. Moran and The Bandwagon will also perform newer work songs, composed within the past ten years, that focus on the instrumental aspects of work songs. The melodic content embedded in these work songs will expose the mantras that have assisted workers everywhere and across the ages.
Jeremy Deller will explore the question of life and working conditions in factories, based on archival materials from the nineteenth century through the present. Deller’s work investigates such issues as the absence of workers’ rights, zero-hour contracts, scheduled work and break hours, and the concept of “work time” through the study and performance of song sheets that were once sold in the streets. These early factory songs were a cross between folk and popular music. Some lyrics are about work in general, while others address working conditions in the factories. Although known as “factory songs,” these lyrics were not likely sung inside the factories themselves, due to the deafening noise of the machinery.
Charles Gaines’s new original master composition for the Art Biennale is derived from his most recent body of work, Notes on Social Justice, a series of large-scale drawings of musical scores from songs, some borrowed from as early as the American Civil War (1860–1865) and others dating from the mid twentieth century. Gaines’s original musical composition will be based on five arrangements derived from four Notes on Social Justice works exhibited in the 56thArt Biennale. The five arrangements will be layered over one another progressively during the course of the monthly performances throughout the duration of the exhibition, as part of the Oratorio.
Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc will present in theArt Biennale a temporary memorial to the music and personality of the legendary African American musician, singer, and composer Julius Eastman (1940–1990), whose singular and inimitable contribution to contemporary, avant-garde classical music will be on display in the ARENA throughout the exhibition. Eastman’s three compositions for four grand pianos—Evil Nigger (1979), Gay Guerrilla (1980), and Crazy Nigger (1980)—will be rehearsed and performed live weekly for visitors to the 56th Exhibition. The audience will even be invited to participate in the performance of Crazy Nigger.
the TOMORROW will focus their attention on Das Kapital, not just as an abstract field of logical and economical devices, but rather as a potential repository of stories and figures. For although the narrative of Capital still remains sharp and challenging, the characters now appear obsolete and remote. The modern subjects—for whom the concepts of Das Kapital were originally developed—no longer exist. No proletariat, no bourgeoisie, no intellectuals, at least the way Marx imagined them. Das Kapital survives today as a logic without subjects to activate it. In the Art Biennale, the TOMORROW will attempt to imagine the characters and the figures that could make use of Marx’s toolbox in the contemporary context. Tales on Das Kapital is a search for non-modern subjects to play the CapitalDrama. The TOMORROW will offer weekend seminars, during which the focus will turn to the narrative and epic dimension of Marx’s book. Through the participation of artists, writers, philosophers, actors, musicians, and visitors, every weekend will create live-annotations on Marx’s Das Kapital. The seminars will be prepared around five main questions.
The focus on live performances and actions will extend in the Central Pavilion beyond the ARENA and into the Biblioteca della Biennale, where Mounira Al Solh’s NOA (Not Only Arabic), a limited-edition periodical founded in 2008, will be made available for solo viewings that must be arranged by appointment. During the preview (May 6–8), also at the Biblioteca, Lili Reynaud-Dewar and her students will read a selection of texts from the mid 1990s to today—analysis, testimonies, manifestos—dealing with notions of intimacy, vulnerability, and promiscuity in the context of the AIDS epidemic.
Connecting the 56th Art Biennale’s two main venues, the Giardini and the Arsenale, Saâdane Afif’s performance piece The Laguna’s Tribute: A Corner Speaker in Venice will be staged at the corner of Via Garibaldi and the Grand Canal. Spectators there will see and hear a local Corner Speaker either read a text or sing the lyrics of songs composed by friends of the artist. The performances will address a myriad of themes and ideas.
A number of performance works will also be presented in the Arsenale, beginning with a new project by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, In the Midst of Things, in which a choral group will perform an arrangement of Joseph Haydn’s oratorio The Creation. This work, composed between 1796 and 1798, depicts and celebrates the creation of the world and the origins of humankind. The libretto is based on accounts in the book of Genesis and John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667). This new performance will explore the tradition of in medias res along with other story-telling methods, such as reverse chronology, flashback, and flash-forward, by adopting these nonlinear techniques as structuring devices for the musical arrangement. It will literally intervene into the musical order of the original score, playing some sections forward, then backward, and jumping over other sections. These reversals, inversions, and interruptions of musical sequence and the accompanying back-masking and phonetic reversal of sung words will be further emphasized through a parallel stage direction.
Tania Bruguera will re-create her performance and video installation Untitled (Havana, 2000), which reflects on citizens’ intentional "blindness” to the reality of life under Fidel Castro’s regime. Through a multi-sensory experience, spectators will discover a reality full of contradictions.
Similarly, in her piece The Sinthome Score (2013–2015), Dora García proposes ten sets of movements for each of the ten chapters in Jacques Lacan’s Joyce The Sinthome, which functions as a real score, ready to be performed by anyone. It is conceived as a duo performance, where one reads and the other executes the sets of movements; although visitors can just as readily pick up a copy of the score and join in the reading or the movement parts. The Sinthome Score, however, will be a continuous, uninterrupted performance, independent of the presence of an audience.
Ivana Müller’s We Are Still Watching will be performed by spectators, an instant community of “audience members” that changes with each show. The text is thus completely new and different every time it is performed. For approximately one hour spent in the company of each other reading the script together, the audience forms a community, a mini-society confronted by the challenge of making decisions individually and collectively while “simply” reading a text that someone else has written for them.
In the Corderie, Theaster Gates will activate his new multimedia installation Martyr Construction, a work addressing the question of the recurring dissolution and demolition of church parishes in African American and Hispanic neighborhoods across the United States. This inner-city erosion has created both pockets of blight and opportunities to imagine new futures in public and urban spaces. Gates’s installation will include the playing of small pipes salvaged from an abandoned church organ. These pipes are among the remnants—including roof slates, bricks, slabs of marble, a bell, and even a fragment of the statue of Saint Laurence—that Gates recovered from St. Laurence Catholic Church in Chicago’s South Side. The church, a former refuge to Polish and Irish immigrants, and more recently to African Americans, is now a pile of rubble.