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The Milk of Dreams

The title of the 59th Venice International Art Exhibition, taken from a fairy tale written by Leonora Carrigton,1 is misleading. Like the tales, mixing horror and wonder in a strange timelessness, this new edition shows the dark side of the fable and often plunges us into the shifting sands of opaque and frightening worlds. 

If the fairy tale, sometimes reduced to lines of light reflected on the walls of an empty pavilion (Spain), can take a humorous turn (Zsófia Keresztes and his After Dreams for the Hungarian pavilion or Jonathas de Andrade in the Brazilian pavilion), or even psychedelic (The Soft Machine and Her Angry Body Parts by Jakob Lena Knebl and Ashley Hans Scheirl, Austria), in many pavilions the dream turns into a nightmare and shows us the disasters of humanity, but also of transhumanism. 

Suicide or wandering mutants, eviscerated cyborgs, dark rooms, and pools of black and viscous water… the humanist utopia seems to be well and truly buried under the rubble… Fortunately, there is the earth – the omnipresent matrix peat in this edition – which calls on us to unite with it and to transform ourselves. Here are a few echoes of this posthumanist promise to “re-enchant” the world and of other more disenchanted visions.

1Mexican artist present in one of the Biennale’s “historical capsules” devoted to surrealist women (Leonor Fini, Remedios Varo…) 



by Paolo Fantin and Oøeina

A magnificent triptych installation illustrating the metamorphosis of a female body decomposing into earth before transforming into a laurel branch; the work presented by Paolo Fantin and the Ophicina group in the Venetian pavilion is as overwhelming as that displayed by Uffe Isolotto in the Danish pavilion (see Acumen n°22), whose enchanting counterpart seems to correct the blackness. Leading to death in Uffe Isolotto’s dystopian fable, in Paolo Fantin’s revisited myth of Daphnis and Apollo the metamorphosis is a rebirth. The degeneration of a primordial nature overcome by postmodern high-tech mutations is answered by regeneration through the matrix sap, Mother Earth. Returning to the earth, and even “becoming Earth”: this is one of the creeds of the posthumanist philosophy which, according to Cecilia Alemani, curator of this 59th Biennial, “is the backbone of the entire event.” 


From the gigantic earthen maze (Earthly Paradise) deployed in the Arsenale by Delcy Morelos (Colombia), to the titanic tree by Muhannad Shono (Saudi Arabia), from the posthuman metamorphoses proposed by the pavilion of the Republic of San Marino, to the magnificent video by the Lithuanian artist Eglè Budvytytè: Song from the compost. Mutating bodies, imploding stars; there are many ways to stage these mutations of the body. 

Special mention, in the Dutch pavilion elegantly ceded to Estonia, to Kristina Norman for the film in her Orchidelirium trilogy, which stages a troubling catharsis of man’s intrinsic savagery through the performance of a young woman who becomes a beast behind the bars of a zoo…

1In The Art Newspaper, n°40, April 2022



By Marco Fusinato

In common with Nicolas Poussin, in his Massacre of the Innocents (c. 1630), or Picasso, exploding cries and tears all over his canvas painted in memory of the bombing of Guernica in 1937, Marco Fusinato proceeds by saturation, following Jacques Callot (The Great Miseries of War, 1633) and Francisco de Goya (The Disasters of War, 1810-1815). Saturation of the “pictorial” space but also of the sound space to tell the Disasters of our time. With blows of the rammer. Evoking Jerome Bosh’s infernal mess, the sonic and visual chaos inflicted on visitors to the Australian pavilion plunges them into Noise and Fury1: the amplified sounds from an uninterrupted live electric guitar performance rain down and explode like bombs, as does the accelerated succession of macabre shots, barely giving us time to catch a glimpse of the horror… Trashy images + noise: Marco Fusinato has hit it very hard.

1Title of a novel by William Faulkner published in 1929.



Steaming Stillness by Liu Jiayu

What boundary can be drawn today between the real and virtual worlds? Has the digitalization of the world increased or consumed our dreams? Can the contemplation of real nature still fill our eyes with the spectacular and improbable metamorphoses orchestrated by computers? Could the grandiose spectacle of the infinite spaces of a sublime nature once painted on canvas be the object of a new “aesthetic of the sublime”? These are all questions that, in the face of the magnificent spectacle of real-fake mountains in China, staged in the Chinese pavilion by Liu Jiayu and his high-tech studio, come up short. Close to reality but shaking reality, this mountainous massif deployed in 3D is the result of a virtuoso visual hybridization, merging the topographical surveys of the mountains and their metamorphic “augmentation” via artificial intelligence (AI), in a silky and dreamlike colorization.


The Concert

By Latifa Echakhch and Alexandre Babel

Have you ever attended an inaudible concert, not in sound but in visual and spatial terms? This is the improbable immersive experience that visual artist Latifa Echakhch and musician Alexandre Babel offer us in the Swiss pavilion. A sensory (and memorial) space to be traversed, from light to darkness, to the rhythm of a blind, or rather aural, composition, revealing, through a luminous score, the space in its four dimensions. Reduced to flashes, the sonic imprint of the rhythms composed by the percussionist causes immense busts made of recycled wood to emerge, like specters, according to the pulses of a glowing light, evoking the giants dressed up in parade floats. The same ones that, at the entrance to the pavilion, lay in their ashes… A beautiful dramaturgy of space.

59th Venice Biennale 

Giardini and Arsenal

Until 27 November

Stéphanie Dulout

Special correspondent in Venice