Venice Biennale’s Milk of Dreams Spotlights Female and Non-Binary Artists

For the first time since World War II, the International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is not taking place in the year it is supposed to. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 59th Venice Biennale, originally scheduled for 2021, was pushed to 2022. The circumstances however, such as they are, gave curator Cecilia Alemani some extra time to put together what seems to be an absolutely marvelous show. The title that Venice Biennale 2022 carries is “The Milk of Dreams.”

Opening to the public on April 23 and lasting until November 27, 2022 at the Giardini and the Arsenale of La Serenissima, La Biennale Arte will be coming in strong. Aware of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the event will implement all the necessary measures to protect the staff and the visitors alike. Furthermore, it will seek to extend the achievement of “carbon neutrality” certification, obtained in 2021 for the 78th Venice International Film Festival. This would mean reusing and recycling materials used for the exhibition, using electric power from renewable sources, introducing criteria of sustainability in tenders for suppliers, etc.

Another novelty of the 2022 showcase is the first edition of the Biennale College Arte 2021/22. Among the 250 young emerging artists under 30, four finalists will exhibit as part of “The Milk of Dreams” exhibition, and will receive a grant of 25,000 euros to finish their work. Make sure you watch out for the art by Simnikiwe Buhlungu (South Africa), Ambra Castagnetti (Italy), Kudzanai-Violet Hwami (Zimbabwe), and Andro Eradze (Georgia).

As always, there will be an array of collateral events happening around Venice, as well as the biennial’s own special projects. In 2022, these include the Forte Marghera Special Project in Mestre, with the work by Elisa Giardina Papa, and the Applied Arts Pavilion Special Project in the Arsenale’s Sale d’Armi, presenting Sophia Al-Maria’s art.

Traditionally, La Biennale di Venezia is divided into the International Exhibition and the presentations of individual National Pavilions. Let’s dive right in and see what we can expect from Venice Biennale 2022. It is, after all, the biggest event of the art world!

Cecilia Alemani, Venice Biennale 2022
Cecilia Alemani. Photo by Andrea Avezzù, Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

Venice Biennale 2022 – The Milk of Dreams

Across the Central Pavilion (Giardini) and in the Arsenale, a total of 1,433 artworks and objects by 213 artists are on display. Among them, 80 were made specifically for the Biennale Arte and the 2022 theme.

Already from the visual identity chosen for the posters and the catalog can we assume that the overall feel of the exhibition will be a Surrealist one. In fact, the title “The Milk of Dreams” belongs to one of the most significant artists of Surrealism, Leonora Carrington – or rather, a book she wrote about a magical world in which life is constantly re-imagined and re-invented. The ideas and notions of transformation, metamorphosis, and ultimately re-defining what it means to be human are the main driving forces of the exhibition. In the present moment, and even more so in the context of the pandemic, our very existence is in danger. All this is therefore making us inquire, contemplate, ask questions about our relation to ourselves, other human beings, life forms, our planet, and the technologies we invent.

And so, Venice Biennale 2022 essentially focuses on three thematic areas in particular: the representation of bodies and their metamorphoses; the relationship between individuals and technologies; the connection between bodies and the Earth. These embody five historical sections conceived as time capsules, like shows within the show. Encompassing both modern and contemporary art periods, the artworks on view come from important museum collections and are predominantly made by female and non-binary artists. This choice is very much intentional, as Cecilia Alemani challenges “the presumed universal ideal of the white, male ‘Man of Reason’ − as fixed centre of the universe and measure of all things. In its place, artists propose new alliances between species, and worlds inhabited by porous, hybrid, manifold beings that are not unlike Carrington’s extraordinary creatures.”

Venice Biennale 2022, Visual Identity developed by Formafantasma
Venice Biennale 2022, Visual Identity developed by Formafantasma

The Themes

The exhibition begins with an extraordinary line-up of women Surrealists: Eileen Agar, Leonora Carrington, Claude Cahun, Leonor Fini, Ithell Colquhoun, Loïs Mailou Jones, Carol Rama, Augusta Savage, Dorothea Tanning, Remedios Varo. Juxtaposed with their more contemporary colleagues such as Birgit Jurgenssen, Ovartaci, or Christina Quarles, they analyze, dismember, and re-assemble the human body for the new world.

The next capsule explores the ties between humans and machines, with works Agnes Denes, Lillian Schwartz, and Ulla Wiggen, while new forms of symbiosis between animals and human beings occupy a different capsule, showing art by Paula Rego and Cecilia Vicuña, among others.

The section covering the conversations between bodies and language comes as a sort of an homage to Biennale Arte 1978. A showcase of Visual and Concrete Poetry, it was one of the first openly feminist exhibitions in the institution’s history.

In the Arsenale, artworks delve into topics ranging from matriarchal societies, to indigenous knowledge, to man’s relationship with nature. In the Corderie, another time capsule talks about the birth of civilization, but also environmental issues and exploitation. The last section touches upon the figure of the cyborg, with artworks by the Dadaists, Bauhaus photographers, Futurist artists, and finally the contemporary makers.

Remedios Varo, Simpatía (La rabia del gato), 1955
Remedios Varo, Simpatía (La rabia del gato), 1955. Collection Eduardo F. Costantini, Buenos Aires. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York _ SIAE

The National Pavilions, 59th Biennale di Venezia

The 59th Art Biennale will welcome 80 national participations. These are on display in the historic Pavilions at the Giardini, at the Arsenale and in the city centre of Venice. The 2022 edition will see 5 first-time countries: Republic of Cameroon, Namibia, Nepal, Sultanate of Oman, and Uganda. Republic of Kazakhstan, Republic of Kyrgyzstan and Republic of Uzbekistan will also debut in their own respective pavilions.

Naturally, we start with Italy, whose pavilion at the Tese delle Vergini is curated by Eugenio Viola. The exhibiting artist is Gian Maria Tosatti, a visual artist, journalist, and writer. His large-scale, site-specific installations investigate identity from the political and the spiritual point of view.

Among the more famous names of the Western art world, we have Francis Alÿs representing Belgium, Sonia Boyce showing for the UK, Stan Douglas for Canada, and Simone Leigh for the US. Countries like Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Mexico, or San Marino have chosen multiple artists for their presentation. Notable curators include Elena Filipovic for the Croatian pavilion, who is currently serving as director and chief curator of Kunsthalle Basel; Eva Respini, Chief Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston in USA; Germany’s Yilmaz Dziewior, director of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne; and Jacopo Crivelli Visconti, the Italian curator behind the 34th Bienal de São Paulo held in 2021.

As always, Venice Biennale 2022 promises to attain its position as the world’s most significant art event. Working through the epidemic and arranging everything through virtual meetings, curator Cecilia Alemani had quite a task. In her own words, she sums up the role of the International Art Exhibition plays at this historical juncture:

“…the Biennale sums up all the things we have so sorely missed in the last two years: the freedom to meet people from all over the world, the possibility of travel, the joy of spending time together, the practice of difference, translation, incomprehension, and communion.

“‘The Milk of Dreams’ is not an exhibition about the pandemic, but it inevitably registers the upheavals of our era. In times like this, as the history of La Biennale di Venezia clearly shows, art and artists can help us imagine new modes of coexistence and infinite new possibilities of transformation.”

Venice Art Biennale 2022
Giardini and Arsenale
23 April – 27 November 2022
Pre-opening: April 20, 21 and 22
Awards ceremony and inauguration: April 23
You can buy your tickets here

Angie Kordic

Visual Arts Editor

Angie Kordic is a 31-year-old Serbian based in Stockholm, Sweden. She holds a BA in Photography from the Istituto Europeo di Design from Milan, where she lived for five years. Her rich experience in the field of contemporary art includes work she did for an arts PR agency in Bari, Italy, as well as the six years she spent at Widewalls magazine, as both Junior Editor and Editor-in-Chief. Currently, she is working for a Swedish fashion corporation and does freelance writing on the side. Although she is an avid traveler, Angie's heart will always belong to Italy - perché la vita lí è semplicemente più bella.

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