Time travel, dying worlds, AI: the most futuristic pavilions at the Venice Biennale

Science fiction and the climate crisis, humans and artificial intelligence, revolutions past and present, collide this year at the Venice Biennale (often called the “Art World Olympics” because of its scale and its importance). The 59th edition opened on April 23 and will run until November 27, showcasing the works of 213 artists from 58 countries.

The theme of the main show is The Milk of Dreams, based on a book by Leonora Carrington in which the surrealist artist describes “a magical world where life is constantly rethought… where everyone can change, transform themselves”.

National pavilions also draw on this theme, imagining a world without us, exploring contemporary ideas of science and myth; question the definitions of “human” and “evolution”. Take a look at five of the most futuristic pavilions.

We have traveled the earth

Centaurs lie wounded, mutated, dying, in the Danish pavilion.  What happened to them and the world they live in is unclear.  (Marco Cappelletti)
Centaurs lie wounded, mutated, dying, in the Danish pavilion. What happened to them and the world they live in is unclear. (Marco Cappelletti)

The Danish pavilion invites the public to enter a strange world where elements of idyllic farm life merge with elements of science fiction to form a haunting image of an uncertain future. We Walked the Earth features a family of three centaurs. In one room, the man has committed suicide and is hanging from a chain hanging from the ceiling. In the adjacent room, the female is lying on the floor, giving birth to a baby who appears to be of a different breed.

Art is a reflection of life, death and the uncertainties that surround life on earth, said artist Uffe Isolotto. Walking through these spaces, visitors can see the family’s personal effects, food and work tools. What happened to them and the world they live in is unclear.

Scattered prints

AI leads part of the show at the Croatian pavilion. Tomo Savić-Gecan’s untitled performative work is designed for the post-truth era.

It involves five artists who receive instructions from an AI algorithm, four times a day. The instructions are shaped by what made headlines around the world. Performers go where the AI ​​directs them, appearing unpredictably in other pavilions and exhibition spaces. They position themselves according to AI instructions, down to details of how to move and even what to think.

What does it mean to be human, the project asks, in an age where technological systems effectively bury objective facts, even as our reactions to presented “alternative facts” are tracked and exploited?

Visitors can discover the project without realizing it. For those who want to find out, the Croatian pavilion and its website offer real-time updates.

2011 ≠ 1848

This exhibition by Stan Douglas unfolds in two places that make up the Canadian Pavilion. The first exhibition consists of four large images of events in 2011: the Arab Spring; the aftermath of the Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver; collision between young people and police in Hackney during the London riots; and the containment of Occupy Wall Street protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge.

The second exhibition is a video installation housed in a 16th century salt warehouse, focusing on music as a form of transnational cultural resistance.

As its title suggests, 2011 ≠ 1848 compares and contrasts the events of 2011 with those of 1848, which was a year of populist uprisings that began in Sicily and France and then spread across Europe, seeking to overthrow monarchies and to establish republics in their place. The central question of the project is how generational differences in the dissemination of information can influence the course of a revolt. It was the written press in 1848, social networks in 2011.

The Sami pavilion

The Nordic pavilion (representing Sweden, Finland and Norway) was renamed this time, to recognize the indigenous Sami people who were the original inhabitants of Sápmi or Lapland. The art on display, by artists Pauliina Feodoroff, Máret Anne Sara and Anders Sunna, speaks of the carnage inflicted on the resisting Sámi by the Norse colonialists.

The two-part sculpture of Sara, for example, is made up of the stomach and tendons of reindeer, key animals in Sami culture, enhanced by two scents, one intended to evoke fear, the other l ‘hope. The Sunnah painting Illegal Spirits of Sápmi (2022) charts the legal battles the Sámi fought for 50 years, to maintain the right to their traditional practice of reindeer herding. Sunna, by the way, comes from a family of reindeer herders in the forest.

The fate of comets

The story of the night at the Italian pavilion consists of static scenes depicting post-industrial decadence.  (Andréaavezzu)
The story of the night at the Italian pavilion consists of static scenes depicting post-industrial decadence. (Andréaavezzu)

The two-part project exhibited in the Italian pavilion is entitled History of the night and destiny of comets. Gian Maria Tosatti’s traveling installation uses the rise and fall of industrial Italy as a metaphor for humanity’s relationship with nature.

The first section, History of the Night, looks like a series of warehouses containing tools, old machines and tables, all reminiscent of post-industrial decadence. The dimly lit second section, Fate of the Comets, features flickering bulbs representing light at the end of the tunnel, contrasted with the nothingness of the rest of the room, a metaphor for an unknown future.


* The pandemic has meant that the Venice Biennale has been postponed (from 2021) for the first time since 1944, and only the second time.

* It is a very feminine biennale, 191 of the 213 artists being women.

* five countries participating for the first time: the Republic of Cameroon, Namibia, Nepal, the Sultanate of Oman and Uganda.

* flag of russia was left empty after the curator and artists pulled out to protest the war in Ukraine. The Ukrainian pavilion is occupied by artist Pavlo Makov who presents his Fountain of Exhaustion, an installation which has taken on added importance since it was also on display in kyiv at the start of the Russian invasion in February.

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