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Join us in following the daily activities of the Johannesburg Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. In this, the daily entry for Day Three of the 56th Biennale, Roelof Petrus van Wyk walks us through the different Biennales, all happening concurrently for different audiences, and gives us a glimpse into Okwui Enwezor’s highly anticipated International Exhibition.

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ABOVE: All images courtesy of The Johannesburg Pavilion 2015.

Daily Report: Day Three, Venice Biennale 2015

A few metres away from the entrance to the Giardini, nestled in a garden of centuries-old trees, is a small transitional space through which visitors walk on their way from the waterbus stop. This space features a weathered circular structure reminiscent of a Merry-Go-Round, but is simply a host for a seasonal green climber, as well as four or five wooden benches dotting the area, offering a respite from the madding crowd.  However, this is the life of a group of young Italian teenagers, giggling and twittering away in real time, fixated on their mobile phones, photographing each other. And not a Biennale logo, lanyard, bag, or book in sight.

The Biennale does not exist for them.

There are also many Biennales. The Tourism Company of Venice’s Biennale brings Dollar$, Pound£ and €uros to the city coffers, keeping both the shopkeepers and Airbnb-ers very happy. The Collector’$ Biennale presents in one place all the world’s futures – in the sense of the futures which can be used either to hedge, or to speculate, on the price movement of the underlying asset. Then there are the mediators of the Art World’s Biennale – the gallerists, the dealers, the consultants and the museum directors, of which Dercon deserves nearly a class of his own. Of course, in an Instagram-saturated media world, the obligatory candy culture celebs like Cate Blanchett supporting her National Affiliation and Salma Hayek hanging on the arm of husband, François Pinault, enjoy a Biennale consisting mostly of getting from a VVVIP champagne-drenched party to the luxury yacht of an Azerbaijani plutocrat in time for the cameras, without slipping on her Louboutins – click, click, ciao!

But, it is the Artist’s Biennale that we really care about. The Arsenale venue hosts most of Enwezor’s International Exhibition in a mile long former military warehouse. Spectacular, yet poignant and political, works fight for your attention as much as the 12-hour working day kiosk keepers and t-shirt & trinket traders along the main tourist drag.

Bruce Nauman’s (USA) Eat Death (1972), an installation of neon tubing that animates some of the main themes of anxiety running through the exhibition, is a play on words through puns and double meanings; Eat/Death and RAW/ WAR are two simple examples of his practice, setting the scene for this mile of art that challenges the dapper backpacker and jet-setter to keep staying upbeat amidst a sea of inequality and low wage labour practices.

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ABOVE: All images courtesy of The Johannesburg Pavilion 2015.

Ibrahim Mahama’s(Ghana) jute fibre sack installation, Occupation and Occupation (2014),occupies an open air corridor running the length of the Arsenale. This is a large-scale mapping project, linking Ghana with the rest of the trading world through the embedded labour and globalised circulation of the harvested and unearthed product previously contained in these sacks. It is a breathless tour de force.

Harun Farocki’s film installation, Arbeiter verlassen die Fabrik in elf Jahrzehnten (Workers Leaving the Factory in Eleven Decades) (2006), is informed by a Marxist worldview and builds on his decades-long practice critiquing capital. These films give the performative reading of Das Kapital in the Arena a human face, and renders reality to the flow of capitalist power in the showing of 87 of his films in this exhibition.

The South African Pavilion opened; the spark of spoken word poet Mandi Poefficient Vundla lit the dry wood after the speeches by the Curators and the Consul on behalf of The Johannesburg Pavilion, with a poem called Rape Capital, underneath the blood-red-hovering hands of Haroon Gunn-Salie’s casts of the statue of Jan van Riebeeck.

You can read some reviews, critiques and a few rotten tomatoes about this edition at the following links:

‘A Glum Trudge’ http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/may/10/venice-biennale-2015-review-56th-sarah-lucas-xu-bing-chiharu-shiota

‘Playing Politics’ https://news.artnet.com/art-world/56th-venice-biennale-politics-jj-charlesworth-295350

‘Death Love Hate’ http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/b33285be-f3dd-11e4-99de-00144feab7de.html – slide0

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