Something i couldn't understand happened at the last Venice Biennale. I had read that
Emily Jacir's public intervention Stazione would have seen the 24 piers for the Route 1 water bus (the vaporetto that starts at the Lido stop and ends at Piazzale Roma) display the names of the stops in Arabic as well as the usual Italian, creating a bilingual transportation route up and down the Grand Canal. Yet, i saw none of that in Venice. At the time, I couldn't find any article in the press clarifying its absence either.

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Emily Jacir, stazione, Rialto Mercato, 2009

Turns out that the work was -to put it diplomatically- canceled. Without any explanation.

Yet the Biennale had at first approved the project and so did the council and the vaporetto company. All the artist could find out, second-hand, was that the company had 'received pressure from an outside source to shut it down for political reasons'. The company claimed that the problem was with the city authorities in Venice. Jacir, who had won a Golden Lion at the Venice biennale two year earlier, spoke to the vaporetto company in person but she couldn't get any clear answers. 'Oddly,' she told Art Monthly, 'the man I spoke with mentioned the attacks on Gaza last December and said that this played a role in shutting down the project as it made the parties involved in the project nervous. I find that completely bizarre, as the work has nothing to do with Gaza.'

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Emily Jacir, stazione, Ferrovia, 2009

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Emily Jacir, stazione, Rialto, 2009

The work was indeed peaceful, it was meant to illustrate cultural exchanges through history. Jacir is an artist of Palestinian descent, she lives and works in Ramallah and New York and Stazione was her contribution to the official off-site exhibition, Palestine c/o Venice. The arabic inscriptions would have placed each floating platform in direct dialogue with the surrounding architecture and urban design, linking them with various elements of Venice's shared heritage with the Arab world.

Jacir was only allowed to distribute a map in Italian, Arabic and English of the number 1 route. It contains a map of the location of the project, as well as the Vaporetto map translated into Arabic and a brief explanation of the background to the piece. However, she was forbidden by Palestine c/o Venice organizers to include a text describing the cancellation of her project by the Venetian Municipal Authorities. She was only permitted to include the following note: THIS PROJECT HAS BEEN CANCELLLED.

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Emily Jacir, stazione, Ca' D'Oro, 2009

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Emily Jacir, stazione, Accademia, 2009

The architecture on either side of the Grand Canal testifies to bonds that have connected Venice with the Arab world over the centuries. By placing translations of the stations on either side of the Grand Canal, Emil Jacir would have prompted tourists and Venetians to reflect on these bygone relationships, age-old cultural and mercantile exchanges, and forgotten legacies (glass blowing was invented in Palestine and the first Arab book with Arabic characters was printed in Venice) as they crossed to 'the other bank'. Stazione was hoping to demonstrate that the barrier between two spaces that are considered different, even counterpoised, can be crossed.

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The Alberto Peola Gallery in Turin is exhibiting the proposal digitally retouched photographs that show what stazione would have looked like. The gallery is also exhibiting other works by the artist and distributing copies of the map that Jacir distributed during the Biennale.

Stazione is on view at the Alberto Peola Gallery in Turin until Saturday 24 April 2010

Interview with the artist in the New York Times.

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This year Uruguay decided to invite three artists to its pavilion. Juan Burgos' flamboyant paper collages caught all my attention. The images i pasted below don't do any justice to the works. Do click on the link to see the larger version of the picture:

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Nuestro Amor, 2009 (larger version)

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Nuestro Amor (detail)

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Nuestro Amor, detail (larger version of the image)

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Déjeuner sur l'herbe , 2009 (larger version)

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Déjeuner sur l'herbe (detail)

Welcome to the Pavilion everyone has read about. Or at least seen the image that almost became the icon of the biennale at its opening:

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The corpse floating face down in a swimming pool, does not belong to William Holden in Sunset Boulevard. It's Mister B., a middle-age art collector.

Elmgreen & Dragset curated not one but two pavilion: the Danish and the Nordic ones. Two venues but one exhibition titled 'The Collectors'. Because the artist duo like art as much as their fictitious collectors, they have also invited to the Venice party the works of Maurizio Cattelan, Tom of Finland, Han & Him, Jonathan Monk, William E. Jones, Terence Koh, Klara Lidén, Norway Says, Nina Saunders, Wolfgang Tillmans and many others.

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Installation shot from 'The Collectors' . Photographer: Anders Sune Berg. Jonathan Monk, Maquette for a Giant, Spinning O, 2006 + Norway Says, Cyclos, 2006 + Nina Saunders, Payload, 2009

The pavilions have been turned into domestic settings. Mister B., the dead guy floating in his pool, lived in the modernist Nordic pavilion. He found a sad end but wants you to know that his life was a non-stop party. His luxury pad is filled with designer furniture. There are works by renowned artists all over the walls and a transparent bathroom right in the middle of his house. He used to pin his young lovers' bathing suits in a frame as if they were precious butterflies. Truth is, everything about this interior is very ostentatious and very gay.

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Installation shot from 'The Collectors' . Photographer: Anders Sune Berg

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Installation shot from 'The Collectors' . Photographer: Anders Sune Berg: 'The Hockney Bathroom' + Elmgreen & Dragset, Marriage, 2004

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Han & Him, Butterflies, 2009. Courtesy of the artists

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Tom of Finland, Black Magic, 1984. Copyright of image: Tom of Finland Foundation, Los Angeles

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A few meters from Mister B.'s home lived his neighbours, Family A. You will get to know them through the dining room, bedrooms, book shelves, kitchen, artworks and the collection of flies (yes, flies!) they've left behind. But you won't meet them. They've probably known better times. Their teenager daughter clumsily sprayed her bedroom in black (she is a goth you see), the stairs are broken, a message scribbled on the entrance mirror says "I will never see you again", there's a crack in the table and plates are scattered on the kitchen floor. Guarded by the family's taxidermied dog, the house is now for sale.

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Klara Lidén, Teenage Room, 2009

As the title of the show indicates, the curators approach the topic of collecting, and the psychology behind the practice of expressing oneself through physical objects. Why do we gather items and surround ourselves with them in our every day lives? Which mechanisms of desire trigger our selection?

The Collectors is pure Elmgreen & Dragset. There isn't much depth to uncover (even if some believes that the drowned collector was a perfect metaphor for the state of the art market) but it's efficient, witty and flawlessly executed. The Collectors won a special mention from the Biennale jury of the 53rd International Art Exhibition.

Tata Channel has a video interview. Vernissage TV caught up with Dragset.

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Details of the installation: "Fire & Rescue Museum", 2009 (Photo: Jussi Kivi)

The Finnish pavilion might be smaller than most -barely the size of a container- but its location and quirkiness makes it one of my favourite in the Giardini of the Biennale. It was designed by Alvar Aalto in 1956 as a demountable wooden structure to be packed up after each Biennale. However, the wrong bolts and fasteners were shipped with it and it couldn't be dismantled. Since the city bans buildings made of wood, the fire marshals had to bend the rule. The temporary pavilion is still standing in the Giardini.

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The Aalto Pavilion in 2007. Photo by Kaisa Hein‰nen

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Building of the pavilion in 1956. Courtesy of Museum of Finnish Architecture (Suomen rakennustaiteen museo)

Fifty years later, firemen are entering the Finnish pavilion. Visual artist Jussi Kivi has turned the whole pavilion into a very personal "Fire & Rescue Museum". You can find all sorts of knickknacks and memorabilia he has been collecting since he was a kid: vintage extinguishers, gas masks and helmets, scale models, postcards, posters, technical firefighting literature, personal drawings, figurines and toys, boardgames and souvenirs.

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Kivi 's collection gained gravitas and a new significance last year when the artist discovered the content of an abandoned Soviet underground nuclear bomb shelter in eastern Estonia. Scattered on the walls and floors were partly moldy Soviet information boards and posters presenting civil defense and fire fighting procedures before and after a nuclear fallout.

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Jussi Kivi: Soviet poster from the series "Civil defense & Fire service, poster nr. 3", detail of the installation: "Fire & Rescue Museum", 2009 (photo: Filippo Zambon)

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Contaminated hands, an educational model from the Soviet era illustrating the symptoms of chemical weapons on skin. Discovered in an Estonian bunker in 2008

Kivi's childhood adoration for rescuers takes a darker meaning when confronted with propaganda material that warns of the threat of an attack with weapons of mass destruction.

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Fire & Rescue Museum, 2009, detail of installation (photo: Filippo Zambon)

The project's precarious position between the artist's personal need for order and safety and the disorder and chaos of the surrounding reality presents in miniature the situation we are facing in the world at large. In the safety provided by the walls of the small wooden pavilion in Giardini, designed in the period of reconstruction after WW2 by Alvar Aalto, Fire & Rescue Museum reminds both of the need of caring and the need of forecasting. If the preconditions of life at a time of world-wide environmental deterioration and widespread poverty are neglected, any rescue plans toward threats of future conflicts stand helpless.

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Details of the installation: "Fire & Rescue Museum", 2009 (Photo: Jussi Kivi)

The Venice Art Biennale runs until the 22nd of November 2009.

Other artists who collect: Fabiola by Francis Alÿs, Parrworld. The Collection of Martin Parr (Part 1) and Parrworld. The Collection of Martin Parr (Part 2).

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Bandera (Flag) (2009), Fabric dyed with blood collected from executions on the north border of Mexico

I avoid writing about artworks and exhibitions i haven't actually seen but there must be exceptions to the rule. Especially if the exception is ¿De qué otra cosa podríamos hablar? (What Else Could We Talk About?), Teresa Margolles' solo show at the Mexican Pavilion for the Venice Biennale. I read about it the day after my return from Venice. Not only did i miss it but apparently i passed by it twice.

I discovered the work of Margolles last year in the exhibition Emotional Systems at the Strozzina, Florence. Her installation filled an empty room with air humidified using the water that had previously been used to wash the corpses of people found dead in the street and brought to public mortuaries in Mexico City. For the Biennale, the artist left the morgue where she had located her studio to explore the urban territory, in search of material traces and residues of the street crimes.

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The Mexican press reports that in 2008, over 5.000 people were killed due to violent clashes and executions among criminal gangs, and in operations of the security forces in the country. Approximately 2.800 died in similar circumstances in 2007.

Margolles and her assistants went to the scenes of the executions and soaked pieces of cloth with the mud or blood they found there, they collected fragments of windshield glass after a shooting, they also copied narcomensajes -the messages left by drug lords over the corpses of beheaded victims.

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Teresa Margolles, Jewels, 2009. Jewels made with gold and fragments of windshields collected at murder sites in Mexico. Documentation of the Jewels in Culiacan city, Mexico, Spring 2009

The artist transferred the substances of so much sufferings, violence and social waste into the Palazzo Rota-Ivancich, a Sixteenth Century Venetian Palace located near Piazza San Marco. Just like the exhibition in Florence, the show requires you to pay extra attention. At first, all you see is jewellery, embroidery, wet pieces of fabrics drying on the wall and maybe you'll arrive when someone is cleaning the floor of the exhibition room. You might even pass by one of the flags that hang over the canal and ignore it.

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The jewels, however, were made with fragments of windshield glass (Ajuste de Cuentas). The gold embroidery on fabric are copies of narcomensajes - "Hasta que caigan todos tus hijos" ("Until all your sons have fallen"), "Así terminan las ratas" ("This is the way rats end"). The flag is dyed with the blood found on the site of shootings and decapitations (Bandera.) And then of course there's that disturbing smell...

Every afternoon, someone cleans the marble floors of the Palazzo with a mop dipped in water mixed with the blood found on the site of murders committed during the drug wars in Northern Mexico. How long will traces of it remain on the sole of your shoes?

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Image woki-toki

In a time where borders are no more able to contain the plague, when politics are mobilized by the ideological uses of fear, and where global capital is accompanied by a whole epidemic of violence, What else could we talk about? would want to suggest the need to politicize discontent and disgust, rather than falling prey of the strategies of a new world order erected over the ruins of the perpetual wars and infinite crusades of the powers to be, concludes curator Cuauhtémoc Medina in her statement.

The works presented at the Mexican Pavilion make tangible to a foreign audience the vicious circle of prohibition, addiction, accumulation, poverty, hatred and repression that transmogrifies the transgresive pleasures and puritan obsessions of the North into the South as Hell.

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A performer uses golden thread to embroider a narcomensaje on a bloodstained fabric in Venice (photo)

Related: Emotional Systems, at the Strozzina in Florence.
You might also be interested in the following articles: México, ¿una sociedad decapitada?, Réplica21's review of the pavilion and The war we gave Mexico.

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Nathalie Djurberg looks like a porcelain doll. She makes candy-coloured plasticine puppets who have orgies, who torture each other and suffer alien, abusive relationships. Sometimes they have fun but that involves a tiger licking a girl's bottom or a father who will eventually be killed by his own daughter. Djurberg, who won the Silver Lion award for best young artist at the Biennale, was the super star of Venice. I went to see her video installation three times and the room was always jam-packed with people drooling over her animations and taking photos of her monstruous sculpted flowers as if their lives depended on it. Not that i acted any differently.

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Experimentet is an installation recreating a Garden of Eden from hell. It's a garden covered with creepy flowers. They are so big they dwarf visitors, their colours and shape are nauseating. Sun never lights up the garden, it's set in a perpetual crepuscule, in the basement of the Padiglione delle Esposizioni (the ex-Padiglione Italia in the Giardini of the biennale.)

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Nathalie Djurberg, Experimentet, 2009. Photo Giorgio Zucchiatti. Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

A music composed by Hans Berg contributes to the uncomfortable atmosphere. On the screens, 3 merciless and erotic stop-motion animations.

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One tells the story of a puppet who battles her own aggressive limbs. The second one features puppets who resort to all sort of brutishness in order to escape a hostile forest environment and the third one follows the sexual foreplay of various puppets, some of them Catholic ecclesiastics. Their sexual and sacrilegious encounters are just pretexts to highlight perverse games of power and submission.

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Image from Halvor Bodin's flickr page

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As the catalog of the biennale says: Through these minutely composed sequences of stop-motion animations, Djurberg toys with society's perceptions of right and wrong, exposing our own innate fears of what we do not understand and illustrating the complexity that arises when we are confronted with these emotions.

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Video of the installation. Designboom has more images.

Related: Nathalie Djurberg solo show at the Fondazione Prada.
The Biennale di Venezia runs until November 22 in Venice, Italy.

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