06 June 2019, The Tablet

The ultimate poverty of this year’s Biennale is far too little in terms of calls to action

The ultimate poverty of this year’s Biennale is far too little in terms of calls to action

Poverty is everywhere at this year’s Venice Biennale. It’s there in the photographs: here a street child, there a raggedy mother and her clearly ill toddler; round the corner, an image of a piece of plastic in a rundown building being used as a makeshift bed.

It’s there in the haunting message of many of the exhibits, which speak time and again of the desolation and desperation of our age: a marble chair, reminiscent of that of a Roman emperor, empty save for a piece of rubber hose that every so often fills with gas and thrashes around, as though to symbolise the inadequacies of our leaders. Not far away, a huge rag doll sits in an aeroplane seat in the “brace” position: the world is hurtling towards a catastrophic crash, and she, and we, are tensing ourselves for the inevitable moment of destruction.

These artworks are by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, and Yin Xiuzhen respectively; another Chinese artist, Yu Ji, has hung from the ceiling a series of chains covered with glossy resin. They resemble the empty shells of people, perhaps the people who should have done something to change the world before the disaster. There’s a similar message from the American Jimmie Durham, recipient of the Biennale’s Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement award: he’s made animal sculptures out of furniture. Each species represented is on the verge of extinction.

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