BY frieze in Critic's Guides | 14 APR 22

Preview of the 2022 Venice Biennale Part Two: National Pavilions

The frieze editors select the projects they are most looking forward to at the National Pavilions

BY frieze in Critic's Guides | 14 APR 22

This April, the Venice Art Biennale returns after a three-year pandemic-related hiatus (preview days 20–23; first public opening day 23 April; runs until 27 November). In the fourth of our five-part preview, frieze editorial staff name which exhibitions they're most looking forward to seeing in the national pavilions of the Giardini and the Corderie dell’Arsenale. To read the first half of our pavilions preview, click here.

Simone Leigh

US Pavilion, Giardini

Simone Leigh, Untitled (M*A*S*H), 2018, film still. Courtesy: the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

Simone Leigh’s video Untitled (M*A*S*H*) (2018) – comprising vignettes from a counter-history of Black nurses on the frontline of the Korean war – was, for me, one of the most moving and masterful works at the 10th Berlin Biennale. I couldn’t wait to see more work by her. But, while I admire the ever-larger figurative sculptures in clay and bronze she has exhibited in the intervening years, such as Stick (2019) at the Whitney Biennial, they are yet to grab me to the same extent. So, I’m open to being converted by this exhibition, and I already love its title: ‘Grittin’’.

Matthew McLean, Creative Lead, Frieze Week

Niamh O'Malley

Ireland at Venice, Arsenale

Niamh O’Malley, 2021, exhibition view, John Hansard Gallery, Southampton. 2021. Courtesy: the artist and John Hansard Gallery; photograph: Thierry Bal

Niamh O’Malley’s recent exhibition at Southampton’s John Hansard Gallery was a fitting accompaniment to the Derek Jarman retrospective upstairs. However, unlike Jarman’s late assemblage reliefs, constructed from found objects, O’Malley builds her glass, limestone, steel and wood configurations with pinpoint attentiveness to the meanings contained in her materials. There are no accidents or chances here: her project resides in the surfaces of the world. Her sculptures can appear low to the ground, like grates in the road, or high overhead, like bizarre solar panels. She’s an artist dealing in the language and concerns of minimalism: what does presence feel like in sculptural form? What information about our existence resides silently encased in this material? O’Malley’s fragile glassworks, which hang so precariously, barely held together by greening copper, touch on a familiar unease about the home.

Sean Burns, Assistant Editor

Tomo Savic-Gecan

Croatian Pavilion, Castello, via Garibaldi

Text description of Tomo Savić-Gecan's Untitled (Croatian Pavilion), 2022. Courtesy: the artist

I’m still on the fence about algorithm-generated art, but Tomo Savic-Gecan’s Untitled (Croation Pavilion) (2022) sounds like it might be worth trying to track down. ‘Every day for the duration of the 59th edition of the Venice Biennale of Art,’ the press release explains, ‘the lead story from a different, randomly selected global news source provides the data that feeds an artificial intelligence algorithm, which in turn prescribes the time, location, duration, movements and thoughts of a group of five performers in the city of Venice.’ As writer Francesco Tenaglia notes in his article for the April issue of frieze, durational performance has had an oversized role in recent editions of the biennial; it’s nice to see this trend holding strong, despite this being one of the first major international art events to be staged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

– Chloe Stead, Assistant Editor

Pilvi Takala

Finnish Pavilion, Giardini

Pilvi Takala, Close Watch, video still, 2022. Courtesy: the artist

I spent a lot of time looking at Pilvi Takala’s work around 2012, when, on being selected for the Frieze Foundation Emdash Award, she appointed a committee of children to determine what to do with the prize money. Then, Takala was focussed on playfully probing sometimes unspoken social and economic conventions – going on an internship at Deloitte where she did nothing, trying to enter Disneyland in an unlicensed princess costume – works I enjoyed as much as I felt provoked by their uneasy engagement with questions about consent and privilege. A decade on, I’m interested to see her new film for the Finnish Pavilion, Close Watch (2022), which documents how she responded to the closed world of a Finnish shopping centre, where she spent six months working covertly as a security guard.

– Matthew McLean, Creative Lead, Frieze Week

Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol

Chilean Pavilion, Arsenale

The Peatlands of Tierra del Fuego (Hol-Hol Tol) at Karkukinka Natural Park, 2022. Courtesy: Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol; photograph: Barbara Saavedra

Peat – a topsoil of dead plant matter distinguished by its slow decay due to waterlogging and high acidity, conditions not chemically dissimilar to pickle brine – is something of an unsung hero in the on-paper maths of decelerating climate crisis. Its boggy deposits in retreated glacial tracks cover a little less than three percent of the earth’s surface, reaching from polar circle to polar circle, but store 25 percent of the carbon trapped in dirt: more than twice the total volume held by the world’s forests. Enter Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol to sing its praises. The collective – which brings together a sound artist, an art historian, a filmmaker and an architect, along with several institutions active in ecological and ethnographic conservancy – borrows its title from the Selk’nam name for the peatlands that stretch across the Tierra del Fuego archipelago at the southern end of Chile. The project’s advocacy against the perennial threats of mining and wildfire works symbiotically with the demands of the Selk’nam for recognition as an extant people, since most official histories regard their language as extinct.

– Patrick Kurth, Editorial Trainee

Alberta Whittle

Scotland + Venice, Arsenale Docks

Alberta Whittle, Lagerah – The Last Born, 2022, film still. Courtesy: the artist,  Scotland+Venice and Forma; photograph: Matthew A Williams

Since winning the Frieze Artist Award in 2020, Alberta Whittle has shown her moving-image works at Edinburgh’s Jupiter Artland, the Liverpool Biennial and the touring British Art Show 9. Across performance, film and installation, the Barbadian-Scottish artist tackles the impact of colonialism on collective Black memory with powerful emotion and rigour. I was lucky enough to receive an invitation to an intimate performance of DIS- A Lesson in Reversal or Unlearning (2021) at last summer’s Art Night at Two Temple Place, a haunting neo-gothic building on the banks of the River Thames in London. Dressed in white, Whittle and a group of performers, including poet Ama Josephine Budge, held court, using the building’s echoes to full effect to summon the ghosts of the river with stamping feet, and highlighting the role of water in connection to the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the wider African diaspora. Whittle’s work for Scotland + Venice will surely continue her practice-based research into the afterlives of slavery and a projection of decolonized futures to come.

– Vanessa Peterson, Associate Editor

 Zsófia Keresztes

Hungarian Pavilion, Giardini

Main image: Zsófia Keresztes's studio during preparations for her installation at the Hungarian pavilion at the 59th Biennale di Venezia, 2022. Courtesy: the artist and GIANNI MANHATTAN, Vienna; photograph: Dávid Biró

In an unusual but refreshing move, Zsófia Keresztes, who will represent Hungary with the exhibition ‘After Dreams: I Dare to Defy the Damage’, forwent the usual secrecy surrounding the biennial and posted an image on Instagram of one of her works awaiting transport to Venice. For those familiar with the artist’s pastel-hued, mosaic-tiled sculptures, the photo didn’t offer any big surprises but, after seeing her works in a few group shows in the past few years, it did whet my appetite for what Keresztes might do when she’s offered centre stage.

– Chloe Stead, Assistant Editor

For additional coverage of the 59th Venice Biennale, see here.

Main image: Alberta Whittle, RESET, 2020, video still. Courtesy: the artist, Scotland + Venice, Forma and Frieze; photograph: Matthew A Williams

Contemporary Art and Culture