• Ideas
  • May 21, 2019

58th Venice Biennale, Part 4: National Pavilions in Sale D'Armi

View of the Arsenale in Venice. All photos by HG Masters for ArtAsiaPacific unless otherwise stated.

The “Meetings on Art” series, organized by Delfina Foundation director Aaron Cezar, took place during the opening week of the Venice Biennale. One afternoon I caught four events taking place in the Giardino delle Vergini, the garden at the far end of the Arsenale compound, past the China Pavilion. A stage had been set up on the ground in an area encircled by a grassy mound. There, wearing a black suit and white shirt, boychild—a frequent collaborator with artists including Wu Tsang and Korakrit Arunanondchai—performed a virtuosic 20-minute routine that centered primarily around snapping and flicking movements of the wrists and fingers, as well as bursts from the ankles and or a dramatic flourish of the shoulders and arms thrown back. This was followed, on another stage in the vicinity, by a drag performance by Victoria Sin, whose lip-synced monologue about “naming [as] an act of mastery” was a tedious rehashing of the basic concerns of identity politics, rescued slightly by her incredible costume and a live traverso accompaniment. Back on the other stage, Paul Maheke performed another solo dance with periodic bursts of music, while engaging in moments of self-conscious reflection on his outfit (shorts, and knee socks like those worn by a footballer), levels of energy, and the duration of the performance. It ended when an alarm sounded. Finally, Tarek Atoui had assembled five musicians to play his custom-designed accoustic and electronic instruments in the garden, in a largely improvised performance. Each of the four performances that afternoon, though distinctive, shared a kind of meta-narration or self-consciousness. In the case of boychild and Atoui, it was engaging, while Sin and Maheke, likely without realizing it, were treading ground that many performers before them have embodied in much more sophisticated and captivating ways.