BIENNALE ARTE 2022: The Milk of Dreams #MonthlyExhibit

The 59th Venice Biennale has opened its doors and let us explore The Milk of Dreams. 

As the previous exhibitions, Art Biennale takes place in both Giardini and Arsenale and The Milk of Dreams is the title chosen by curator Cecilia Alemani for this year. Why? 

This title comes from a book of fairy tales by Leonora Carrington, a surrealist artist who spent most of her life in Mexico during and after the Second World War. She started drawing fantastic stories of hybrid creatures that were collected in a book: The Milk of Dreams. These figures were hybrid mutant beings that transform from human to animal to mechanical, imagining a world in which everybody can change and become something else.  

These creatures and the author of the book herself were taken into consideration by Alemani as a guide and a companion for this journey into the Biennale, where the metamorphosis of the body and the definitions of what is human are themes that strike at the core of this exhibition. These persistent questions emerged from hours of remote, virtual calls on Zoom between the artists and the curator during the pandemic months, a series of questions that evoke this precise historical moment where human life is threatened and that recall the main problems of our times

These reflections were summarised in three main thematic areas: the representation of the bodies and their metamorphosis; the relation between individuals and technology; the connections between bodies and earth.  

Art Biennale means stepping into a world in which there are no boundaries for the human identity, where the centrality of man is wiped out and the individual melts with the earth, becomes machine and comes back to the nature in a balanced, harmonious cycle.  

We have selected 10 artists we loved the most that will take you through this journey, although it was extremely challenging to choose one over the other. Wet, birth, body, slimy, remains, and healing are some of the words that can cross the mind while walking through the event.  

Some of these sensations are clearly reflected in the work of Pinaree Sanpitak: in her paintings she represents elementary parts of the female body through an inventory of symbols like recipients, egg and breast. Inspired by the powerful experience of breastfeeding her own son, Sanpitak began drawing a series of images of the breast. The fascination for her own body can be perceived, the lines confer sensitivity and ethereality to the representative body, showing the sacred and the spiritual dimension enclosed in it.           

In the new series exposed, Offering Vessels (early 2000s), she reduces the breast into the form of the mound and the vessel, tying personal experience forming that recall the Buddhist tradition: the offering bowls or stupa shrines (sacred domed structure). The vessel can be at the same time a container of perception and experience or a repository of emptiness.  

Her exposition speaks out the potential of the body, the forms that it can assume in both terrestrial and sacred dimension, simultaneously giving and receiving.  

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Another way of leaving the body comes from Zheng Bo, who helps us imagine a world in which human melts with the earth. He explores all inclusive, multi-species relationships. 

The Chinese artist abandons the human-centric vision to trace an alternative path that strives instead for interconnections among all leaving beings, in a social and ecological art practice. Zheng Bo has spent part of his life studying plants with experts in this field, a dedication that ended up in the creation of Pteridophilia: a series of performances and videos started in 2016. In this series, the artist explores the erotic possibilities between plants (especially ferns) and queer men in a scenario where the mere sensuality is overtaken by explicit, extreme pleasure.  

This experimentation has been further developed into a work – exposed at the Biennale – that combines film and dance: Le Sacre du printemps (2021). Five Scandinavian dancers in the Dalarna County (Sweden) explore sexual desire through touching and moving with pines, mosses, and human interaction. 

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Moving forward in the exhibition, an installation that may trigger your emotions, some sort of primitive sense, of a bygone era, is the one of Teresa Solar.  

Her art represents material entities in transformation, they often appear in a group of sister sculptures that allude to both a biological and industrial dimension. Through sculpture, drawing and video she dives into a world where bodily shapes and zoomorphic figures fuse in a hybrid form, sometimes more natural sometimes more mechanical.  

Tunnel of Boring Machine (2022) comprises three large sculptures: animals and prehistoric life forms reminiscent of “fish gills, dolphin fins, beaks, blades and oars” (Biennale). The sculptures are made of clay treated with a high polish finish, for Solar this material is a “primordial geological substance that is naturally permeated with stories of self-protection, isolation and states of transformation” (ibidem). The conception of time here is limited, these figures represent fiction and simulation and they embody the essence of the earth, hidden for a long time.

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At this stage of the exposition, the ground has matured for Mire Lee‘s work. In one corner of the room is set up what at first glance may look like a disused construction site. Called Carriers (2020), the recent sculpture is taken from the Korean artist. Getting closer, a sort of sterile aliveness comes through: greasy and oily motor parts and silicone sculptures move together in a mechanical dance. They are connected by a tube that pumps out liquid clay that oozes the ceramic forms, creating a scenario in which these mechanical parts resemble internal organs and remains.  

As Lee she stated, the feeling is that she had a sensorial involvement in the making process of this work. She put her hands into the holes in the structure, getting dirty with the fluids that it produces. The artist was inspired by the concept of vorarephilia: “the fetish of being swallowed or swallowing another alive” (Biennale).  

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The idea of hybrid figures that recall ancient beings of the earth and a Posthuman scenario explored by Teresa Solar, then returns with the art of Sandra Mujinga, but in a totally different form. 

In her works exposed in the show, Reworlding Remains (2021) and Sentinels of Change (2021), the sculptures are inspired by dinosaur fossils, dressed in recycled tissues. The neon green light of the room where Mujinga’s installation is exposed, gives an alien, cybernetic finish to the scene. There are large and high hybrid figures, they look like giants living beings and empty shells at the same time. In this space where decay and reconstruction coexist, the body in its absence can be perceived. 

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Another artist that caught our attention is Sondra Perry, she is a visual artist that deals with the dehumanization and the weight of black people’s the slavery history. Through video installation, software 3D and avatar, she creates her own unique virtual, but still material, dimension: using digital screens and personal photos or images of violence and slavery of Africans, she takes the viewer on an immersive aura where digital culture and politics meets.  

In Lineage for a Phantom Zone (2021) Perry depicts Trade Winds: the hairdressing salon that was in the same building where she had her studio in Newark and, at the same time, she shows her tireless search for the native land and working fields where her grandmother grew up. It is a constant dialogue between her personal life, identity and society representation of her people and their past, a great example of sociological imagination that gives importance to the collective vision.  

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An intriguing suggestion comes from Marianna Simnett with her three-channel video installation The Severed Tail (2022). In these screens runs the story of a piglet that goes through different world and stages of fetish. There are human and non-human protagonists like in many works of Simnett, she is fascinated by the intersection of the species, their transformation and connection between each other. It may be a reminder of the fact that human and animal beings come from the same nature, the same earth and the mutual hybridization are inevitable.  

The videos are not synchronised and that reflects the sense of loss and confusion of the protagonist, but also his metamorphosis in these theatrical and fairy-tale worlds. 

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At this point of the journey through the Biennale, entering the Giardino delle Vergini, the art of Aki Sasamoto brings you back to the everyday life and its “banal” objects.  

Her installation, Sink or Float (2022), pictures ordinary life scenes like cooking, shopping list or cleaning, but not in a static or descriptive way: it seems like the objects come to life and move without any human being around -thanks to small holes from which air escapes-. Sasamoto wants to give a new life to the automatic gestures and routine that people do every day, transporting them in a slightly fantasy atmosphere. The disposition seems, at first sight, chaotic but when you perceive the meaning of the work it all turns out extraordinarily neat.  

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In the last part of the exposition, in the Giardini Pavilion, Christina Quarles exhibits her paintings, expressions of the many forms in which she perceives the body. Had a Gud Time Now (2021) and Gone on Too Long (2021) are just some of the exposed works.  

She represents sinuous and fluid bodies, with different shapes and sizes that seems to lose their boundaries, connecting one with each other in an inevitable fusion. Quarles gives these bodies different textures and contrasting colours, stressing an overwhelming atmosphere. The painted figures are large and give the impression of going outside the boundaries of the framework, suggesting an alternative and ambiguous corporeity.  

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To complete this narration of the body and its many forms, the last artist of our selection is Aneta Grzeszykowska.

The Polish artist has selected twenty photos from her Mama series (2018): in these pictures there is her daughter playing with a lifelike silicon doll resembling the mother (Grzeszykowska). Watching this series could be emotionally disturbing: the boundaries of the relationship between mother and daughter seem to fall apart, the act of care is a responsibility historically attributed to the mother. It is now the prerogative of the daughter that bathes and cradles the doll.  

The artist is playing with the power of the social roles and rules in which our bodies are constricted.  

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It really seems like the aura of the ancient book The Milk of Dreams has flooded every corner of the Biennale, dragging the viewer in a Posthuman, apparently far away dimension that – whether we like it or not – is now embedded in the subconscious and the perception of this time. 

Are we ready to dialogue with other possibilities of being and nature? That’s what this exhibition is asking.  

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