Originally published on the Journal of Wild Culture, June 2013.

Venice Coetzee 880

It’s impossible to draw very definite conclusions from something as large, sprawling and diverse as the Venice Biennale – a six month-long extravaganza that sees historic sites such as the Arsenale, Giardini and sundry grand palazzos across the slowly sinking city play host to contemporary art from across the globe. Or, rather, perhaps it’s too easy: with so much work on show, there will almost always be something that fits into the pre-existing interests of the critic in question. Certainly this year, as somebody interested in humanity’s relationship with the natural world, and how that might be rethought, there is much to comment on.

But before we get there, it’s arguably just as impossible to take seriously any professed attempts to question our treatment of the natural world, without overlooking the fact that the Biennale itself sees so many critics, curators, artists, decision-making administrators, collectors, celebrity-spotters and hordes of art-loving tourists flying into the city’s two airports, arriving by yacht or by vast cruising ship. Works of art are packed and shipped and unpacked. Millions of flyers and books and press releases are printed out, put into tote bags, taken home and binned. It’s impossible to overlook the waste that art generates, but everybody does…

Each instalment of the Biennale centres on a theme, which this year, for the 55th, is Il Palazzo Enciclopedico, or The Encyclopaedic Palace. Chosen by the 2013 curator – Massimiliano Gioni, the youngest ever – the concept stems from a 1955 application to the US patent office by Italian self-taught artist Marino Auriti, in which he proposed to construct a vast tower that could function as the repository for the entirety of human knowledge. The central exhibition – split across two vast gallery spaces in the Arsenale and Giardini – is therefore concerned with ideas around knowledge – its construction and storage – as well as anthropology, systems of classification, and the increasingly fashionable concept of outsider art.

Continue reading on the Journal of Wild Culture.