“Art does not help anything and does not change anything.
But it also changes everything.”
Christine Macel
It was with great voracity that we read a recent interview on artnet with Christine Macel, Director of the 57th Venice Biennale – which previews next week and opens to the public on the 13th May.

120 artists have been invited to participate in the main exhibition, “VIVA ARTE VIVA”, in the Central Pavilion in the Giardini and Corderie in the Arsenale, 103 of whom have been selected for the first time. The exhibition will be divided into nine “trans-pavilions”, each taking on vast themes, including thePavilion of Joys and Fears, and the Pavilion of Time and Infinity. It is in beginning with the Pavilion of Artists and Books, however, that the Exhibition reveals its premise, a dialectic that extends beyond the artist , addressing the organisation of society and its values. The start is an examination of how art is created, the very practice of making art, halfway between idleness and action, otium and negotium.

“VIVA ARTE VIVA” will play home to Green Light, a project co-founded by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. For the duration of the Biennale, May to November, Green Lights will be made by around 60 refugees living in and around Mestre on the mainland, and the initiative – helping refugees come together with local people to make lamps from recycled materials – will furthermore through sales of the 300 lights, designed by Eliasson, raise proceeds to support the  project and other refugees. 

This central concern with the “res publica” is something that runs deep throughout Macel’s thinking. The central exhibition, while curated under her expert guidance , is, as she says, “an exclamation, a passionate outcry for art and the state of the artist. VIVA ARTE VIVA is a Biennale designed with artists, by artists and for artists.designed with the artists, by the artists and for the artists.”

This sense of democracy will, we anticipate, be equally powerful on the ground as online. Additional programming will introduce the participating artists, including daily videos that will be screened on the Biennale’s website in the run up to the exhibition’s opening and the initiative Open Table, which invites audiences to share lunch with an artist every Friday and Saturday throughout the six-month exhibition.

Macel calls it an “Exhibition inspired by humanism” – a type of humanism neither focused on an artistic ideal nor characterised by the celebration of mankind. Instead, this humanism, through art, celebrates mankind’s ability to avoid being dominated by the powers governing world affairs. In this type of humanism, the artistic act is an act of resistance, of liberation and of generosity. With this in mind, “art is the last bastion.”

“It’s not the position that makes the art,” as Macel notes, “but,” as she goes on to quote John Berger,hope is already an energy that changes the whole perspective.” 

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Lead image above: Green lights designed by Olafur Eliasson will be made during the Venice Biennale by around 60 refugees who live in and around Mestre on the mainland. Proceeds from the sale of the 300 lights, made from recycled materials during the artistic workshops which involve language courses, film screenings and other activities go towards supporting the project launched last spring in Vienna by Studio Olafur Eliasson and founding partner TBA21 (Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary). They are working with the Biennales organisers and the local government to bring the project to Venice from May until November. 


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