May You Live in interesting Times. The strap line for the Venice Biennale 2019 is very relevant. We do live in interesting times but the contemporary art on show may suggest a different strap – May you live in Challenging times. While in Venice we have seen a lot of art here placed in contradictory surroundings – mainly modern and contemporary art against renaissance frescoes in Venetian gothic palaces. But here the background, which is almost lost behind the plywood facades, is the wonderful wharves and warehouses of the old naval ship yard, the Arsenale. I found myself looking up at the buildings more often than the art.
Dream Journal 2016-2019 (2019), though, did grab my attention. The Canadian, Jon Rafman (b.1981) is an artist and essayist and his work focuses on modern technology, digital media and utopian narrative.
Dream Journal is a single channel video of surreal computer animation depicting some form of future dystopia. The graphics are aged slightly which makes it work quite well. I thought I would simply cast an eye and move on but found myself transfixed and only left after about an hour of shear enjoyment.
By giving the art video some time I started to the see appropriation I was supposed to coming from just about everything I had ever seen before. The story was straightforward. Girl meets boy (who happens to be an interesting seal / dog creature with boys face). Boy gets abducted by evil woman. Rest is of girl trying to recover boy along a journey of adventures.
Star Wars (3-CPO) droids, tele-tubbies and Scooby Doo characters abound. Imagine a world full of mythical God like creatures, inhabitants of Chew Bacca’s bar in Star Wars, medieval grotesques and horrors and every Monty Python ghastly beast you can. They are all here. The erotic androgynous males and females of the pagan and mythical world to keep the old men happy, and the half bodies of the games world and exploding flesh to satisfy the young, and all the time the age old good v evil challenge. Would she find her beloved seal dog boy.
I was intrigued by the notice outside the presentation warning the over sensitive to be wary. There was nothing here that should concern the viewer more than they might otherwise see with paintings such as the ‘Massacre of the Innocents” or the numerous biblical horrors, in most Venetian churches by the great renaissance Masters.
Contemporary Art, like all historical art, I repeatedly say, needs the viewer to take time with, and not just to brush past in a hurry. Jan Hofman’s video is no exception. Having struggled through room after room of what looked like the last days of an Art College materials jamboree I left feeling elated that I had enjoyed this great appropriated digital adventure. My departing thought was; what would Lewis Caroll make of it, and I concluded that if he had had the technology “Alice in Wonderland” would have been an even more wonderful and surreal adventure.
The Biennale is expensive at €35 entrance so if you do go, take time and be selective!