A Special Project curated by Ralph Rugoff for the 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, May You Live in Interesting Times occupies Pavilion of Applied Arts at the Arsenale, which since 2016 has been shared by La Biennale and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The installation explores the ways in which the archival trace can be used as a means of identifying, unraveling, and reconstructing historical narratives. Comprised of an audio play and a short film edited from archival material, It’s About Time imagines a radical alternative history of the foundation of La Biennale, with women at its centre.
The project takes as a point of departure archival records of meetings held between Venice’s civic, intellectual, and business leaders, and the Mayor, poet Riccardo Selvatico. These early discussions, animated by ideas of civic pride, moral philanthropy, and public good, led to the creation of La Biennale di Venezia in 1895.
Further archival research revealed glimpses of a set of parallel conversations taking place at the same time in Venice led by the fearless Duchess Felicita Bevilacqua La Masa, whose 1899 bequest secured Ca’Pesaro for Galleria d’Arte Moderna and provided studios for young artists. While the status of their proposals remains unclear, the notion of female representatives meeting to discuss art and philanthropy opened up a new realm of possibilities, introducing the role of dissent in shaping contemporary culture.
The central element in the development of the project was a process of a collective script writing. A group of Italian women practitioners: Lucia Cavorsi; Giulia Damiani; Valeria Facchin; Alice Ongaro; Carlotta Pierleoni; Flora Pitrolo; Silvia Tanzini based in London together with the art historian Clarissa Ricci and scholar Francesca Tarocco in Venice speculate on a scenario in which the foundations of La Biennale were built by women, allowing the sound of their ‘unheard voices’ to be encountered for the first time. Asserting their own presence through invention and self-discovery, the resulting recording of their debate resonates within the immersive space placed inside the Pavilion, drawing attention to the mechanisms of how knowledge is created and disseminated.
Those concerns are also articulated through a projection of a colour film re-edited from 16mm footage found at Blythe House, where the Victoria and Albert Museum Archive is situated. The original film, shot over many months in 1978 by a professional team, carefully stages the ‘museum at work’. Curators, conservators, and educators can be seen rehearsing daily tasks. Their interactions and dynamics on ‘set’ point to the role of staging and repetition inside institutional rituals of the museum. The assertive spaces of exhibition-making are clearly linked through a choreographed set of procedures embedded in the existing hierarchies and distinctions. While women working together are seen through relationships in excess of the call of duty.
In its entirety, the project raises questions around how women can revise and inhabit suppressed histories and traditions made without their participation. It’s about time!
The installation is a result of a collaboration with Studio Abroad responsible for the exhibition design, with sound design by Robert Jack, furniture by Michael Marriot, graphic design by Luke Gould, film editor Nina Rac , music Luca Nasciuti, motion graphics by Christina Worner with Sophie Persson as the project’s producer.
Homage to Felicita Bevilacqua La Masa Conference
22nd October 2.30pm Teatro alle Tese, Arsenale, Venice
Speakers: Paolo Baratta, Marysia Lewandowska, Angela Vettese and others tbc
Women Looking at Women Frieze;
The Revisionist V&A Magazine
Is the Future Female at the Venice Biennale? Sotheby’s Institute of Art
The difficult buisiness of archiving the Biennale FT;
Quell’Archivio E Un Capolavoro La Repubblica
Special Project. 58th Biennale di Venezia. May You Live in Interesting Times.
Pavilion of Applied Arts. La Biennale di Venezia with the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Curator: Ralph Rugoff
Producer: Sophie Persson
Architecture: Studio Abroad
Furniture: Michael Marriott
Graphic Design: Luke Gould
Motion Graphics: Christina Worner
Sound Design: Robert Jack
Film Editor: Nina Rac
Composer: Luca Nasciuti
Research Assistance: Melanie Scheiner
Translation: Mistura Allison
Project consultants: 51/Architecture
Photographic documentation Xavier Ribas
- #51% Architecture
- #Alice Ongaro
- #archival footage
- #Carlotta Pierleoni
- #Christina Wõrner
- #Clarissa Ricci
- #collective writing
- #exhibition design
- #Felicita Bevilacqua La Masa
- #Flora Pitrolo
- #Francesca Tarocco
- #Georges Massoud and Summer Islam
- #Giulia Damiani
- #graphic design
- #La Biennale
- #Luca Nasciuti
- #Lucia Cavorsi
- #Luke Gould
- #Michael Marriott
- #Mistura Allison
- #Nina Rac
- #Pavilion of Applied Arts
- #Public Realm
- #Ralph Rugoff
- #Riccardo Selvatico
- #Robert Jack
- #Sophie Persson
- #Studio Abroad
- #Talks & Workshops
- #Valeria Facchin
- #Victoria and Albert Museum
- #writing history