It’s About Time. 58 La Biennale di Venezia 2019

Interview by Cristina Baldacci

Hear/See Debate Excerpt 4’03”   Play Full Debate  22’27”  Watch V&A Film 8’30”

Read Publication   Wall Texts  Bi-Lingual Script Poster

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 DamianiValeria FacchinAlice OngaroCarlotta PierleoniFlora PitroloSilvia 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



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