Getting Spiritual @ The Venice Biennale

At dinner in Venice, after a dozen glasses of wine, we discussed our favorite pavilions at this year’s Biennale and the much deserved winners of the Golden Lion. We agreed that they were chosen fairly — yet it is not obvious why we agreed. Why did one project above all speak to everyone?  



SUN and SEA / The Lithuanian Pavillion.

After some thought I recognized that those projects which bestow upon us the strongest uncontemplated emotions are those we praise the loudest. In this time of overwhelming information on the consequences of climate change, social injustice and bad politics, I am constantly asking myself about my role in the global scheme of such matters, and generally failing to come up with satisfactory answers. If you are like me, being preached to is non-conducive.  I need to get answers cryptically, through a vision — from whomever or whatever is capable of investigating these complicated concepts transcendentally. And Art seems to do it best. 

Every two years I make a point of attending the opening of the Venice Biennale. Each time I witness a project so fresh, innovative and experiential that I am  inevitably elevated  to a new stage of spiritual and creative development.

This year it was the mind bending performance work Sun and Sea on the theme of climate change presented by the Pavilion of Lithuania and the winner of the Golden Lion.  Unfortunately, the best way to describe it is; You had to be there. As I stood in the former Marine Arsenal, looking down at the beachgoers below, including children and dogs playing in the sand, I contemplated these Post-Soviet bodies as they did what is normal to do at the beach — a fat man playing chess, twins lying on a blanket, a woman looking at her cell phone, an all too familiar scene as I have spent many a summer on the Baltic Sea. I left the Soviet Union as child, but the aesthetic of the beachgoers is familiar to me, from my summers on Brighton Beach, Brooklyn and visits to Nida in Lithuania. The ingrained familiarity coupled with the surreal operettas, sung in turn by the beachgoers brought with it a cathartic sense of consciousness which I am still trying to identify.


 – I cried so much when I learned that corals will be gone.

And together with the Great Barrier Reef the fish would go extinct  

From sharks to the smallest fry.

– I cried so much when I learned bees are massively falling from the sky,

And with them all the world’s plant life will die.

– I cried so much when I understood that I am mortal,

That my body will one day get old and wither.

And I won’t see, or feel, or smell ever again…


– My mother left a 3D printer turned on.

And the machine began to print me out.


When my body dies, I will remain,

In an empty planet without birds, animals and corals.

Yet with the press of a single button, 

I will remake this world again:

– 3D corals never fade away!

– 3D animals never lose their horns!

– 3D food doesn’t have a price!

– 3D me lives forever!


I will print you out, mother,

When I need you,

My sister too, I will print you out,

When I miss you dearly.

All of us together will print out some meat,

And shrimp as well,

When we want something savoury to eat.

And we will print out the bees,

So that at least some sweetness is left.






Texts by VAIVA GRAINYTĖ  Translated into English by Rimas Užgiris

Congratulations to theater director Rugilé Bardžiukaitė, playwright Vaiva Grainytė and composer Lina Lapelytė and all involved for taking on this difficult subject matter and creating a response so profoundly poetic. And thank you to our guide Mantas for the back story — the rehearsals for this pavilion happened in their kitchen, the money to create it – Indigo-go (which is going to help maintain the performance till October.) As a good friend said, they are the innocent winners. 

Until I experienced Sun and Sea I expected the winner of the Golden Lion to be the inaugural Ghana Pavilion, in  part for the project Ghana Freedom featuring “The Elephant in the Room – Four Nocturnes” (2019) by John Akomfrah.

The work, although traditional in form (a three screen video installation) is beyond measure in content. The footage shows majestic scenes of the African terrain, animals and people alike, some in dire situations. People roaming with plastic travel bags, the death of an elephant, and close up shots of blooming wild flowers. It could be compared to David Attenbourough’s Planet Earth — post mortem — when there is no wise man to remind us about the the kingdom from which we descended, the power it beholds and how jaded we are to tamper with it’s majesty. In this work I saw a glimmer of God. And by that I mean the beholder of that which is true and above all else. 

Speaking of God, the Mexican Pavilion shows the tale of Jesus in Acts of God by Pablo Vargas Lugo, a version I can only describe as Alejandro Jodorowsky meets the “Life of Brian.” I never thought the Old Testament could be funny and upbeat —  it was just the pick me up I needed after a serious party the night before at the Icelandic Pavilion, the Las Vegas of the Biennale — in honor of SHOPLIFTERS installation Chromo Sapiens, which lines the Pavilion with massive amounts of cotton candy like hairy stalactites.


Chromosapians / The Icelandic Pavillion

The Icelandic pavilion never fails to be the strangest of all — attracting the A-list eccentrics I see wandering around during the opening days and want to get to know on the dance floor. 

And speaking of the dance floor, the Brazilian Pavilion presents a two screen choreographic masterpiece Swinguerra, created by artists Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca, and curated by Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro. This video work depicts a group of trans dancers living out a fantasy performance through the lens of Brazilian pop culture. After the dry feeling of the other pavilions in the Giardini, Swinguerra was a huge relief on a dreary and rainy opening day. The star dancer, Eduarda Lemos, who would step off the screen and into the hot parties is a true sensation belonging to the seamless realm between reality and fantasy that is the Venice Biennale. 

Swinguerra Still_01

Still from Swinguerra courtesy of the Brazilian Pavillion

       Ciao Venezia! Fino a quando ci incontreremo di nuovo nel 2021.


Biennale Arte 2019
May You Live In Interesting Times
11 May > 24 November 2019
Closed on Mondays (except 13 May, 2 September, 18 November)

Giardini: open 10 am to 6 pm
Arsenale: open 10 am to 6 pm
Arsenale: on Fridays and Saturdays, until 5 October, open 10 am to 8 pm