The questions in this series are set by Manca Bajec and Isobel Wohl.
Question 1. Ralph Rugoff writes that this year’s exhibition, entitled May You Live in Interesting Times,‘will no doubt include artworks that reflect upon precarious aspects of existence today, including different threats to key traditions, institutions and relationships of the “post-war order.”’ How do you feel that the work that you are presenting as part of your curated project responds to this set of concerns? (Or, for curators, how do the curatorial choices you have made respond to this set of concerns?)
Lucia Pietroiusti: The opera-performance Sun & Sea (Marina) addresses precarity on a planetary, existential scale, in the way in which these manifest or emerge spontaneously in the everyday. Making a parallel between tired bodies and a tired planet, the opera-performance presents a beach scene that is so ordinary it is almost unremarkable, yet audiences approach it from a very disconcerting viewpoint: above. In doing so, we are both part of the scene at the beach, recognising what is familiar about a holiday, as well as separate from it. In this context, the songs that comprise the opera are the everyday thoughts of holiday-makers, delivered with an easiness that oozes out of the entire picture. Yet as the one-hour loop reveals more and more characters, and as choruses bring all those voices together, an underlying anxiety around the climate crisis begins to emerge. But it emerges as it often does in everyday life: as thoughts that come and then float by, or as large-scale events via the way they impact each character’s life. So the work concerns itself with the environment, certainly, but also with the cognitive disjuncture that exists between huge, unevenly distributed planetary ‘events’ and our brains, so stubbornly trained to engage primarily, and most vividly, with what’s directly in front of us.
As far as other curatorial elements were concerned, we wanted the pavilion to implicate itself within the fabric of the city; a whole new Italy-based cast has been slowly taking over from the original, Lithuanian one. We opened a military zone to the public that had never before been seen, not even by locals.
Lastly, Benjamin Reichen of the collective Abake collaborated on the making of the publication both with Grafiche Veneziane, the only litho printers in Venice, and with MaleFatte, a screen-printing cooperative run by the male inmates of the prison of Santa Maria Maggiore, also in Venice. We are now working on more projects that expand the notion of the ‘ecological’ as a methodology: projects around resource-sharing in Venice, or developing modes of collaboration through the artwork’s future ‘tour’…
Question 2. What does it mean for you as an artist, a curator, or a curatorial team to represent your country? How does the structure of the Venice Biennial, with its individual national pavilions, influence your choices as a participant? What does it mean, in terms of the current state of European and world politics, for us to emphasise national representation in the arts sector?
Lucia Pietroiusti: Being an Italian curator, based in the UK, working on a Lithuanian national pavilion is of course just as much a matter of cultural translation as it is one of representation, perhaps even more so. I find the Lithuanian art scene to be incredibly vibrant and exciting at this moment—and the tradition of performance is very strong there. In this context, the project is both extremely ‘local’—something that Monika Kalinauskaite brilliantly brings up in terms of the Lithuanian context—and somewhat more distributed. Certainly, the beach depicted is specific to some places in the world, and even perhaps most importantly, the experience of a lazy holiday at the beach that is only available to some. But the concerns it raises are doubtless transnational, and perhaps even extend to de-anthropo-centring those very concerns, since while we do not see them, seaweed, shells, jellyfish and oceans feature prominently in the imaginations of the characters.
What I would say about the question of national representation is, at this stage, influenced by our pavilion’s success. It was an honour to be part of the team that brought such an important award ‘home’: Lithuania is a country with a phenomenal art scene, with great and strong support of its cultural life abroad, and which has presented outstanding pavilions in Venice over the last 11 years; after receiving four special mentions over that time, this moment felt very important. Having said this, the work really did survive on love and the energy of every single person involved, for a very long time. We brought the performance to the Biennale with a team of enthusiastic individuals that went above and beyond to make it into the success it has been. So this work is as much a national representation as it is a representation of a community that has gathered around the belief of a project.
Question 3. How do the choices you’ve made in your national pavilion relate to recent developments in your artistic or curatorial practice? What do you hope that your creative decisions in this project will contribute to your work going forward?
Lucia Pietroiusti: At the Serpentine Galleries, where I work for the rest of the year, I have recently developed the General Ecology project (which is now my full-time work as Curator of General Ecology). The project works on an expanded notion of ‘ecology’ at all levels—embedding ecological concerns into the galleries’ exhibitions, live events, radio programmes and publications, but also introducing principles and methodologies gleaned from ecology (such as symbiosis and cooperation) into the way we work and into our everyday life. In doing so, structures that have crystallised in museums can be loosened and played with, and the institutions themselves become more porous, more collaborative. It is not an accident, then, that Sun & Sea (Marina) concerns itself with the discrepancies between everyday thinking and global climate events or ocean ecology.
As for me, I would hope that there would, eventually, be a General Ecology department in every art institution, thinking with and through the teachings that forests, mushrooms, microbes and all other beings have within them, given a keen and attentive observation of them.
Manca Bajec is an artist and researcher living and working in London, UK and Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Isobel Wohl is a visual artist and writer. She lives and works in London, UK and Brooklyn, NY.
For more information the Venice Biennale go to www.labiennale.org/en/…