April 23-November 27, 2022
I entered the Giardini a newcomer, primed only by a handful of reviews during the train ride to Venice, which left me anticipating a grand political gesture upon entry into the fair. But I was instead reminded of the ongoing conflict only when I met with minor gaps and absences. The most obvious one was the empty Russian pavilion, whose Lithuanian curators pulled out just before the Biennale’s opening. Passing by an inauspicious Czech and Slovak pavilion with signage on the door, I approached it expecting to read something about its closure in solidarity with its former-Soviet kin. But it was instead simply closed for routine renovations — repairing a much more mundane kind of destruction than that brought on in the throes of war. There was also an absence — or perhaps more the corrective of an ongoing absence — at the Nordic pavilion, which had been handed over to Sami curators and artists for the duration of the fair.
Even more than dreams (as the title of this year’s exhibition, The Milk of Dreams, would imply), in the Giardini at least, the many forms, histories, and reverberations of war were on display. These exhibitions overwhelmingly looked backward, from the reimagining of women’s vocals forgotten to time by Sonia Boyce (UK), through a folksy textile take on the fresco by Małgorzata Mirga-Tas (Poland), a set of films reflecting on the Algerian war and independence by Zineb Sedira (France), and Maria Eichorn’s continued excavation of the German pavilion’s Nazi past, to Stan Douglas (Canada), whose photographic hybridization of the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements reinvigorated recent historic uprisings.