Text by Lucy Wilkinson
Directed by Massimiliano Gioni, The Encyclopedic Palace at the Venice Biennale certainly sounds like the cultural one-stop that will equip you with all the universal knowledge that you could ever need. The conception of this show was inspired by Italian-American artist, Marino Auriti, who filed a design at the U.S Patent office in 1955, depicting an imaginary museum thats purpose was to unite the greatest discoveries of the human race. Hopelessly devoted to his brainchild, Auriti settled in the Pennsylvanian countryside to start work on an architectural model of a 136-storey building that would stand seven hundred meters tall.
Although Auriti’s dream never materialized during his lifetime, Gioni took on the ambitious task of exhibiting the planet’s infinite offerings at a point in time where, because of the amount of visual information we absorb, there is an urgent need to gain perspective through objectification. Sourced from thirty-seven countries, the vast display of historical artefacts and contemporary artworks sit amongst two very important microcosm exhibits that are recognisable from institutes in the North of England. Presented in the final section of the renovated spaces of the Arsenale, the works of Alice Channer and Mark Leckey resurrect an enquiry into Animism and the artifice of the modern day, first initiated in their shows at The Hepworth Wakefield and The Bluecoat.
In a familiar aesthetic to her show Invertebrates at The Hepworth Wakefield earlier this year, sculptor Alice Channer presents three works of art that are key signifiers to her oeuvre. Describing her work as figurative without a body, Channer transforms familiar objects to suggest a body through their variable forms as a comment on the contemporary. Hard Shell (2013) and New Skin (2013) are two extremely vertical banners whose growth is only stinted by the room dimensions. Using post-industrial processes, she retouches images of electric blue shampoo and plastic hipbone models before digitally printing them on bolts of centimetre thick crepe de chine. The foot of the fabric is weighted down with hand carved and polished strands of marble, which playfully unite with the discreet prints of speckled spearmint chewing gum scattered on the reverse. Alluding not only to the contradiction of manufactured products and the handmade, these details simultaneously refer to the architectural city in which they are placed. Her third work, Reptiles (2012), is constructed from mirror-polished stainless steel to juxtapose against the elastics and cast aluminium. Like a previously rolled up poster resisting a wall, the curve in the metal bounces from its horizontal base, rebelling against the stretching that Channer has subjected it to. The trio of works give the inanimate potential to open out and breathe despite factory-born beginnings, containing life in a world where all different kinds of time exist at once.
Mark Leckey’s travelling exhibition The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things has also made its way to the Biennale in flat pack mode. As broadcasted in his original proposal hosted on YouTube, Leckey uses the surreal world of modern technology to trace connections to our biological past. Using three-dimensional scans of the photographed objects from the original exhibition at The Bluecoat in Liverpool, the cultural references flash in sequence upon two screens. Spanning from Philip Guston paintings to Felix the Cat cartoons, this digital twin is a small encyclopedic palace of its own. In showing these objects in a reproduced medium, Leckey introduces a new sensory realm, which holds the magical presence that was once said to reside in inanimate objects throughout taught art history.
With Auriti’s concept at first deemed unthinkable, Gioni’s ability to bring such remarkable ambition to life may owe itself to the turn of the 21st century. At a time when art is extreme, Channer and Leckey are perhaps correct to believe that technology and industrialisation have transformed our relationships with the objects around us. That stated, it still cannot be fact that the boundary between animate and inanimate will blur to the point where we boomerang back to our primitive history. However, what is certain and something to acknowledge is that institutions in Northern England are at the forefront of addressing the most relevant artistic and cultural issues.
Lucy Wilkinson is an Art History graduate and writer based in Leeds, who is currently working for the Lisson Gallery in Venice.