If we met an intriguing person and, after chatting for a long time, that person would say goodbye in a cryptic way, with a sentence such as "May You Live in Interesting Times", we would probably feel puzzled and confused. What did they mean by such a greeting and is that a good wish or a terrible curse, we would wonder.
Many of us will get the final answer to this hypothetical question next year as "May You Live in Interesting Times" is the title and general theme of the 58th International Art Exhibition in Venice (May 11th to November 24th, 2019). Announced a couple of weeks ago during a press conference at Ca’ Giustinian, this title is actually an ancient Chinese curse referring to periods of uncertainty, crisis and turmoil, that seems to be extremely apt for the times we're living in.
Ralph Rugoff, the Curator of the 58th International Art Exhibition and Director of the Hayward Gallery of London since 2006, explained that the inspiration came from a speech given in the late 1930s, during which British MP Sir Austen Chamberlain invoked an ancient Chinese curse that he had learnt of from a British diplomat who had served in Asia - "May you live in interesting times." "There is no doubt that the curse has fallen on us," Chamberlain stated, "we move from one crisis to another. We suffer one disturbance and shock after another."
The impression of having been hit by a terrible curse is probably rather strong in many of us, especially when we think about our lives and the fact that we seem to be trapped in a vicious circle of personal, national and international crises. Yet Rugoff is actually ready to reassure us there was never any ancient Chinese curse, but invites us to stop and think, "At a moment when the digital dissemination of fake news and 'alternative facts' is corroding political discourse and the trust on which it depends, it is worth pausing whenever possible to reassess our terms of reference," he claims in a press release.
Sure, the Art Biennale will definitely feature works tackling the precarious aspects of existence today, the threats to traditions, institutions and relationships, but there will also be artists who challenge existing habits of thought and artworks that will invite people to look at unquestioned categories and concepts; art that explores the interconnectedness of different phenomena and that raises questions and pieces and installations that visitors will be able to use as a guide to live in interesting times. After all, this "counterfeit curse" as Rugoff calls it, is not a proper theme, but a "general approach to making art and a view of art's social function as embracing both pleasure and critical thinking."
Last but not least, next year's Art Biennale hopes to bring an atmosphere of openness to the world: the President of La Biennale di Venezia Paolo Baratta reminded in the occasion of the 58th International Art Exhibition launch that, in July 1998, Harald Szeemann was appointed first curator of the new Biennale. Szeemann's Biennale in 1999 was titled "dAPERTutto" (APERTO overALL) - hinting at a section of the 1980 Venice Biennale, titled "Aperto" (Open; also curated by Szeemann) - a reference that will continue twenty years later in 2019 event.
"Biennale Arte 2019 aspires to the ideal that what is most important about an exhibition is not what it puts on display, but how audiences can use their experience of the exhibition afterwards, to confront everyday realities from expanded viewpoints and with new energies," Ralph Rugoff continues. "An exhibition should open people's eyes to previously unconsidered ways of being in the world and thus change their view of that world."
Image credit for this post
Ralph Rugoff and Paolo Baratta, Photo by Andrea Avezzù, Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia