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The Unhappy Biennale Arte Venice 59th : "The Milk of Dreams"

The Milk of Dreams

The Milk of Dreams takes its title from a book by Leonora Carrington (1917–2011) in which the Surrealist artist describes a magical world where life is constantly re-envisioned through the prism of the imagination. It is a world where everyone can change, be transformed, become something or someone else; a world set free, brimming with possibilities. But it is also the allegory of a century that imposed intolerable pressure on the definition of the self, forcing Carrington into a life of exile: locked up in mental hospitals, an eternal object of fascination and desire, yet also a figure of startling power and mystery, always fleeing the strictures of a fixed, coherent identity. When asked about her birth, Carrington would say she was the product of her mother’s encounter with a machine, suggesting the same bizarre union of human, animal, and mechanical that marks much of her work.

The exhibition The Milk of Dreams takes Leonora Carrington’s otherworldly creatures, along with other figures of transformation, as companions on an imaginary journey through the metamorphoses of bodies and definitions of the human. This exhibition is grounded in many conversations with artists over the last few years. The questions that kept emerging from these dialogues seem to capture this moment in history when the survival of the species is threatened, but also to sum up many other inquiries that pervade the sciences, arts, and myths of our time.

How is the definition of the human changing? What constitutes life, and what differentiates plant and animal, human and non-human? What are our responsibilities towards the planet, other people, and other life forms? And what would life look like without us?

These are some of the guiding questions for this edition of the Biennale Arte, which focuses on three thematic areas in particular: the representation of bodies and their metamorphoses; the relationship between individuals and technologies; the connection between bodies and the Earth. Or, to borrow the terms used by philosopher Rosi Braidotti, whose writings on the posthuman have been essential for this exhibition, the end of the centrality of man, becoming-machine and becoming-earth. Many contemporary artists and thinkers are envisioning a new “posthuman” condition, which Braidotti defines as “a convergence phenomenon between post-humanism and postanthropocentrism, that is to say, the critique of the universal ideal of the Man of reason on the one hand and the reject of species supremacy on the other.”

They challenge the Enlightenment notion of the human being – especially the white European male – as motionless hub of the universe and measure of all things. In its place, they propose new alliances among species and worlds inhabited by porous, hybrid, manifold beings that are not unlike Carrington’s extraordinary creatures. Under the increasingly pervasive pressure of technology, the boundaries between bodies and objects have been utterly transformed, bringing about profound mutations that remap subjectivities, hierarchies, and anatomies.

Russian pavilion (closed)

Today, the world seems dramatically split between technological optimism − which promises that the human body can be endlessly perfected through science − and the dread of a complete takeover by machines via automation and artificial intelligence.

This rift has widened during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has forced us even further apart and caged much of human interaction behind the screens of electronic devices. In these past two years, the fragility of the human body has become tragically clear, but at the same time the body has been kept at a distance, filtered by technology, disincarnated, rendered almost intangible.

The pressure of technology, the heightening of social tensions, the outbreak of the pandemic, and the looming threat of environmental disaster remind us every day that as mortal bodies, we are neither invincible nor self-sufficient, but rather part of a symbiotic web of interdependencies that bind us to each other, to other species, and to the planet as a whole. In this climate, many artists envision the end of anthropocentrism, celebrating a new communion with the non-human, with the animal world, and with the Earth; they cultivate a sense of kinship between species and between the organic and inorganic, the animate and inanimate.

Still others, drawing from indigenous traditions, practice what feminist theorist and activist Silvia Federici calls the “re-enchantment of the world,” trying “to reconnect what capitalism has divided: our relation with nature, with others, and with our bodies, enabling us not only to escape the gravitational pull of capitalism but to regain a sense of wholeness in our lives.”

The Peggy Gug genheim Collection

The exhibition, organised by the Peggy Gug genheim Collection with the Barberini Museum in Potsdam and curated by Gražina Subelytė, is the first to investigate the still little explored theme of magic and the occult in Surrealism, one that was so important for the movement, ever since André Breton wrote his first Manifesto.

Forced to confront the terrible consequences of the First World War- and inevitably one considers the parallels with the epoch we are currently living through the Surrealists had found the passport to a post - war cultural and spiritual rebirth in dreams, in the irrational, in al chemy ;

these became the means for a total revolution that was not only material, but also of the mind, an individual transformation becoming the means with which to change the world. (By Francesca Ortalli)


The exhibition unfolds in the Central Pavilion of the Giardini, and in the Corderie, Artiglierie, and the outdoor spaces of the Gaggiandre and Giardino delle Vergini at the Arsenale complex. The Milk of Dreams includes over two hundred artists from 58 countries. More than 180 of these artists have never had their work in the International Art Exhibition until now. For the first time in its 127-year history, the Biennale will include a majority of women and gender non-conforming artists, a choice that reflects an international art scene full of creative ferment and a deliberate rethinking of men’s centrality in the history of art and contemporary culture. The exhibition features contemporary works and new projects conceived specifically for the Biennale Arte, presented in dialogue with historic works from the 19th century on.

Cecilia Alemani and the Curators of the Ukrainian Pavilion have designed "Piazza Ucraina", a space dedicated to Ukrainian artists and their resistance to the aggression. We hope that this initiative will help raise awareness in the world against the war and all that comes with it.

“In times of brutal wars like the one Ukraine is currently living under - said Cecilia Alemani, Curator of the 59th International Art Exhibition - it seems almost impossible to think about art. But perhaps what the long history of La Biennale has taught us is that this institution can function as a space of conversation, a piazza where dialogue can continue, and where art can serve as a tool to challenge the very notion of national identity and politics. In its 127 years of existence, La Biennale has registered the shocks and revolutions of history like a seismographer. Our hope is that with Piazza Ucraina we can create a platform of solidarity for the people of Ukraine in the earth of the Giardini, among the historical pavilions that were built on the very ideal of nation-state, shaped by twentieth century geopolitical dynamics and colonial expansions.”

Why the title and theme, Surrealism?

Cecilia Alemani, curator of the Biennale

"In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in Surrealism, understood no longer as the sort studied at school, by Breton, Ernst, Dali, but an extended , different Surrealism. Many exhibitions have looked at international Surrealism; not only French Surrealism, but also what was happening in North Africa, in the colonies, in America, as well as the leading role of women in the movement. So there has been a lot of critical work to rediscover different faces of Surrealism . Looking at just Venice, that is what the exhibition at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection does. We did not plan this with them beforehand: it was a coincidence, but of the kind that are never coincidences. This happens when the antennae of art simultaneously pick up the signs of the times ..."

declares Cecilia Alemani for the inverwiews with intime magazine.

They pick up on the parallels between the time when Surrealism was born and the time we live in now . Surrealism was founded in 1924, after the First World War. I find points of common with that period in history - the return of so many reactionary governments, the great economic and social upheaval taking place, first with Covid and now with the Russian invasion of Ukraine - and it seems to me that many artists are using methodologies or techniques similar to those of the Sur realists. Of course now there is more freedom of condemnation, at least in some parts of the world, but artists again resort to dreams, to the unconscious, to represent the crisis of our society.

How do you think the artists involved by you and those proposed by the participating countries have interpreted the theme? Beyond the prizes awarded, what has surprised or impressed you?

It is always a fluid process. We went through two intense years of contact with artists from all over the world, but at a distance, in personal isolation. These months coincided with the pandemic and the computer screen was our only window for a long time. What emerged was an idea of introspection, the intention to analyse what was happening through the physicality of the body. I seem to read an intense concern in the artists. They have brought this to Venice to different degrees.

Would you also call it a Biennale on the borders? I am thinking of the boundaries of identity, those of the human being in relation to his own species, other life forms, the resources of the planet...

I think artists look for affinities between human and other life forms. It is a field that not only they , but also philosophers and scientists had begun to explore even before the pandemic. Then all our swaggering confidence was shattered by a virus: it has been a harsh lesson in humility, a warning to look at our role in the universe in more modest terms. We need to envisage a form of relationship that is not just exploitation of others and of the Earth .

War has once again broken into the century - old history of the Biennale. You have said that you hope this exhibition will be a space in which to preserve or re - establish relationships. Can art really be a bridge at certain junctures? Does it retain its independence of judgement?

I think so , of course insofar as it can. When borders and diplomatic channels are closed, that of art sometimes manages to remain open. Although confined to the cultural sphere and perhaps fragmentary, it enables contacts to be made with people who would otherwise be completely invisible behind impenetrable, ever new iron curtains. This war broke out unexpectedly just before the opening, and the Biennale's space for culture also became a space for diplomacy, precisely because it is also an expression of the national pavilions. We have done everything we could to support the Ukrainian one. (citinavi team visited Venice Biennale, July 22-24.)


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