Special report: Venice Biennale

.ART’s picks at the intersection of Art and Technology

The Venice Biennale is the oldest, most iconic and important contemporary art event in the world. Founded in 1895, it remains today, as it has for over a century, a unique event that provides an unmitigated glimpse into the art world today.

The 2019 Venice Biennale (May 11 – November 24), offers a moment to stop, pause and reflect. Entitled ‘May You Live In Interesting Times’, curated by Hayward Gallery’s Ralph Rugoff, the main event gathers 79 artists from all over the world, presented across two main venues, the Giardini and the Arsenale, alongside a record number 90 national participants and 21 collateral events.

Taking stock of some of the most interesting artworks, projects and artists that utilize emerging technologies—like VR and AI—.ART looks at how emerging technologies are reshaping both how we look and experience art at the 2019 Venice Biennale.

Taiwan Pavilion’s Shu Lea Cheang’s 3x3x6 curated by Paul B. Preciado


One of the most interesting works in this year’s Venice Biennale connects ideas of virtual networks with spaces in the real world. Not long after the internet was made publicly available in 1990, artist She Lea Cheang embarked on projects that function somewhere in between digital communication and body politics. For her latest project, she investigates the shifting digital landscape between technology and the body, technology and globalization.

Curated by Paul B. Preciado, Cheang’s latest work at the Palazzo delle Prigioni, which had previously served as a prison in the sixteenth century, explores how forms of architecture relate to the body against the legacy of theorists like Michel Foucault. The project’s title refers to the standardized industrial architecture of imprisonment: a 3 x 3 square-meter cell, constantly monitored by 6 cameras, in which 3x3x6 refers to the realities—both physical and virtual—of surveillance and its role in shaping the forms of weaponized architecture today.

 Phi-Centre and Acute Art present a unique Marina Abramović VR work

With the rise of virtual reality taking up an ever-increasing presence in contemporary art, this year’s Venice Biennale was bound to contain some of the cutting-edge technology. Over at Phi-Centre’s collateral event, a unique VR experience produced by Acute Art (newly helmed by Moderna Museet’s former director Daniel Birnbaum), gives viewers a chance to interact with the iconic performance artist Marina Abramović while wearing an immersive headset.

The work addresses climate change by transporting viewers into an intimate virtual space, where they come face-to-face with Abramović, who is situated in a tank that rapidly fills with water. Making eye contact with her, the piece harkens back to her infamous work The Artist is Present, albeit here we find ourselves encountering a digitalized Abramović slowly drowning, referencing the drastically changing environmental situation we find ourselves in today due to climate change and the melting of the polar ice caps.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster also goes VR in the international pavilion

When the artist and musician Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster unveiled his new work Endodrome (2019) in Venice, speculation soon emerged that it referenced changing states of perception and the in-between space of consciousness and cognition. Supported by HTC VIVE Arts foundation, the pice is in Ralph Rugoff’s curated international pavilion, which takes the physical form of an immersive VR experience inspired by the Greek words ‘endon’, meaning ‘internal’, and ‘dromos’, meaning ‘running, race track.’

The work takes viewers on a journey into altered states of mind, using technology as a means of creating an internal ‘séance-like’ communal experience. Endodrome ultimately asks viewers to explore the depths of their own mind, presenting us with what appears to be a fluid, hypnotic -like environment that many will not soon forget.

 Hito Steyerl’s This is the Future uses AI

 On the heels of her recent solo-exhibition Power Plants at Serpentine Galleries in London, Berlin-based artist and theorist Hito Steyerl presents a new work entitled This Is The Future, in which the artist uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to posit the space of a future garden that emulates the Venetian landscape of risen walkways.

Negotiating between the ability of AI to act as  predictive mechanism, able to foresee the future, Steyerl’s latest project in Venice seems to ask what would happen if climate change were to reach the ultimate crisis point. Steyerl’s piece evokes and explores the potential of AI in ways that beckon us to consider the possibilities of a world gone awry.  

Kahlil Joseph’s BLKNWS deconstructs online media  

California-based artist Kahlil Joseph seems to be all the rage the days. His latest project in the Ralph Rugoff-curated international pavilion presents a cacophony of digital works archived and mashed-up, in the form of a three-channel installation entitled BLKNWS.

The project was made while Joseph was a visiting artist in the Stanford Presidential Residencies on the Future of the Arts program, which takes the idea of d digital archive in the form of a genre-defying work that observes the reactions of viewers to various citizen-documented events, including police violence. By acting as a kind of internet archeologist, Joseph unpacks how reality is presented in the internet-age, and in doing so asks us to re-think the ways in which we interface with media and real-life.

Also published on Medium.

Dorian Batychka
Dorian Batychka
is a journalist and curator. In addition to contributing to numerous publications such as Frieze, Hyperallergic, Canadian Art and Mousse, he has curated exhibitions and projects at the Venice Biennale and Bait Muzna in Oman.