The Contemporary HUM team made its way from Paris, London and Lisbon to attend the 58th Venice Biennale opening. This marks the first time that the three of us are in the same place and we are looking forward to covering and experiencing this major event as a team!
At the Marco Polo airport, we are greeted by remnants of Simon Denny's project Secret Power, covering the floor and walls of the international arrival lounge. Originally installed for the New Zealand presentation at the 2015 Biennale and then recommissioned by the airport as a more long-lasting installation, the upside down images are of the Marciana Library where the national pavilion was located, in San Marco square.
We have the pleasure of starting our week with a visit to the New Zealand Pavilion where we interview Dane Mitchell about his project Post hoc. It is fascinating to get an in-depth insight into the thinking and production behind this two-year long project. Through an organic and handmade process, and with the help of three researchers and partner organisations, Dane told us how he compiled a list of over 3 million words categorised in 260 lists of such defunct or vanished things as: dead languages, extinct plants, abandoned airports...
Partner institutions include the Italian Institute of Marine Science (which previously occupied the Palazzina Canonica hosting the New Zealand pavilion this year) or the Art Loss Register in the UK who track stolen artworks and antiquities and who provided a list of 40,000 stolen artworks (that reads for about 8 days!).
"I think of the list of lists as a kind of poem, they reflect my own research interest (...) and allow the audience to think about what it might mean for something to be gone, and what goneness might be. Some of these things might not appear to be gone and yet in one way we can think of them as forces of absences or sorts of absences."
Dane points out that despite things disappearing, such as discontinued fragrances, prohibited aroma molecules and closed glass factories, the planetary mass doesn't change. He tells us of the lists he loves most: subduction zones, planetary occultations or lost lunar samples - Nixon gifted rocks brought back from space to organisations and nations, and those went missing - suggesting the idea that "something is momentarily vanished and then back."
Dane showed us the tapered anechoic chamber used to transmit the list of disappeared items out to the 7 tree stealth towers installed in the gardens of the pavilion and throughout the city. This chamber, as well as the stealth towers and Amy, the Amazon-produced automated voice application used in Post hoc, are all pre-existing forms in the world, but are somewhat modified by the artist for this project for various practical, aesthetic and artistic reasons. The anechoic chamber produced in Verona for example, has an added viewing window which, while breaking the seal of sound absorption, is also a poetic framing of the "transmission travelling over an illusion of an infinite horizon."
We also discussed the singular viewpoint that this unavoidably incomplete list presents, and whether it was a concern of the project to find what other sets of knowledge were missing. This opened a conversation on the knowledge economy and how certain countries, such as the United States, dominate the internet or other English-speaking research sources.
We'll be publishing the full interview in coming weeks on HUM.
Stay tuned for further news and updates about the Biennale vernissage, tomorrow, with the official opening of the New Zealand Pavilion and other events in the floating city.