Firenze Lai's various works, 2010-2013, using mixed materials. 
Photo: Francesco Galli via La Biennale di Venezia
Firenze Lai's various works, 2010-2013, using mixed materials. Photo: Francesco Galli via La Biennale di Venezia

With so much on offer at the 57th Venice Biennale that runs until November 26, there is no shortage of the talent one can view from all corners of the world. Here we take a look at the best of Asia on show.

Songs and grace

Samson Young is presenting Songs for Disaster Relief a sculpture and living room-style installation, which stages renditions of various songs used for charity fundraising in the 1980s – such as We Are the World and Do They Know It’s Christmas? – as Hong Kong’s official representative in Venice.

Meanwhile, Firenze Lai, a graduate of the Hong Kong Art School, has been chosen to be part of the main exhibition Viva Arte Viva, curated this year by Christine Macel, from the Musée national d’art moderne – Center Pompidou in Paris.

In contrast to Young’s multilayered presentation, Lai’s paintings are charmingly simple and melancholic, featuring large blurry figures within urban landscapes.

Arriving somewhere between awkwardness and grace, her compositions invite the viewer to pause within an imaginary narrative.

Sailing through time

Bare bones in a big space: Dapunta Hyang Transmission of Knowledge by Zai Kuning. Photo: National Arts Council

There is something folkloric in the large installation Dapunta Hyang: Transmission of Knowledge by Singaporean Zai Kuning. While a little disappointing formally (a large boat made of rattan, bound by beeswax and strings), the artist’s plea for the orang laut (sea people in Malay) is both poignant and enduring.

It’s an attempt to emulate the forgotten stories of the original pre-Islamic Malay people from research that the artist started some 20 years ago – the vessel is believed to be similar to the one Dapunta Hyang, the Malay-Buddhist ruler of the Srivijaya kingdom, sailed.

An open page

Bold statement: Liu Ye’s works, 2007-2016, using mixed materials. Photo: Francesco Galli via La Biennale di Venezia

History is also reflected in the paintings of books by Liu Ye. Liu is usually known for bright paintings featuring children and Miffy the cartoon bunny.

Here, inspired by his parents’ collection of books that were banned during the Cultural Revolution (the Beiing-based artist’s father was a children’s book author), Liu’s simple renditions of book covers allude to their hefty power as objects, and to the infinite potential of their content.

Bleeding colors: Jianyi Geng’s various works, 1990-2000, using mixed materials.
Photo: Francesco Galli via La Biennale di Venezia

That potential is subtly central to the work of Jianyi Geng – part of the ’85 New Wave, a nationwide avant-garde movement that emerged in China in the mid-1980s.

His display of books where colored dye has been washed out off the pages, leaving colorful traces. The books are rendered vulnerable, pointing to the dissolution of their matter, and at something rescued but still intangible.

A link with history

At the Palazzo Fortuny, a house that belonged to the late fashion designer Mariano Fortuny, the film The Ferryman (Le Passeur des Lieux) by Gilles Delmas and Damien Jalet is set in the midst of mysterious ceremonies and natural landscapes from Bali, Japan, Scotland and the Louvre museum.

It also features scores by Japanese composer Ryuchi Sakamoto and Bali’s Gamelan-Gong Sabatu ensemble.

As part of the stunning exhibition Intuition – the last chapter of a decade-long project co-produced and designed by the Alex & May Vervoordt Foundation – the film underlines a beautiful link running between prehistorical creativity all the way into contemporary choreography, via shamanic trance, traditional rituals, and communion with nature.

Nature rocks

Kishio Suga’s Law of Situation 1971/2017 mixed media installation for the
57th Venice Biennale. Photo: Francesco Galli via La Biennale di Venezia

Kishio Suga’s poetic investigations of material and space take the form of a series of flat, but bulky stones lined up on a large piece of wood in the midst of the Gaggiandre shipyards behind the Arsenale.

Law of Situation was first conceived in 1971 at the Ube City Open-Air Museum and was set floating on a lake. The work – by one of the leaders of Japan’s Mono-ha “School of Things” art movement – explores the ephemeral “situations” (jōkyō) that occur between materials in a specific setting, and often relies on the dynamics of water, thus alluding to other forces that are invisible but part of nature, in Asia, and in the world.

Impressions: Liu Ye’s works (2007-2016) using mixed materials. Photo: Francesco Galli via La Biennale di Venezia