Venice Biennale 2022

Biennale Venezia 2022
While it seems that the whole world, including fashion and art, has moved into virtual reality, engaging in the creation of NFT and Metaverse-friendly projects such as collections for avatars and works of art that de facto do not exist (if one connects the concept of existence, for example, to one's home or to any place where one can walk, breathe, etc.), the central exhibition of the Art Biennale 2022, curated this year by Cecilia Alemani, offers a different perspective, reminding us that visual arts are - still - made of materials, techniques and real objects which require a multisensory approach - sight, touch, smell, hearing. Taste is missing, but the flavors of certain works can be felt anyway, also in the mouth. 
The title of the exhibition "The Milk of Dreams", already recalls a less dystopian imagery than the one in which we have been immersed, also due to the pandemic, in the last two years: milk, dreams, white, softness. And motherhood too, not necessarily meant as "mother" but rather as "nurturing feminine", through milk but also through stories, tales, and, above all, through the hands which create, guide, teach, and hand down disciplines that someone presumed long dead.
The Milk of Dreams is the title of a children's book by Leonora Carrington in which the surrealist artist describes a magical world seen through the prism of the imagination and inhabited by mutable and multiform creatures - a liberated world, in which anyone can transform and become someone or something else. Cecilia Alemani populates the Central Pavilion of the Giardini and some spaces of the Arsenale complex with Carrington's creatures, which guide the viewer on a journey through the metamorphoses of the body, the definitions of the human, and the relationships between man and animal, organic and inorganic. The exhibition is based on the dialogues undertaken by Alemani and the participating artists over several years: "How does the idea of human change? What constitutes life? What differentiates the plant from the animal? The animate from the non-animate? And how do we deal with this in an era marked by catastrophes?" Both the curator and the artists acknowledge contemporary technology and its revolutionary power, but rather than simply exhibiting it, they confront it by highlighting its contradictions: on the one hand, the possibilities of science, and on the other, the legitimate fear that artificial intelligence will gain total control over our existence.

The exhibition includes over 200 artists from 58 different countries, of these, 180 are participating in the Biennale for the first time and, also for the first time, the majority are women or gender non-conformingl. There's no denying it, we're not used, at least not in Italy, to seeing such important exhibitions curated by women, and we're not even used to a narrative that is different from the dominant White Male one. This femininity, whether intended or unintended, is so present and powerful that it transcends the works and becomes part of the environments: it "smells like female" in the exhibition spaces: sweat, milk, blood, and all those sticky things that belong to parts of the body that often go unspoken or narrated in a stereotypical way. There's Gwendolyn, one of Nike de Saint Phalle's famous Nanas (girls), who explores the possibilities of the body by deforming its proportions, giving us bulbous abdomens and prosperous breasts. There are Miriam Cahn's paintings, 28 works dedicated to childbirth, menstruation, and sexuality of all genders. There are the domestic psychodramas of Paula Rego, which reflect on the problematic aspects of family and home, transforming the everyday into grotesque. And then there are the photographs of Aneta Grezeszyk, which subvert the traditional mother-daughter relationship through the interaction between the artist's own daughter and a silicone doll depicting her mother. Al this is guarded, at the entrance of the Arsenale, by Brik House, the gigantic sculpture by Simone Leigh depicting a female figure without eyes. Because lately many are the things that women would rather not see.
It is not, however, only the female artists, the themes dealt with, and the Great Mothers who assertively watch over their creatures that contribute to the feminine feel that determines the exhibition. Much space is also given to techniques traditionally considered feminine, such as embroidery, macramé and weaving. Thus, textile bodies and landscapes are born, telling stories of looms, spinning wheels, needles and threads and of all those objects and know-how that are typical, for example, of the fashion world and that no one, in this century of fast fashion and disposable clothes, seems to remember. This is the case of the gigantic sculptures of Mrilnani Mukherjee, made with the ancient Arab technique of macramé, of Tunisian artist Safia Farhat’ dreamlike tapestries, of Tain Lewis' talismans, made with discarded fabrics and held together by patience and pain (hands, back and head, because not all that glitters is gold).
And then there is the textile work of Igshaan Adams, a masterpiece of threads, fabrics, beads, knots and weaves, because we want to hope that, in 2022, "feminine" no longer sounds as "exclusive prerogative of women" or, even worse, "frivolous", but rather as an open invitation to explore an artistic, social and cultural dimension that belongs to everyone but that for too long has been kept away from the spotlight of the international art scene, relegated to the creative equivalents of grandmothers' attics, as was done with rebellious females in a not too distant past.
Thanks to Cecilia Alemani's Milk and Dreams, to Leonora Carrington's magical creatures, and to the Biennale itself, which relentlessly looks to the future even when the present appears bleak. Hoping that this will be the beginning of a new, long, fantastic tale.