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Venice Biennale taps artistic angst amid rising nationalism

Associated Press logo Associated Press 5/12/2017 By COLLEEN BARRY, Associated Press
Danish artist Olaf Eliasson poses next to a "Green Light" work at the Pavilion of Denmark, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP) © The Associated Press Danish artist Olaf Eliasson poses next to a "Green Light" work at the Pavilion of Denmark, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP)

VENICE, Italy (AP) — With nationalism on the rise, political engagement is central to the artistic dialogue at the Venice Biennale, the world's oldest contemporary art fair, opening Saturday.

British artist Phyllida Barlow poses next to his work at Pavilion Great Britain, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP) © The Associated Press British artist Phyllida Barlow poses next to his work at Pavilion Great Britain, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP)

From the main show, "Viva Arte Viva," curated by Christine Macel, to 87 national pavilions in the Venice Giardini, Arsenale and throughout the historic city center, artists are contemplating the world around them and giving a voice to under-represented populations.

Curator Christine Macel, left, and Biennale President Paolo Baratta pose in front of the 57th International Art Exhibition, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (AP Photo/Luigi Costantini) © The Associated Press Curator Christine Macel, left, and Biennale President Paolo Baratta pose in front of the 57th International Art Exhibition, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (AP Photo/Luigi Costantini)

Macel said artists "are able to respond to this moment of complexity" even if art "should not be reduced to politics."

This May 10, 2017 photo made available Friday, May 12, 2017 shows Phyllida Barlow of United Kingdom Pavillion, at the Venice Art Biennale, in Venice, Italy. (AP Photo/Colleen Barry) © The Associated Press This May 10, 2017 photo made available Friday, May 12, 2017 shows Phyllida Barlow of United Kingdom Pavillion, at the Venice Art Biennale, in Venice, Italy. (AP Photo/Colleen Barry)

The show runs through Nov. 26. Here are some highlights.

This May 10, 2017 photo made available Friday, May 12, 2017 shows Berlin-based artist Olafur Eliasson's "Greenlight" project at the Venice Art Biennale, in Venice, Italy. The "Greenlight" project engages some 100 migrants living in Italy to create lamps lit by green bulbs from simple materials. (AP Photo/Colleen Barry) © The Associated Press This May 10, 2017 photo made available Friday, May 12, 2017 shows Berlin-based artist Olafur Eliasson's "Greenlight" project at the Venice Art Biennale, in Venice, Italy. The "Greenlight" project engages some 100 migrants living in Italy to create lamps lit by green bulbs from simple materials. (AP Photo/Colleen Barry)

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"Marianne" of New Zealand artist Francis Upritchard is seen at the Arsenale, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP) © The Associated Press "Marianne" of New Zealand artist Francis Upritchard is seen at the Arsenale, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP)

GREEN LIGHT PROJECT

An installation intitled "Pars pro Toto" of Polish artist Alicja Kwade is seen at the Arsenale, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP) © The Associated Press An installation intitled "Pars pro Toto" of Polish artist Alicja Kwade is seen at the Arsenale, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP)

Berlin-based artist Olafur Eliasson's "Greenlight" is an onsite workshop where 100 migrants create lamps lit by green bulbs from simple materials.

"Imitazione di Cristo" (Christ's imitation) of Italian artist Roberto Cuoghi is seen at Pavilion Italy at the Arsenale, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP) © The Associated Press "Imitazione di Cristo" (Christ's imitation) of Italian artist Roberto Cuoghi is seen at Pavilion Italy at the Arsenale, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP)

Visitors can engage with the migrants — for many a faceless, nameless category repeated on the news — maybe pitching in, maybe asking their stories.

"Imitazione di Cristo" (Christ's imitation) of Italian artist Roberto Cuoghi is seen at Pavilion Italy at the Arsenale, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP) © The Associated Press "Imitazione di Cristo" (Christ's imitation) of Italian artist Roberto Cuoghi is seen at Pavilion Italy at the Arsenale, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP)

Eliasson says being a migrant is not an identity, but a condition. "What we see is ourselves," Eliasson said. "The migrants are a little bit like actors in a play. Fair enough. But I am doing it on the condition that they are volunteers. They are given a subjective space, they are not being objectified."

"Square" of Chinese artist Liu Jianhua is seen at the Arsenale, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP) © The Associated Press "Square" of Chinese artist Liu Jianhua is seen at the Arsenale, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP)

An immigration lawyer and psychological counselor are among 90 volunteers participating.

"Grotta Profunda, Approfundita" of French artist Pauline Curnier Jardin is seen at the Arsenale, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP) © The Associated Press "Grotta Profunda, Approfundita" of French artist Pauline Curnier Jardin is seen at the Arsenale, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP)

The project aims to help the migrants learn skills, and build self-esteem, while exploring a platform that could be repeated in other contexts.

"Escalade Beyond Chromatic Lands" of US artist Sheila Hicks is seen at the Arsenale, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP) © The Associated Press "Escalade Beyond Chromatic Lands" of US artist Sheila Hicks is seen at the Arsenale, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP)

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A particular of the work of German-born, American artist Kiki Smith is shown at the central pavilion of the Gardens, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP) © The Associated Press A particular of the work of German-born, American artist Kiki Smith is shown at the central pavilion of the Gardens, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP)

DUTCH SELF-IMAGE

Austrian artist Erwin Wurm poses next to his installation, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (AP Photo/Luigi Costantini) © The Associated Press Austrian artist Erwin Wurm poses next to his installation, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (AP Photo/Luigi Costantini)

The Dutch pavilion examines the Netherland's self-image as progressive and tolerant, which has been put to the test during Europe's refugee crisis.

An installation by Anne Imhof is seen at the Pavilion of Germany, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP) © The Associated Press An installation by Anne Imhof is seen at the Pavilion of Germany, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP)

One film explores how the Dutch self-narrative papered over the difficult assimilation of mixed-race children of Dutch and Indonesian parents after Indonesia's independence.

A work of Russian artist Sasha Pirogova for the collective "Theatrum Orbis" is seen at the Pavilion of Russia, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP) © The Associated Press A work of Russian artist Sasha Pirogova for the collective "Theatrum Orbis" is seen at the Pavilion of Russia, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP)

Artist Wendelien van Oldenborgh discusses the issues in three short films. Because the children entered the country smoothly as Dutch citizens, vast differences in their experiences have been overlooked, from those who were abandoned by their white fathers and impoverished, to the wealthy, well-educated arrivals who still found barriers to assimilation.

An installation by Anne Imhof is seen at the Pavilion of Germany, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP) © The Associated Press An installation by Anne Imhof is seen at the Pavilion of Germany, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP)

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French artist Xavier Veilhan poses next to his work "Venice study" at the Pavilion of France, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP) © The Associated Press French artist Xavier Veilhan poses next to his work "Venice study" at the Pavilion of France, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP)

BREXIT MELANCHOLY

Spanish artist Jordi Colomer poses next to his work 'Unete-Join Us!' at the Pavilion of Spain, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP) © The Associated Press Spanish artist Jordi Colomer poses next to his work 'Unete-Join Us!' at the Pavilion of Spain, during a preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition, in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The Exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday May 13th to Sunday November 26th 2017, at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP)

Phyllida Barlow's show of sculptures for the United Kingdom's pavilion titled "folly" isn't about overtly about politics, but that did seep into the work as the Brexit campaign raged around her.

"As I was making the work, I began in April, before the referendum, I had this sense of unease, melancholia really, about this idea of occupying the British pavilion and what it means to be British ... when it's leaving Europe and I feel I'm European," Barlow said.

She said the mood permeated her sculptures, which while robust "show fragility, and a sense of things being uneasy."

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HUNGARIAN UTOPIA

For the Hungarian pavilion, artist Gyula Varnai discusses the "viability and necessity of utopias" in his show titled "Peace on Earth." He uses many defunct communist symbols, including a reproduction of a large neon Peace on Earth sign from a building in Hungary, to a rainbow made of 8,000 pins bearing Cold War-era symbols.

Curator Zsolt Petranyi said they asked themselves "is it true, that we can just speak about dystopias, that there is not any positive vision? "

He realized that technology has become utopia's stand-in, "covering the deeper problems of today. Wherever you go, from China, to Africa, to India, if there is a new kind of television, a new kind of whatever, everybody is celebrating it."

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ILLEGAL JOURNEYS

With cinematic tableaus, photographer Tracey Moffat recreates scenes of "journeys, secret journeys, illegal journeys," in a series called "Passages" for the Australian pavilion.

The opening photograph features a mother grasping a child seen through a fog looking out over the sea.

"The baby is squirming. The baby will leave her. She might be giving the baby away for her passage. There are many scenarios," Moffat said.

While the scenes bring to mind modern-day migrants, Moffat said "for me it is old fiction. A fake old film. It is a celluloid that I claim I found in a vault."

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ADOLESCENTS THEN AND NOW

Troubled Polish adolescent girls are both inspiration and actors in U.S. artist Sharon Lockhart's show for the Polish pavilion titled "Little Review," named for a pre-war Jewish newspaper by and for adolescents in Poland.

The broadsheet published weekly from 1926 to Sept. 1, 1939, the day Hitler invaded Poland.

Lockhart had the girls choose issues of the paper to reproduce each week at the Biennale, finding similarities in their lives and global political tensions, according to curator Barbara Piwowarska. They also appear in photographs, and a film they choreograph themselves.

Lockhart got to know the girls while filming them, "then she realized they had this tremendous need" and has continued to work with them beyond the artistic collaboration to help get support and therapy, said Katy Siegel, a senior curator at the Baltimore Museum of Art who has worked with Lockhart.

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GREEK CATHARSIS

George Drivas explores the complexity of the refugee crisis in his show for the Greek Pavilion.

In a video installation that draws on ancient Greek tragic theater, Drivas outlines a 1960s experiment where foreign cells endanger the native.

The show is designed to get people to ask, "What kind of societies do we have. What is the criterion how do we decide? These are the things that preoccupy me, without saying this is correct, that is correct. I don't want to make a lesson. I want to raise questions, 'What kind of Europe to we want?'" Divas said.

Drivas wants visitors to slow down and let the allegorical meaning of the experiment sink in.

Anyone who rushes through his installation will miss Charlotte Rampling's cameo, and possibly even catharsis.

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