Navigating through Venice in the off season can be challenging, but trying to move through hot, narrow streets and massive crowds of people during the Venice Biennale is completely dizzying. Illuminations, the 54th Venice Biennale, was the largest and most comprehensive to date with 89 national participants alongside 37 collateral events arranged by international organizations and institutions. As usual, the exhibition spread liberally over Venice’s Arsenale and Giardini as well as in satellite locations throughout the city.
After spending my first morning fighting my way to the Giardini, I stumbled my way into my first international pavilion, Crystal of Resistance by Thomas Hirschhorn representing Switzerland. This initial occurrence seemed all to appropriate, considering like Venice itself, the work is dense with cultural information and fully engaged in a cycle of production and consumption. In true Hirschhorn fashion, the all-encompassing and transformative installation feels strangely distant from the outside world, yet remains fully composed of materials of the western culture just beyond the doors. Bonded by packing tape, the various selection of tvs, chairs, printed images and video, toy dolls, aluminum foil, cotton swabs, bottles, and buckets (among countless other objects) are transformed through a second stage of mass-production. Perhaps the only material that doesn’t directly reference globalism and commodity culture are the thousands of crystals that are scattered throughout the installation, providing the heavy social context with the transformative “powers” of healing and beauty. Scale dramatically shifts between the craft-like plastic crystals to the oversized shapes made of plastic sheeting, fluorescent lighting, and wood, taking one all-encompassing installation from macro to micro with each step.
Here, Hirschhorn maintains his emphasis on the excesses of contemporary life found in physical materials and visuals information, yet creates his own biological universe, giving form and weight to largely invisible processes. Plastic chairs and tvs carry their own cultural history while simultaneously becoming soil for the crystallized flora and fauna dispersed through the environment. Packing tape grows up the side of aluminum foil structures, and vines of photos drape between fluorescent lighting branches. Hirschhorn has imbued his installation with a life system that carries his references to consumer culture and economic chaos, offering the viewer an accelerated experience fueled on notions of the absurd and proliferated by discarded items of commerce.