It has been announced that Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Carol Bove, and Stan Douglas have been selected to participate in La Biennale di Venezia, 58th International Art Exhibition. Curated by Ralph Rugoff, Director of the Hayward Gallery in London, the exhibition is titled May You Live In Interesting Times. "In a speech given in the late 1930s," Rogoff states, "British MP Sir Austen Chamberlain invoked an ancient Chinese curse that he had learned of from a British diplomat who had served in Asia, and which took the curious form of saying, 'May you live in interesting times.' 'There is no doubt that the curse has fallen on us,' Chamberlain observed. 'We move from one crisis to another. We suffer one disturbance and shock after another.' This summary sounds uncannily familiar today as the news cycle spins from crisis to crisis. Yet at a moment when the digital dissemination of fake news and 'alternative facts' is corroding political discourse and the trust on which it depends, it is worth pausing whenever possible to reassess our terms of reference. In this case it turns out that there never was any such 'ancient Chinese curse,' despite the fact that Western politicians have made reference to it in speeches for over a hundred years. It is an ersatz cultural relic, and yet for all its fictional status it has had real rhetorical effects in significant public exchanges. At once suspect and rich in meaning, this kind of uncertain artefact suggests potential lines of exploration that are worth pursuing at present, especially when the 'interesting times' it evokes seem to be with us once again. Hence the 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia will be titled after a counterfeit curse.... in an indirect fashion, perhaps art can be a kind of guide for how to live and think in ‘interesting times.’ The 58th International Art Exhibition will not have a theme per se, but will highlight a general approach to making art and a view of art’s social function as embracing both pleasure and critical thinking. The Exhibition will focus on the work of artists who challenge existing habits of thought and open up our readings of objects and images, gestures and situations. Art of this kind grows out of a practice of entertaining multiple perspectives: of holding in mind seemingly contradictory and incompatible notions, and juggling diverse ways of making sense of the world."
Image: Arsenale, Venice. Photo by Andrea Avezzù. Courtesy La Biennale de Venezia