There is a Klee painting named Angelus Novus that shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. But a storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
All the World’s Futures is an ambitious title for an ambitious show. The 56th Venice Biennale curated by Okwui Enwezor features artists from 53 different Countries, called to respond to the crises and instability of the fragmented present. The artists have extensively developed urgent socio-political, cultural, environmental, historical and institutional issues through conceptual works that mirror their heritage as well as their very own ethos. These artists are worried about the state of the world and use a somber vocabulary to manifest their concerns. From the prisons of Brazil to the psychiatric hospitals of the former USSR, the path from Giardini to Arsenale brigs you straight to the darkest sides of human history. Despite the exhibition’s title might suggest looking forward, much of the showcased art pieces were caught up in the past, sought for shelter in dream-like dimensions or in abstract analysis.
But like Klee’s Angelus Novus or Benjamin’s Angel of History, this allegorically expresses the complex relationship between past and future that takes place in present time and highlights the shadows and imperfections of our uncertain reality, which has limits that the art alone cannot cross. Therefore the references to the past, to the myths, to the history, to the fantastic and the crumbled, to the actions of mankind, seen as sort of solid pillars meant to bear what comes next. There is no way of salvation in stubbornly long for fundamental answers. Art doesn’t have the answers to solve the world’s problem but its value as a witness of the zeitgeist nearly achieves eternity. A message of hope relies in the mutual relationships between today’s globalized individuals. This is not to intend as a humanitarian utopia, but rather as a true and meaningful exchange of experiences across different generations. This could be All the World’s Futures.