Vatican to debut at Venice Biennale

Contemporary artists explore themes from the book of Genesis

Vatican to debut at Venice Biennale

(By Kate Carlisle)Venice, May 15 - The Holy See has embarked on a contemporary journey and for the first time will appear with its own pavilion at none other than Venice's epic art event, the Biennale. Instead of dipping into the Vatican museum's rich and expansive collection full of Renaissance greats, the Holy See went for a fresh approach. Three contemporary artists were commissioned, no bars held, to create interpretations of the first 11 chapters of Genesis. There are no iconic classics like crosses, the Madonna or other liturgy greats, just "great universal messages contained in the story of Genesis," President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi said. Italy's Studio Azzurro cooperative, Australian-born American painter Lawrence Carroll and Czech photographer Josef Koudelka all produced works surrounding the timeless themes of "creation", "uncreation" and "re-creation". "There is no one who has not experienced ups and downs, depression, defeat, and times when they must get back up and search for hope again," Vatican Museums Director Antonio Paolucci said. "These three elements are universal," he said. This new 'trinity' of themes that outline the pieces making up the exhibition criss-cross artistic endeavors and dip into a variety of mediums. Creation as interpreted by Studio Azzurro becomes a multimedia work composed of chaotically outreached hands on video screens with the cries, squeals and chatter of children and animals piped in. "Their work triggers a dialogue, awash with echoes and reverberations, between the vegetable and animal kingdoms and the human dimension, which leads, via memory, to other personal narrations on the concept of origins within an interactive plane that is also a temporal intersection," Cardinal Ravasi said. Koudelka instead tackled the theme of uncreation with 18 photos, some over two and a half meters tall, showing a dismal depiction of destruction brought about by war and environmental neglect. "The power of his panoramic, black and white (photos), speaks of the opposition between the human being and the world with its laws - moral and natural - and the material destruction that comes from a loss of a moral sense," Ravasi said. Czech-born Koudelka became famous for photos taken in then Czechoslovakia during the Soviet invasion in 1968 that he smuggled out to the West. Instead, Carroll's works try to literally shed light on recreation using strings of electrical wires and light bulb sockets dangling from a large panel with an almost shroud-like cloth as a backdrop. Carroll's illuminating work leaves some sockets empty and others with lit-up bulbs. Carroll is capable of "giving life to salvaged materials, transfiguring them through processes of reconsideration and regeneration and who, against all odds, opens new possibilities of coexistence between as seemingly unrelated dimensions as fragility and monumentality," Ravasi said. Cardinal Ravasi chose the name "In the Beginning" for the exhibition at the 55th edition of the Biennale. The Holy See will debut alongside eight other first-time participants - Paraguay, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, the Maldives, Bahamas and the Republic of Kosovo. The Venice Biennale attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to its biannual event, while the Vatican Museums, which include the Sistine Chapel and one of the world's largest art collections, attract some three million visitors a year. Sponsors have spent about 750,000 euros on the Vatican pavilion that opens this year on June 1 and lasts six months.

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