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The Encyclopedic Palace

The 55th International Art Exhibition entitled Il Palazzo Enciclopedico (The Encyclopedic Palace), curated by Massimiliano Gioni and organized by la Biennale di Venezia chaired by Paolo Baratta, will open to the public from Saturday, June 1 to Sunday, November 24, 2013 at the Giardini and at the Arsenale. The preview is on May 29, 30 and 31. The award ceremony and the inauguration will take place on Saturday, June 1.
With works spanning over the past century alongside several new commissions, and with over one hundred and fifty artists from more than thirty-eight countries, the exhibition is structured like a temporary museum that initiates an inquiry into the many ways in which images have been used to organize knowledge and shape our experience.

Blurring the line between professional artists and amateurs, outsiders and insiders, the exhibition takes an anthropological approach to the study of images, focusing in particular on the realms of the imaginary and the functions of the imagination. What room is left for internal images – for dreams, hallucinations and visions – in an era besieged by external ones? And what is the point of creating an image of the world when the world itself has become increasingly like an image?

The exhibition opens in the Central Pavilion with a presentation of Carl Gustav Jung’s Red Book, an illustrated manuscript that the famous psychologist worked on for over sixteen years. A collection of self-induced visions and fantasies, Jung’s Red Book displayed for the first time in Italy, and for the first time ever alongside works of contemporary art-ushers in a meditation on inner images and dreams that runs throughout the show.

The exhibition brings together many examples of artworks and figurative expressions that reveal approaches to visualizing knowledge through representations of abstract concepts and manifestations of supernatural phenomena. In the galleries of the Central Pavilion, intertwined with works by contemporary artists are the abstract paintings of Hilma af Klint, Augustin Lesage’s symbolic interpretations of the universe, the divinations of Aleister Crowley. Yet The Ecyclopedic Palace is not a show about artists as mediums. Rather, the works of these artists help illustrate a condition we all share: we ourselves are media, channeling images, or at times even finding ourselves possessed by images.

The ecstatic gift drawings of Shaker communities transcribe divine messages, while the drawings of shamans from the Solomon Islands are peopled by deities and demons. The depiction of the invisible is a key theme of the show, as evidenced in the cosmographies of Guo Fengyi and Emma Kunz, the religious icons and danses macabres of Jean-Frédéric Schnyder, and Artur Zmijewski’s video of a group of blind people painting a world they cannot see. The idea that images are living, breathing entities, endowed with magical qualities and capable of influencing, transforming, and even healing, may seem like a dated concept cloaked in archaic superstitions. Yet how can we deny the talismanic power of an image when we still carry pictures of our loved ones in our cell phones?

A sense of cosmic awe pervades many of the other works on display, from Melvin Moti’s films to Laurent Montaron’s reflections on nature, all the way to the sublime landscapes of Thierry De Cordier. The ceramic dreamscapes of Ron Nagle, the intricate patterns of Anna Zemánková, the mental maps of Geta Bratescu and the painted palimpsests of Varda Caivano describe an inner world where natural forms overlap with imaginary presences. These secret links between microcosm and macrocosm also animate Marisa Merz’s hieratic figures and Maria Lassnig’s fleshly ones: both turn self-portraits and bodies into ciphers of the universe.

The exercise of the imagination through writing and drawing is a recurring motif in the exhibition. Christiana Soulou brings to life the imaginary beings catalogued by Jorge Luis Borges, while José Antonio Suárez Londoño translates into images the diaries of Franz Kafka. The rare stones collection of French writer Roger Caillois combines geology with mysticism, while the blackboard diagrams of Rudolf Steiner feverishly relate the idealist dream of grasping and conveying the universe as a whole.

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