Mainstream Media Must Be Taken out of the Hands of the Right

Nina Möntmann is a curator and theorist, and Goran Hassanpour is an artist. We met them for breakfast at Hotel Orion.

Hotel Orion.

Did you like any works in the main exhibition, All the World’s Futures, curated by Okwui Enwezor? 

Nina Möntmann: I was for example happy to see Steve McQueen’s new work, Ashes. After his last film, 12 Years a Slave, I was a bit afraid that we had lost him to conventional Hollywood film production, and that he had unlearned how to create images talking about the struggles of hardship and desire in favour of mainstream tearjerkers with an unclear political statement. But this new one is more like his earlier work. A documentary showing a group of black men meticulously producing a concrete tomb for their 25 year old friend, who was killed in a drug-related incident, juxtaposed to a seductive mute and somewhat out of reach sequence of this very guy standing on a boat and jumping into the sea, shot against blinding sunlight. Brilliant.

Goran Hassanpour: Also Sprach Allah by Adel Abdessemed. Not to be missed, in Arsenale.

Nina Möntmann: The spatial setup in Arsenale is probably the best I have ever seen in that building, although a few works could need a bit more air to breathe. Still, since Okwui Enwezor’s Documenta in 2002 was such a life changing experience for me, I expected a lot from his biennial exhibition. What disappoints me a bit is that the timeliness of his Documenta is missing in this show. The curatorial language seems more random, less precise and risktaking.

Any works that should not have been in the show at all?

Nina Möntmann: I didn’t understand why George Baselitz’ gestural paintings of naked men turned uside-down were presented in a chapel-like booth in a central location of Arsenale. This creates an aura of machismo that doesn’t communicate with the rest of the exhibition.

Goran Hassanpour: There were too many works for me. It was just too tight in many areas. That made a lot of work become more like a scenography. You don’t really need this amount of art in the exhibition.

The Biennale opened on the birthday of Karl Marx. And Marx is also included in the show. 

Goran Hassanpour: I think this was a very stupid thing to do. For me, it only added a nostalgic touch to the show. Just an empty gesture.

Nina Möntmann: After the financial crisis in 2008 there is a little bit of «Marx light» in the air. Nevertheless I enjoyed some of the readings of Capital in the «Arena». It puts your experience of the surrounding artworks in place. What is obvious at art fairs, but tends to be overseen in thematic group shows, is that art also is to a large extent a luxury good. I have just read the headline of an article, a quote from a collector: «Venice is my favourite art fair». But if you want to see something positive in «Marx light», it could very well serve as the basis for a new populist left, which is so much needed. People in the UK just voted for a government that is worsening their own living conditions. How can people do this? Mainstream media have to be taken out of the hands of the right.

If you think about the Biennale as one subject, one person, who is it? 

Goran Hassanpour: Ha ha, a marxist flying with Easyjet, once a week.

Nina Möntmann: The average desperate left wing person. It is a He, and he has some visions. He is ambitious. But stuck. Stuck in experiences of failure and senselessness. Still charming, and an interesting conversation partner. Is he aggressive? Hmm.

The theme of the Biennale this year is the future. Have you seen any work that has changed your way of thinking about the future? 

Goran Hassanpour: The Cradle of Humankind by Arseniy Zhilyaev in the collateral show Future Histories on Giudecca was definitely the best work in Venice that really dealt with the future in a challenging way. A very thought provoking and weird continuation of Russian Cosmism, in the form of a museum of the future.