Venice Biennale 2019: The Art of Leftovers

From ceramic clothes to an inside-out plane, powerful pieces that use repurposed materials

Considering this year’s Venice Biennale title, “May you live in interesting times,” it makes perfect sense that many artists addressed human impact on the environment. To combat our excessive consumption and unending creation of waste, sustainable solutions are constantly created—or attempted. Perhaps the most common theme we found at this year’s event is one of upcycling and repurposing goods, from fish nets to discarded clothing. Here are some of our favorites, each of which provoked contemplation.

by Paolo Ferrarini

In the Ghanaian Pavilion (the country’s first foray into Venice Biennale Arte), Ibrahim Mahama‘s “A Straight Line Through the Carcass of History 1649” is actually signaled first by smell. The abstract sculpture, inside a bunker-like installation, is made with a collection of materials: wood, cloth and a metal mesh that’s used when smoking fish. While some find the scent appealing, others are put off, with the common thread being all are overwhelmed.

by Paolo Ferrarini

At first glance, Yin Xiuzhen‘s “Trojan” appears to be an extremely tall pile of old clothes. Rather, it’s a sculpture of a person in the emergency landing position for an airplane—perhaps making a note about our excessive consumption, carbon footprint and the doomed results.

Courtesy of Roman Stańczak + Polish Pavilion

Turning an airplane inside out, Polish artist Roman Stańczak’s “Flight” intends to be a “reversal of the world.” The huge, surreal sculpture makes a point about political and economic transformations—specifically, the Polish capitalist shift, which was based on the Balcerowicz Plan. The use of a private airplane also outlines the ways in which this transformation created an even larger rift between the super-wealthy and the rest of Poland’s people.

by Paolo Ferrarini

Ukrainian artist Zhanna Kadyrova continues her Second Hand series, for which she makes ceramic clothing using tiles found around the world. For this installation, the tiles were sourced from an old Venetian hotel, though generally she uses materials from local factories and creates strong ties with the surrounding communities as a part of the artistic process.

by Paolo Ferrarini

Controversial US-born, Berlin-based artist (essayist, poet, and more) Jimmie Durham has been awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at this year’s Venice Biennale—the sixth time he has participated. His always-fascinating creations are made from an accumulation of old materials: clothing, furniture, scaffolding and various unidentified industrial leftovers. They are somehow familiar and alien all at once, and address issues surrounding Eurocentrism, prejudice and more.

The 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is on now through 24 November.