APFEL gives the 2022 Venice Biennale a richly surreal identity
The 2022 Venice Biennale has been warmly welcomed by the art world after its enforced absence from the international calendar. Curated by Cecilia Alemani, the biennial, entitled “The Milk of Dreams”, is presented in a multi-faceted exhibition shaped by Formafantasma, with a graphic identity by the London studio A Practice for Everyday Life (APFEL).
Founded by Kirsty Carter and Emma Thomas in 2003, APFEL has a strong portfolio of artistic collaborations, both in terms of working closely with galleries – notably Hepworth Wakefield and Maison de Voltaire, as well as Tate, Kettle’s Yard, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Design Museum, the V&A and many more. The team also collaborated with contemporary artists and designers and openly expressed their desire to “also focus on underrepresented communities in the art world; of different social and ethnic origins and of different genders, sexual orientations, emerging and underrepresented individuals”.
Guiding visitors through “The Milk of Dreams” has been a very varied commission that draws on all of these strengths. Named after an illustrated book by artist Leonora Carrington, originally published in Spanish as Leche del SuenoAlemani’s exhibition at the Arsenale begins with Carrington’s central theme of transformation and follows it, with a predominantly female roster of exhibitors (90% of whom are first-time Venice Biennale entrants) and a mission to rethink and reframe the traditional patriarchal view of art and culture.
Carrington, who died in 2011, was a pioneering surrealist and feminist, and the book was a collection of intense, bizarre and unsettling children’s stories.
Although Carter and Thomas joined the process after Formafantasma signed up, Alemani made sure they were an integral part of the planning process. “Cecilia had discovered our work in the art world,” says Carter. “She had the title of the show at the time and shared a few presentations with us, but many artists were still coming on board.”
The scope of this commission is vast, as it embraces not only the overall identity, but also signage, posters, orientation and information panels, not to mention the important publication that accompanies each biennale, also entitled in this case The milk of dreams.
“We’re very used to working both on paper and in an exhibition context,” says Carter, “as well as with historical work. The book is almost the exhibition in miniature, in a much more literal way than a monograph compared to a regular exhibition.
APFEL has skillfully handled the spatial challenges of the biennale, as well as the dense narratives that come with it. Fluidity is one of the structuring themes and the works of artists are at the heart of the graphic treatment of the workshop, which makes it one of the rare occasions when the exhibitors are also present in the identity of the biennale.
For strong visual markers, Carter and Thomas chose four distinctive eyes, using artwork by Cecilia Vicuña, Felipe Baeza, Tatsuo Ikeda, and Belkis Ayón. These patterns are playful, spooky and yes, surreal. “It’s fun to have those huge eyes on the side of buildings, or on vaporetti or bridges,” Thomas says. “We had this huge pool of artists’ work to sift through, just trying to find some interesting, appropriate eyes.”
The illustration is paired with strong classic lettering, albeit transformed into a flowing, organic medium. “We loved the idea of using a Roman wheelbase,” says Thomas. “Of course it suits the Italian context of the biennial, but also historically there have been a lot of hard and cold identities for the biennial, and we wanted to reverse that by using a more classic typeface in all caps and then in making it more fluid, metamorphic and animated.’
The same treatment is given to the biennial’s heavy catalog, a slipcased volume that, when presented en masse, exudes the same restless presence as some of Carrington’s original drawings.
The end result gives the biennale a playful sense of intrigue that plays on Venice’s image as a magical and mysterious city, as well as the power of art as a catalyst for changing identity and place. orientation.
“In our work, we often balance, extrude and amplify voices and ideas within artists’ practices and contexts, opening them up and developing new ways to communicate them to different people,” the duo write, and biennial graphics follow the line. between the formation of a strong visual symbol of the event as a whole and the idea of individual artistic identity. “This challenge is what motivates us and interests us every day,” concludes Carter. §