Ever since it was established over a century ago the Venice Biennale has become one of the most important and prestigious art events in the world. The first International Art Exhibition was organised in 1895 preliminarily to showcase Italian art, yet the same exhibition also gave space for international artists.
The growing popularity of the Biennale lead to the birth of other adjunct festivals in 1930s: music, cinema and theatre. The Venice Film Festival in 1932 was the first film festival ever organised. In the 1980s an architecture exhibition was added to the Biennale Exhibition halls while in 1999 dance made its debut at the Venice Biennale.
This year the 54th International Art Exhibition organised within the framework of the Venice Biennale opened on Saturday 4 June at the Giardini and Arsenale, alongside other venues om Venice.
This year Egypt is participating with an exhibition titled 30 Days of Running in Place by Ahmed Bassiony, an artist and a professor in the Department of Fine Arts Helwan University, Zamalek branch, who was particularly interested in new media technology and how it interjects in the socio-cultural prism.
The exhibition is curated by Aida Eltorie, with Shady El Noshokaty as executive curator. “It is my first time to curate an exhibition in the Venice Biennale,” Eltorei told Ahram Online. “I was invited by the international events department of the ministry of culture.”
“The Egyptian pavilion is a very long space, occupying a rectangular area with one side 20 m long,” Eltorei explains. “The area basically serves for multiple screenings of Ahmed Bassiouny’s video documentation.”
In her introduction to Bassiouny’s 30 Days of Running in Place, Eltorei explains that the project “marks a specific time when the artist ran in place in anticipation of countering [and recording] a digital reaction; the aim was to observe how through the act of running in place - with sensors installed in the soles of his shoes and on his body [to read levels of body heat] - a visual diagram of codes could be extracted, and to visually witness the movement of energy and physical consumption be born in an image.”
Eltorei told Ahram Online that the video screenings will also include documentation from the January Revolution. “Bassiouny was very active during the days from 25 to 28 January; going to the streets and to Tahrir and filming the events. We managed to get our hands on that footage.”
Accordingly, the exhibition includes screenings of both videos simultaneously, 30 Days of Running in Place as well as the first days that Bassiouny spent filming Egypt’s January 25 Revolution until the moment that a bullet took his life.
Eltorei underlined that the choice of Bassiouny for this year’s Venice Biennale was not motored by the fact that he is a martyr of the January 25 Revolution. “The Biennale honours artists who create something new in the contemporary fine arts field; artists who have original artistic propositions and sustain activity in their visions and projects,” Eltorei asserted.
In his introduction to the exhibition, Shady El Noshokaty, executive curator, and visual artist and assistant professor at the performing and visual arts department, Helwan University, Zamalek branch states: “We are honoured to bring to the fore and present project: 30 Days of Running in Place, which I personally consider one of the greatest creative concepts presented by Bassiouny - by him and about him - during the last period of his life.
It certainly marks its significance as a critically acclaimed work, and the first of its kind in new media arts in the Middle East.”
El Noshokaty is among the Egyptian artists visiting this year’s Venice Biennale although they aren’t presenting their artistic works. Hassan Khan is the president of jury and Magdi Moustafa, sound and media engineer.
“Usually the Venice Biennale chooses one or two artists to represent a foreign country,” Eltorei continued stressing the high competition and long and tough selection process. Eltorei, however, notes that after the revolution the interest of international fine arts arenas in Egyptian artists has increased. She comments that this phenomenon is “a natural effect of the world being interested in the nation under the political spotlight; its culture, its significant bloggers, artists and writers.”
However, Eltorei underlines that even prior to the revolution Egyptian artists were already present and visible in the international contemporary art scene and were always offering valuable artistic productions. “The increase in interest has only stressed the value they already hold for Egypt’s artists, while opening additional doors to many artists.”
Aida Eltorie is an independent curator and director to a newfound organisation: Finding Projects Org. A Masters degree candidate in Islamic Art and Architecture at the American University in Cairo (2011), Eltorie has curated the film programme at Manifesta 8, under the curatorial auspices of The Chamber of Public Secrets and the video collective Contemporary Arab Video Encounter (CAVE) at Maraya Art Centre (Sharjah, UAE). Editor-in-Chief of Contemporary Practices Journal (Dubai); Volumes 4, 5, and 6. Eltorie has worked with The Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art (Cairo), The International Museum of Women (San Francisco), The Brooklyn Museum, Christie's auction house, Bidoun Magazine (New York), and independently produced a number of international projects with artists and cultural practitioners from the Middle East and Europe, with the support of ProHelvetia Swiss Arts Council and The Ford Foundation. Her published works can be read in Contemporary Practices Journal and catalogues for shows curated by Daniela da Prato on art from the Arab World and Iran in Paris; Breaking News (2008), Golden Gates (2009), and Patrizio Travagli’s Monograph, MMX (Florence, 2010).