June 14, 2024
Art Gallery

Biennale Gherdëina curator Lorenzo Giusti on bringing contemporary art to the Dolomites


Now in its ninth edition, the Biennale Gherdëina first welcomed contemporary artists to the Dolomites in 2008. This year, the exhibition is showcasing over 30 artists and collectives – bringing new commissions, existing artworks and performances into dialogue with the spectacular UNESCO-protected natural landscape – as well as the rich Ladin folklore and culture that inhabits it.

Giusti is at the curating helm with Marta Papini at his side as assistant curator in 2024’s exhibition, which takes as its theme ‘The Parliament of Marmots’.

This title borrows from a local Ladin myth about the Fanes – the area’s legendary founding population, who were prosperous because of their alliance with the marmots with whom they shared the land.

Nassim Azarzar, The Edge of the Forest, 2024. Wallpainting. Variable Dimensions. Commissioned by Biennale Gherdëina 9. Nassim Azarzar, The Edge of the Forest, 2024. Wallpainting. Variable Dimensions. Commissioned by Biennale Gherdëina 9.

Nassim Azarzar, The Edge of the Forest, 2024. Wallpainting. Variable Dimensions. Commissioned by Biennale Gherdëina 9. – Tiberio Sorvillo / Biennale Gherdëina

Leaning into cultural connections between the region and the Mediterranean, participating artists – spanning a range of disciplines – come from across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, including Ismaïl Bahri, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Julius von Bismarck, Eva Papamargariti, Alex Ayed, Nassim Azarzar and a tribute to late sculptor Lin May Saeed. Building on Ladin legend, they are engaging with the land as a space to encounter history and nature, but also on which to write new stories.

Curator Lorenzo Giusti, who is also the director of GAMeC – Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Bergamo, spoke with Euronews Culture about working within such a monumental landscape, his hopes for the Biennale and its legacy.

Euronews Culture: How did you first become involved in the Biennale, and what first drew you to the project?

Lorenzo Giusti: I received the invitation after the last edition, curated by Lucia Pietroiusti and Filipa Ramos, which I visited with a keen eye, already thinking about developing a mountain-related programme for Bergamo.

I knew Val Gardena in its ‘winter’ version, but I had never walked through its forests and plateaus in summer. I immediately thought that the most interesting thing to do in this context was to work not so much on the ecosystem of these places – as is the tradition of this Biennale – but on the visual and emotional short-circuit generated by the contrast between the imposing natural landscape of the Dolomites, which embodies the collective imagination of wild nature, and the presence of the human species within it.

There are few places in the world that can boast such an overwhelming natural environment and at the same time such a level of organisation, control and capitalisation as Val Gardena today.

How were the participating artists chosen?

Over the past two years, I have travelled mainly in North Africa and the Middle East, meeting artists and cultural organisations. In the Emirates, where I had the opportunity to work for Art Dubai, I was able to come into contact with the work of numerous artists from different cultural areas of the Arab world, observing the activities of institutions that do careful work on the colonial heritage of this part of the world.

With Marta Papini, whom I involved in the research, we started with a group of works that were significant for us, representative of the themes we had set out to develop, and from there we carried out further research, imagining a series of new commissions.

Ingela Ihrman, First Came the Ocean, 2024. Environmental Installation, 25 x 5 m. Courtesy the Artist and Ögonblicksteatern i Umeå, Sweden. Ingela Ihrman, First Came the Ocean, 2024. Environmental Installation, 25 x 5 m. Courtesy the Artist and Ögonblicksteatern i Umeå, Sweden.

Ingela Ihrman, First Came the Ocean, 2024. Environmental Installation, 25 x 5 m. Courtesy the Artist and Ögonblicksteatern i Umeå, Sweden. – Tiberio Sorvillo / Biennale Gherdëina

You mentioned that the selection of certain artists to participate was also a “political statement” – could you please unpack that a little?

I believe that for a Biennial so tied to the traditions of a territory like Ladin, rethinking the Mediterranean influences of its culture of origins is in itself a political gesture. We live in a time of wars and conflicts fuelled by identity obsessions, linguistic differences and religious beliefs. This biennial speaks of the possibility of “thinking like a mountain”, i.e. of breaking down these boundaries, linking the two halves of the Mediterranean and speaking a wild non-language ideally belonging to all species of the living world.

The title ‘The Parliament of Marmots’ is an intriguing one – how did you choose it?

I found this name on a topographical map. It was given in the 1950s to a plateau on the Alpe di Fanes, where there is a natural rock amphitheatre. I walked there and actually found marmots. They have become accustomed to the presence of man. They do not let themselves be approached, but neither do they hide as is their wont. Then I read the legend of the Fanes, of their secret pact with the marmots and the wars that followed the breaking of this inter-species alliance. I found it a powerful metaphor for our times.

Eva Papamargariti, A whisper, a murmur, a roar, 2024. Three-Channel HD Video, Color, Sound, 9’. Commissioned by Biennale Gherdëina 9. Supported by LUMA Arles.Eva Papamargariti, A whisper, a murmur, a roar, 2024. Three-Channel HD Video, Color, Sound, 9’. Commissioned by Biennale Gherdëina 9. Supported by LUMA Arles.

Eva Papamargariti, A whisper, a murmur, a roar, 2024. Three-Channel HD Video, Color, Sound, 9’. Commissioned by Biennale Gherdëina 9. Supported by LUMA Arles. – Tiberio Sorvillo / Biennale Gherdëina

Speaking of local, how has the local community been engaged and made part of this project?

In a thousand different forms. From the stories we were told, to the craft workshops we visited and involved in the productions. In the Biennial there are also artists who were born and work in the valley. We collaborated with institutions in the area – from the Gherdëina Museum to the Ladin Institute – and sought the participation of private individuals, many of whom made spaces and materials available.

We’re here in this beautiful (protected) landscape. Why do you think it is not only appropriate but important to place contemporary artworks within it? Have you had any pushback against this?

We do not want to set ourselves up as a model of sustainability, but it is true that this is an edition of the Biennale Gherdëina that does not impact on the landscape. For the most part we inhabit existing buildings, many of which are usually abandoned or closed to the public: the Catello Gherdëina, the Hotel Ladinia, the Ferdinand Stufflesser hall in Pontives (the artisanal area in Ortisei, which is being used for the first time this year), as well as several garages in the old town centre. In Vallunga we have brought a performance by Chiara Bersani, without leaving anything permanent.

The only intervention in the middle of nature is Ingela Ihrman’s installation on the beautiful Juac plateau. But it is a large horizontal figure, resting on a lawn, and made from sections of fallen trees felled by last year’s abnormal summer storms. The only real monument we have created – in the centre of Ortisei – is an anti-monument. I am talking about the work of Julius von Bismarck, an equestrian monument dedicated to the Bostrich, the beetle that is killing the planted forests in the valley and proliferating due to rising temperatures.

Julius von Bismarck, Beatle On A Horse, 2024. Stone Pine Wood. 444 x 125 x 233 cm. Commissioned by Biennale Gherdëina 9. Supported by IFA - Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen.Julius von Bismarck, Beatle On A Horse, 2024. Stone Pine Wood. 444 x 125 x 233 cm. Commissioned by Biennale Gherdëina 9. Supported by IFA - Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen.

Julius von Bismarck, Beatle On A Horse, 2024. Stone Pine Wood. 444 x 125 x 233 cm. Commissioned by Biennale Gherdëina 9. Supported by IFA – Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen. – Tiberio Sorvillo / Biennale Gherdëina

Who do you hope the audiences of the Biennale might be?

I hope for as wide an audience as possible: locals, children, workers, art lovers, artists, curators, aware tourists, tourists by chance… The many Saudis who have been visiting the valley for a few years now will perhaps be surprised to find references to their culture, hybridised in the works of the participating artists. Some works will also be enjoyed by non-human animals. Alex Ayed’s pigeon house, for instance, is waiting to be inhabited by birds.

What conversations do you hope the Biennale might stir?

I would like to see a discussion on how to ensure that linguistic differences do not fuel distances. I would like us to talk about what binds the histories of the peoples of continental Europe and the Mediterranean more than what separates them.

I would like us to reflect on how we can return to experience the forest and the mountains in a way that respects our state of nature. I would like discussions on why it is that we become attached to some non-human animals to the point of making them sleep with us, cry for them or spend large sums to care for them, while others we separate from their offspring at birth, herd them into dark sheds and cages and force-feed them.

What do you hope the legacy of this year’s edition might be?

“It is you from the city who call it nature”, writes Paolo Cognetti in his book ‘The Eight Mountains’, “It is so abstract in your head that even the name is abstract. Here we say forest, pasture, stream, rock, things that one can point to with one’s finger”.

It would be already a lot if this edition of the Biennale left this as a legacy: to learn how to deconceptualise the idea of nature, to push the public to experience it directly and to avoid the green washing of sustainability that too many exhibitions have fueled in recent years.

‘The Parliament of Marmots’ will also be part of a broader network of initiatives, which will also expand to the Bergamo area and the Orobie mountain range, under the project title ‘Thinking Like a Mountain’, over the two-year period 2024–25, along with other areas.

Alex Ayed, Untitled (Beit el hmam II), 2023. Clay, Olive Wood, Hay, Steel, Limewash. 280 x 107,5 x 118 cm. Courtesy of the Artist and ZERO…, Milan and Galerie Balice Hertling,Alex Ayed, Untitled (Beit el hmam II), 2023. Clay, Olive Wood, Hay, Steel, Limewash. 280 x 107,5 x 118 cm. Courtesy of the Artist and ZERO…, Milan and Galerie Balice Hertling,

Alex Ayed, Untitled (Beit el hmam II), 2023. Clay, Olive Wood, Hay, Steel, Limewash. 280 x 107,5 x 118 cm. Courtesy of the Artist and ZERO…, Milan and Galerie Balice Hertling, – Tiberio Sorvillo / Biennale Gherdëina

The ninth edition of Biennale Gherdëina: The Parliament of Marmots runs from 31 May – 1 September 2024 across venues in Ortisei, Pontives, and Selva Val Gardena.



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