A team from The University of New Mexico created a project titled a Library, a Classroom, and the World currently on display at the prestigious 2022 Venice Biennial Art exhibition Personal Structures organized and hosted by the European Cultural Centre (ECC) in Venice, Italy. The UNM team members collectively span three generations, represent multiple ethnicities, and hail from different places.
The UNM group collaborated with a team from Davidson College in North Carolina on the project at the Biennale, which will run through Nov. 27, 2022. The students working in this team are the graduating Art and Ecology MFA student Alexandria Zuniga de Dóchas and the Art History Ph.D. student Jackson Larson. The team is headed by co-curator and professor Subhankar Banerjee, who was born in India and developed the project concept, served as director and co-curator, co-created the postcards, and co-designed the Classroom.
The New Mexican Indigenous artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, along with the Las Cruces-based Chicano cartoonist and storyteller Zeke Peña are also part of this team.
Eminent Indigenous artist Smith, a UNM alumna, turned 82 in January, while trans Latinx artist Zuniga de Dóchas, an Art and Ecology MFA student at UNM, is in their 20s. Master printer Valpuri Remling from the Tamarind Institute assisted Smith to print her drawings of animals and plants, produced as a two-part folded book as an homage to Aztec codices. Zuniga de Dóchas collaborated with Banerjee and three conservationists at the New Mexico BioPark Society to create six biodiversity illustrations that use a light-handed animated style to embody intimacy and comforting familiarity.
Chicano cartoonist and storyteller Zeke Peña created The River (Remix), a comic that illustrates moments in the past, present, and future of the Rio Grande River that runs through the Paso Del Norte region in the US-Mexico borderlands.
Teacher and scholar of Latinx environmental visual art and culture Jennifer Garcia Peacock of Davidson College, who hails from California’s Central Valley, served as co-curator of the project with Banerjee, wrote on Peña’s work, and co-designed the Classroom.
Larson wrote on Pietro Bembo and his library—produced in “octavo” format as an homage to Bembo. Art historian Susanne Anderson-Riedel, who hails from Germany and is the chair of the Department of Art at UNM, advised Jackson.
"Our Venice project prominently honors Albuquerque and its institutions, including the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, the New Mexico BioPark Society based in ABQ BioPark, and the Sandia Mountains," Banerjee noted.
The Venezia News has published a map of all the exhibitions (including Personal Structures) of the 2022 Venice Art Biennial: a total of 202 exhibitions. In an article, All the top exhibitions to see during the Venice Biennale in 2022, The Art Newspaper included Personal Structures among the top 16 exhibitions.
The Personal Structures exhibition includes more than 192 participants this year with a selection of “emerging and well-known artists and institutions, from more than 51 countries, and a main and unprecedented participation of female representation,” according to the ECC. A number of those participants are colleges and universities, including UNM and Davidson College. This is the first time The University of New Mexico, and also Davidson College, are participating in a Venice Biennial exhibition.
The UNM+Davidson project a Library, a Classroom, and the World is presented in two historic sites in Venice: the Library is realized in Palazzo Bembo situated along the Grand Canal and next to the Rialto Bridge; and the Classroom is realized in Giardini della Marinaressa situated along the waterfront of the Venice Lagoon and between the San Marco Plaza and the Biennale Giardini.
The project, a Library, a Classroom, and the World, aims to build bridges across places, peoples, and time. Palazzo Bembo and Giardini della Marinaressa have been used along with colors and reflections to build those bridges. The Library is realized in a room overlooking the Grand Canal in Palazzo Bembo, and the Classroom is built-in Giardini della Marinaressa. Together, the two connect to the World in unexpected ways, across time.
The Library honors its host venue, Palazzo Bembo, where the notable Bembo Library was established in the fifteenth century by Bernardo Bembo and was subsequently expanded by his son, the influential humanist Pietro Bembo. The four dwarf shelves in the Library are modeled after the last two surviving dwarf bookcases in the Old Library at St John’s College, University of Cambridge, which were created in the seventeenth century. The shorter height and slanted top surfaces will enable a visitor to read while standing in front of one of these shelves. Along with building bridges across places, peoples, and time, a Library, a Classroom, and the World rebels against our frenzied time. The Library urges a visitor to slow down to take a closer look.
The fish-shaped Classroom in Giardini della Marinaressa along the waterfront of the Venice Lagoon, demarcated by a set of flower beds that follow the contours of the angled trunks of three Pino marittimo (Maritime pine) trees, mimics Venice on a map. Today, while Venice is celebrated for its art and architecture, many are not aware of its ecological vitality. The Lagoon of Venice provides habitats for numerous species of birds, fish, and invertebrates. One small portion of the Lagoon, Valle Averto, is a UNESCO-designated Ramsar wetland site.
Two flowering plants (Ceratostigma and Loropetalums) and two grasses (Festuca and Miscanthus) have been planted in the flower beds of the Marinaressa Classroom. Collectively, those four plants will offer, with flowers and foliage, a purple-pink and blue color theme that will be resonant with the orange and blue color theme used in the Library, and the flowers and seeds will feed bees, birds, and butterflies. By mid-summer, the grasses are expected to be nearly 5 feet tall and will create a more intimate enclosure for the classroom.
Historian of environmental visual culture Finis Dunaway, who lives in Canada, collaborated with Banerjee to create Beyond Fortress Conservation: Postcards of Biodiversity and Justice, and also served as the project’s editor-at-large. The postcards and the wall text were designed by New Mexico graphics designer David Mendez, who passed away earlier this year
“We remember our friend and honor his invaluable contributions to this collective project,” Anderson-Riedel said.
De Dochas is scheduled to travel to Venice in the fall. During the visit, they are asked to conduct a session, focusing on their contribution to the project. Upon their return to Albuquerque, they are asked to give a talk at UNM to share their experience of visiting the Venice Biennale and reflecting on the project within the larger ecosystem of art works and exhibitions that they will experience.
Anderson-Riedel noted that the team could not have realized this project without the generous financial support from UNM including the Office of the Provost, Office of the Vice President for Research, Office of the Dean of College of Fine Arts, Chair of the Department of Art, the Tamarind Institute, and the Center for Environmental Arts and Humanities, as well as Danette Petersen.