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Serendipity in Namibia arrives in Venice featuring Amebe and RENN

The Namibian Pavilion will be exhibited on Certosa Island during the 59th Biennale in Venice with Marco Furio Ferrario as the curator

The Namibian Pavilion, The Lone Stone Men of The Desert

A Bridge to the Desert, or the Namibian Pavilion, is one of the largest national installations during the biannual art fair in Venice. It aims to tell a tale of sculptures that appeared over the past ten years in the oldest desert in the world, hundreds of kilometers away from civilization and the world as we know it today. In just three months from the opening, over a hundred thousand visitors have landed upon Certosa Island to marvel at the work of the creative duo Amebe and RENN, under the creative eye of Marco Furio Ferrario. 

While assuming the role of curator, Mr. Ferrario believes that the process was «proof of the power of art. It all began with the artworks and a touch of serendipity». He was traveling through the desert in 2015, when he stumbled across a figure with human like features. He stepped closer and wondered how a person could survive in such an unforgiving environment, characterized by danger and heat. «Getting closer was like waking up from dream-like state of confusion, thought about nature of the shape, until I realized it wasn’t a person, but a sculpture». The idea began to take form in that moment.

Mr. Ferrario realized the experience was a part of the artwork itself. The environment where the artist decided to place the sculpture was crucial to understanding the work itself. He discovered other sculptures and realized that all the pieces were connected. A metal plate attached to each piece and a sentence alluding to corresponding pieces was what he had to lead on while connecting the pieces together. Mr. Ferrario was mesmerized and started networking around Namibia to find out more about the mysterious sculptures. 

A Bridge to the Desert – The Source of the Project Focuses on Pieces Themselves

As time passed, people began flocking from all over the world to visit the structures. During the pandemic the idea donned upon Mr. Ferrario to bring these pieces and their message to an international platform. The Biennale di Venezia was the perfect place. He presented the idea to the Namibian Ministry of Culture and the first Namibian Pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia was created. 

Aristotle once talked about the ‘unmoved mover’ to visualize God as the source of the universe. The same principle applies for here, as the artwork moved Mr. Ferrario to discuss the project with people. In this case, the sculptures can be recognized as the God, and curator as the messenger. He was fascinated by the purity of this form of art. Years ago these pieces were placed in the middle of the desert, with no obvious goal or aim. There was no known intention for these pieces to be discovered, seen, let alone be showcased at a global fair. The pieces were not signed, instead the interpretation was «the artworks are already the biggest exhibition in the world» referring to the vastness and freedom of the desert in which the pieces were discovered in. 

An Installation for the Venice biennial at Certosa Island

The installation did not happen overnight. Framing a complex path with so many different minds contributing took a few years to understand. An input and dialogues with artists and Namibian people was created by making new connections whilst reigniting old flames. «The means in which nature gives its rule to art» is an approach that guided Mr. Ferrario’s development of the process in which he created the pavilion, after testing his hypothesis and ideas amongst peers. 

Curating an exhibition of this gravity wasn’t for the faint of heart. Mr. Ferrario has been preparing and curating this exhibition since 2015. He visited Namibia regularly yearly and spent months in the Kunene desert, where he initially discovered the sculptures. His acquaintance with the area allowed him to understand another trait of the artwork – the surroundings are a crucial part. 

This whole exhibition was an emotional process for Mr. Ferrario. His aim is for the audience to enjoy the pieces without outside influences. Certosa Island was the location to choose in Venice. The island’s remote characteristics, blended with a forest of trees where visitors can experience quietness – the opposite of mainland Venice. 

What a Bridge to the Desert means

The exhibition itself acts as a bridge within the Biennale. It presents to the audience this work that was originally nestled within the oldest desert in the world. The artwork itself is a bridge that invites the reflection upon the relationship between humans and nature, represented by the sculptures scattered around the desert. 

This very bridge, even though it isn’t physical, is reflected in the conceptual mirror of the statues. Combined to represent humans as species and in turn to reflect upon our own place in nature, connecting the pieces, the artists, and the landscape in which they were discovered. 

The exhibition: a Bridge to today’s cultural landscape 

The exhibition has several layers of messages. The challenge to today’s individualistic culture of ‘superstar artists’, where artists tend to become more important than the work itself. RENN decided to avoid this by putting the pieces at the front of visitors and hid all personal connotations.  A message is sent also regarding the place of humans in nature: visitors must try to feel a connection between the sculptures and natural surroundings. This is to understand that humans, at the end of the scheme, are quite small in comparison to nature. 

Nature is the core of the exhibition. It represents a type of beauty consisting of colors, shadows, time, and spaces that are typical of a place far away from the present one. Away from what Aristotle called ‘the social animal’ and what we can today as ‘the artificial animal’

The Namibian pavilion in dialogue with nature and evolution

Ethologists have shown during their studies that many other species have social structures very similar to the ones of humans. By choosing to set these stone figures in natural surroundings that are older than life itself, nestled within landscapes that appear to belong to an uninhabited planet, there is a sense of call to action. There is a call to reflect on this event in the universe’s history, the result of billions of years of evolution of particles that make up the fabric of time and space. 

Mr. Ferrario wants visitors to experience the opposite of fear while visiting the Namibia pavilion. He wants visitors to feel young and ready to play. The exhibition consists of a documentary photo exhibition, to an open-air art hunt, then through a series of installations created by Amebe in collaboration with RENN with surprises and interactions at every corner. Visitors are encouraged to marvel at the various circles of life and along with the metamorphosis of nature and humans. It is a demonstration of RENN’s ability to transform heavy materials into live elements. 

The risk of cultural appropriation and criticism arisen: Mr. Ferrario’s perspective

Cultural appropriation is a topic that many are considering when shining a spotlight on other cultures. The Namibia Pavilion received some criticism that the exhibition did not interpret Namibian culture or art at all, calling the exhibition ‘cultural colonialism’ and that Mr. Ferrario was using the exhibition to extort black and African culture. 

Mr. Ferrario worked in tandem with the Ministry of Culture. His aim was for visitors entering the exhibition to feel the teamwork and be submerged by the Namibian culture. 

The curator claims the criticism might have arisen from the not full understanding of the exhibition or the message that the team of artists, politicians, and curators tried to convey. «The exhibition was constructed with the utmost respect to Namibia and their culture». Mr. Ferrario invites all visitors to experience it for themselves and have their own opinion.

RENN is The Lone Stone Star

Artist RENN is the figure who created the Lone Men sculptures that Mr. Ferrario discovered in the desert. The collaboration between the two figures was crucial to ensure proper representation of the pieces. Before the launch of the Namibia Pavilion, RENN also created abstract sculptures inspired by Certosa Island using local scrap material, while his only condition was that he wanted to avoid any personal storytelling. 

By creating these pieces, Mr. Ferrario and RENN spent six weeks on Certosa Island working. Whilst on a budget, he was the chef for everyone on site, encouraging discussions about Italian food and culinary traditions. 

Fellow curator Stefano Morelli was present at times, and one day was explaining the tradition of Calabrian foods. This impressed RENN greatly and gave the idea to create the sculpture titled ‘Social Foundation’. This very sculpture is now placed in the garden of three Michelin Star Massimiliano Alajmo’s bistrot, Hostaria in Certosa. 

The Beginning of An Upcoming Namibian Art Scene 

The Namibian art scene is diverse, it is a universe that is demanding to be discovered with patience and effort. Mr. Ferrario has received feedback from art and design enthusiasts, fellow curators, and visitors that they are eager to travel to Namibia and experience more. Marco Furio Ferrario, tried to bring a bit of Namibia to Venice, encouraging further globalization of art and design aesthetics to visitors that flock from all over the world to visit the Biennale and Certosa Island. 

Biennale di Venezia, Certosa Island

For the 59th edition of the Venice biennial exhibition, the Namibian pavilion was presented for the first time, exhibiting the project The Lone Stone Men of the Desert by RENN, with the curation of Marco Furio Ferrario.

Kaitlyn Durbin

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
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