un Projects is based on the unceded sovereign land and waters of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation; we pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.
un Projects

Everybody Everywhere All at Once


Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere, Venice Biennale
20 April - 24 November 2024

Everybody Everywhere 

Whakapapa refers to genealogy, it can encompass our connection to a source; where we stand in relation to everyone and everything. The prefix whaka is used in conjunction with verbs, it means ‘to cause something to happen’. Papa refers to Papatuuaanuku, the earth mother from which we originate. Papa is also a word used to describe a surface, a place to stand, a foundation. Whakapapa, to me, is the never-ending links and people that affirm the foundation that connects us (continuously) back to Papatuuaanuku.

‘wherever you go and wherever you are you will always encounter foreigners— they/we are everywhere.’1 Reflecting on these words from Brazilian curator Adriano Pedrosa, curator of the sixtieth Venice Biennale exhibition, Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere, I’m reminded of how varying forms of exclusion and othering based on foreignness impacts every foreigner differently. Even as our global connectivity continues to expand through networks that carry on traditions and translate cultures across social and physical borders, foreignness fails to unify and contain the vastly different experience of categories of people and communities that are defined as such. As a transnational adoptee, I have always felt foreign, even at ‘home’ (8,000kms away from my birth country of South Korea), a body so out of place in the colony amongst bodies considered ‘in place’ at the expense of people ‘of the place’. The curatorial premise promised in some way to grapple with the predicament of place, to contest notions of domestic - foreign - familiar - strange.   

To weave whariki is no easy feat, to weave in general is intrinsically a collective practice — weavers are scientists, mathematicians that embody ancestral ways of knowing and remembering. Takapau by Mataaho is likely the first work you encounter entering the Arsenale, one of the primary venues for the Biennale. Mataaho Collective is a collaboration between four Māori artists who have worked together since 2012.2 Made up by Sarah Hudson, Erena Arapere, Bridgit Reweti and Terri Te Tau their installation is a bold woven canopy — inspired by whariki held in the Te Papa Tongarewa collection. Traditionally whariki occupy the floor space in the inside of a wharenui, and are used to neutralise space or wrap taonga, they assist in dictating Tapu and Noa. Takapau, uses industrial hardware and reflective webbing to indicate the beginning stages for weaving a whariki. Refractions of light and rainbows bounce off the reflective straps onto the walls and floor — this references Te Ao Marama (the world of light) and the role of the Whare Tangata (womb) in allowing transition from Te Ira Atua  into Te Ao Marama. This work is an IRL experience. It holds you lovingly like a mother would. Held in the soft orbit of Takapau, a collectively made work, I think about how ‘whakapapa weaves all of existence together in an infinite, ever expanding web of intergenerational relationships.’3

Mataaho Collective, Takapau, 2024, exhibition installation view. Courtesy of Is Randell

All At Once

Etymologically speaking, the Italian straniero (the foreigner) is rooted to strano (the stranger) and over the course of my attendance at the Biennale’s pre-opening weekend I kept coincidentally referring to the exhibition as ‘Strangers Everywhere’. But what does it mean to be a stranger? Nineteenth century German philosopher, George Simmel notes that ‘the concept of “the stranger” suggests that foreignness is a psycho-cultural as well as a geographical matter.’4 The stranger’s position is determined, essentially, by the fact that he does not belong from the beginning.5 

Responding to the theme of Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere, panellists at the one-day assembly on Global Asias ‘A World of Many Worlds’ sought to bring into relation multiple worlds from a multiplicity of social, political and geographical positions. It aimed to reject false notions of Western-centric universalism and recognise that a generalised notion of the stranger is instrumental to producing and reproducing Western selves, communities and nation-states. In a world that reflects back to you that your presence is in discordance with your surroundings, modes of being and knowing require a braiding of multiple complex realities to world-build as a tool for survival. 

Names written in white chalk on blackboard tessellate from the centre of the Australian Pavilion’s exhibition space in Archie Moore’s kith and kin, curated by Ellie Buttrose. An infinite hive of interconnectivity fades out of focus as the eyes travel upwards. Lines, like taproots, trace along the wall. I follow them as a kid would follow an auntie into a family gathering – greeting person after person. This is also a reunion of both Moore’s extended whanau and the names of every Aboriginal life lost in state care. Names are portals; they hold entire cultures, histories, lifes and stories within their assembly of characters. Names also have the power to sever bonds, isolating generations from source in an instant. The weight of these names are akin to an entire ocean, a force, a presence. Occupying the central space of the exhibition are stacks of paper files, each reporting the hundreds of deaths of First Nations people in state custody. These records hover above a dark pool of water; the only light I see is from a small window that looks out onto the canals of Venice. In Te Ao Māori during Matariki, Taramainuku collects the names of those who have passed. These are carried by Te Waka o Rangi, before they are released into the sky as stars. Kua whetuurangitia koe, you have become a star now stems from this. 

Archie Moore, kith and kin, 2024. Exhibition installation view, Australia Pavillion, Giardini della Biennale, Venice. Courtesy of Is Randell. 

Moore decentres the colonial archive by naming his lineage, illustrating lines of his descent and locating his ancestors. The presentation speaks to continuity and perseverance despite the violent state systems that continue to harm, exclude, displace, and dispossess Indigenous Peoples. Sharing a commitment to truth-telling, justice and fighting against settler-colonialism, Palestinian artists, activists and allies at the Venice Biennale this year aim to expose the genocidal atrocities of the Israeli occupation in Palestine. Such actions in solidarity with the ongoing Free Palestine movement also add to the long archive of Palestinian resistance.

Over two days, Poetry for Palestine, organised by Artists Against Apartheid, Bidoun, WAWOG and the Kamel Lazaar Foundation, gathered people on the Grand Canal to listen to a series of readings featuring words by Maya Abu Al Hayat, Fady Joudah, Hala Alyan, Edward Salem and many more. In these reading sessions, open to the public and anyone walking by to join in listening and witnessing, we were reminded of collective forms of being together - finding relationships and social possibility between language, culture, history and geography in a plurality of worlds. 

Art Not Genocide Alliance protest ephemera, 2024, Giardini della Biennale, Venice. Courtesy of Alice Castello.

Until we became fire and fire us a video work and installation by Palestinian artists Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, explore the ways colonisation cannot be contained through bodies, land and time. The work, exhibited in the privacy of an old venetian hospital as part of Nebula, an exhibition of new site-specific video installations curated by two Italian curators Alessandro Rabottini and Leonardo Bigazzi, centres resilience and memory, unfolding like non-linear poetry. Sounds, images and words that speak to the dispossession, destruction and erasure of homes across Palestine, are fragmented alongside Indigenous plants that refuse uprooting and songs that celebrate love and loss across the diaspora. 

The song is the call and the land is calling
The land is calling the vanished through the song
The land haunts us
And we haunt them
The shadow, the echo, the ghosts of what remain6

Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, Until we became fire and fire us, 2023–on going. Exhibition installation view,  in "Nebula", Fondazione In Between Art Film at Complesso dell'Ospedaletto, Venice, 2024. Courtesy of Alice Castello.

Also taking place during the pre-opening weekend from 16-21 April, When Solidarity Is Not a Metaphor, an exhibition (or counter-space as it was described) of installations, photographs, performances, and conversations focussed on accountable and ethical gathering, located solidarity as praxis – called for acts of with-ness.6 In Other World (part of When Solidarity Is Not a Metaphor), Maya al-Khaldi’s haunting vocals intertwined with Sarouna’s qanun harmonies to merge traditional melodies and archival recordings from Palestine, mapping new landscapes that reconceive and revisit heritage into future imaginaries. 

As I wax and wane in and out of this experience of being an Australian Biennale delegate in Venice surrounded by foreigners, kith and, art world kin, I think about our ability to make meaning in our togetherness and what it means to be held by these raw encounters with artists’ offerings. Indigenous modes of thinking and being in solidarity with each other frames the experiences of Venice. Beyond this I think of Indigenous knowing and systems of being that have been and always will be anchors. On an international stage Indigenous artists are exceptional, I’ve always known that to be true, it’s nice to reflect on the fact that now the art world knows it too – as reflected by Mataaho and Moore’s historic win of the prestigious Golden Lion Award.

Through Pedrosa’s vision we see a multiplicity of secure assertions of Indigenous voices, histories and practices. Through these artists and activists the notion of foreigners everywhere fades and the embrace of whakapapa or connection to country – wherever that may be – dismantles the narrow view of western- centric narratives that make foreign all other perspectives. Moore says…the inter-tidal zones where saltwater meets freshwater are sites for creation of life in the world encountered. Creation, imagination, memory, family and fraternity-sorority, in the minds of kith and kin.7

Alice Castello is a transnational adoptee, born in South Korea. She works across multiple contemporary arts organisations on Kaurna Yarta. Since attending the Venice Biennale this year, I have been thinking more about the distances between being seen and being known.

Is Randell is a curator and weaver from Aotearoa. She has connections to Tainui, Ngati Kahungunu and Mangaia. She works as the Moana Curator at City Gallery Wellington. From the waters of Venice I reflect on raw encounters with works new and known. How do we connect in foreign places and how does Indigenous modes of being and making feel, so far away from home?