Giant Chinese Dragon Head travels to Venice Biennale for the Nordic Pavilion

Friday, February 9, 2024
Giant Chinese Dragon Head travels to Venice Biennale for the Nordic Pavilion

A giant dragon’s head prow – set to be an iconic feature of the Venice Biennale Arte 2024 – voyages from the arctic archipelago to the Venetian Lagoon to form part of the Nordic Countries Pavilion

For the 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia (20 April – 24 November 2024), the Nordic Countries Pavilion invites us to embark on a journey through time and space in search of safe harbour aboard a spectral dragon ship which will occupy the light and open architecture of Sverre Fehn’s meditative masterpiece in the Giardini. The Pavilion will be book-ended by a huge and ornate dragon’s head prow and tail, which will soon make the voyage from its mooring on the frozen waters of the Stockholm Archipelago to the Venetian Lagoon.

Conceived and conceptualised by artist Lap-See Lam (Sweden), The Altersea Opera is a poetic exploration of the existential implications of displacement and belonging which veers between the real and the imaginary to tell a story about the desire to stay and the need to move on. For the duration of the Biennale, the Nordic Pavilion transforms into a dragon ship, powered by magic sails made of stories and filled with mythological water creatures trying to find their way back to the places of their past. A richly layered audio-visual installation, The Altersea Opera is inspired by the spirit of the Red Boat Opera Company – the travelling opera troupe which popularised Cantonese opera in the 19th century.

Modern Museet in Stockholm is leading the work on the 2024 edition of the Nordic Pavilion for which Lap-See Lam (Sweden) has been invited to create an ambitious multi-modal installation. In collaboration with Asrin Haidari, curator of Swedish and Nordic Art at the museum, Lam has extended the invitation to artist Kholod Hawash (Finland) and composer The Yeung Ho (Norway), and an international ensemble of collaborators ranging from singers, costume designers and filmmakers to interpreters and a certified bamboo scaffold engineer.

On crossing the threshold into the Nordic Pavilion, visitors enter into an imaginary ship inspired by Floating Restaurant Sea Palace, a 100-feet long, three-storey Chinese dragon ship. Built in Shanghai and decorated by master craftsmen, the lavishly appointed ship was towed to Gothenburg in 1991, where it served as a chinese restaurant. When the business failed, it took on an afterlife as a ghost ship at the Gröna Lund theme park, where Lap-See Lam discovered it in a dilapidated state before it was towed to its present home in a remote boatyard in the Stockholm Archipelago.

Through successive works, Lap-See Lam’s world-building practice has engaged with the notion of generational loss through artistic investigations into the displacement of people and objects from one context to another. The Altersea Opera expands Lam’s universe further with this investigation into the mutability of myth and connection through multilingualism. At the centre of the Pavilion installation, and brought to life by a film shot on board the Sea Palace, we find the Cantonese mythological figure Lo Ting–– half fish, half man––as reimagined by Lap-See Lam in a libretto that tells the tale of his longing to return to a former home, Fragrant Harbor - only to find it transformed beyond recognition.

The score composed by Tze Yeung Ho merges Baroque ornamentation and unexpected instruments in melancholic melodies, interspersed with lullabies and poetry that draw on the multilingual background of the artists. Kholod Hawash's textile works form a sculptural installation in the Pavilion. Her embroideries conjure a distinctive world of motifs, sewn stitch-by-stitch through jodaleia and tatreez (Arabic for quilting and embroidery), with elements from folktales and archaeological landscapes.

Main Image Photo: Mattias Lindbäck/Moderna Museet

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Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.


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