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November 18, 2022

Field Notes: Fiona Yu-Lun Hsu on Shubigi Rao, “Pulp III: A Short Biography of the Banished Book,” Singapore Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale

Art & Education

Shubigi Rao, Talking Leaves, 2022. Single-channel video with color and 4+1 sound. Installation view, “Pulp III: A Short Biography of the Banished Book,” Singapore Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022.

Shubigi Rao, Being a Brief Guide to the Banished Book, 2017. Ink on paper. Installation view, “Pulp III: A Short Biography of the Banished Book,” Singapore Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022.

Shubigi Rao, “Pulp III: A Short Biography of the Banished Book.” Installation view, Singapore Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022.

Shubigi Rao, Talking Leaves, 2022. Single-channel video with color and 4+1 sound. Installation view, “Pulp III: A Short Biography of the Banished Book,” Singapore Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022.

Field Notes: Shubigi Rao, “Pulp III: A Short Biography of the Banished Book,” Singapore Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale
by Fiona Yu-Lun Hsu

For more than a century, the Venice Biennale has been the foremost exhibition of the globalized art world, and recently, every two years—or three, given the latest pandemic interruption—the central exhibition and national presentations have gestured toward inclusivity, albeit through exhibitions that have been assembled through processes of curatorial exclusion. We might also understand the Biennale as an institution of knowledge generation driven by organizational mechanisms, and within such mechanisms, visitors must mobilize their bodies, senses, and knowledges to dialogue with the works and ideas it presents. “The Milk of Dreams,” the central exhibition of the Biennale curated by Cecilia Alemani, invites an unprecedented engagement with art in its posthumanist reframing of artistic narratives and broader art historical trajectories. Paradoxically yet fruitfully, Alemani’s curatorial vision and the rigorous conceptual framing of “The Milk of Dreams” counters the hegemonic narratives of knowledge production and dissemination, exposing the viewer to alternative and compelling accounts of art and our world.

“Pulp III: A Short Biography of the Banished Book,” Shubigi Rao’s presentation at the Singapore Pavilion curated by Ute Meta Bauer, is, like “The Milk of Dreams,” designed to shift perceptions. Installed in the Arsenale, the sixteenth-century brick-and-stone former barracks, “Pulp III” unfolds in a space enveloped in layers of white paper hung from the ceiling, a kind of minimalist scenography that relieves the sensory overload created by the other Biennale exhibitions. Here, Rao has carefully relayed her exhibition’s narrative in text and drawings, a stack of books arranged into a square block, and a collage of sounds and images from her mythopoetic film. Rao’s book Pulp III: An Intimate Inventory of the Banished Book (2022) and film Talking Leaves (2022) are essential elements of her exhibition, and their presentation in the space evokes the experience of reading, encouraging slow-looking and total immersion. Five thousand copies of the first edition of Pulp III were printed and bound in Venice, and, upon leaving their contact information and travel destinations, visitors to the pavilion may take one with them, thereby translating into practice Rao’s conception of the book as a vessel of knowledge that travels across temporal-spatial boundaries. Rao’s ninety-minute-long Talking Leaves meditates on the historical connectedness of print communities, and cutting between archival footage, artistic drawings and texts, sounds of chanting and talking, and images of narrators and artistic imageries, evinces a polyphonic kind of storytelling. Beneath the narratives and counternarratives in the book and the film lies an ephemeral sense of loss and lament on the displaced histories of print and knowledge.

Read more of Fiona Yu-Lun Hsu’s Field Notes review on Art & Education.

Field Notes is a series of reviews from the next generation of art writers. Featuring texts on the 59th Venice Biennale and Documenta 15 contributed by students and recent graduates, Field Notes makes original connections between the work and the world and takes a closer look at what other observers might have missed.

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