Forced migration is a central theme in many shows at this year’s Venice Biennale, from the Tunisian pavilion, which is offering universal passports to anyone who wants one, to Mexico’s pavilion, where Carlos Amorales is screening a video of a puppet show about the lynching of a migrant family, to South Africa’s pavilion, where Candice Breitz (who represents the country with Mohau Modisakeng) is showing a series of videos focused on refugees. Breitz’s film is titled Love Story (2016). Alec Baldwin and Julianne Moore star.
“The asylum interview is a difficult process,” Baldwin says at one point, wearing a black T-shirt, appearing against a green screen, in a video projected onto a wall in one room of the pavilion. “Oh yes,” he adds later, ”they ask a lot of questions that are very personal.” It is easy to imagine him saying that, but then he begins discussing his life under the rule of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. The video cuts back and forth between Baldwin and Moore, who’s also wearing a dark top in front of a green screen. She talks about how dangerous it was for her to be a transgender woman in India. “Certain situations in life push you toward extreme decisions,” she says, explaining her decision to leave India.
Watching the two speak in the voices of refugees generated an unsettling, disorienting frisson for me for the first few moments. But then it quickly faded. Breitz’s point here—that refugees generally go unheard in mainstream Western media while so many hang on every work of celebrities—is something less than a revelation.
In the next room are video interviews of the six refugees (including Shabeena Saveri from India and Luis Nava from Venezuela) that Baldwin and Moore performed parts of. These men and women are also speaking in front of green screens, but their images are on televisions, and you can only hear what they are saying if you put on headphones sitting in front of them and listen.