Thinking Head (2017–2019) realised by Lara Favaretto for Ralph Rugoff’s 58th Venice Biennale, May You Live in Interesting Times, is the continuation of a project and artwork commissioned by Nottingham Contemporary in 2017, as part of the solo show Absolutely Nothing curated by the Museum’s director, Sam Thorne. Thinking Head is a nod to Alighiero Boetti’s sculpture Mi fuma il cervello (1993), an electrically heated bronze self-portrait whose head literally fumes.
The project mirrors the functioning of the human brain as if it were a machine, a generator of thoughts and recognition, and then of definition and coordination. It is imbued with theoretical undertones of phrenology, in which the brain is the organ of the mind, and mental powers can be analysed as innate and independent faculties, each with its own place in a particular region on the surface of the brain.
A vapour-producing machinery has been installed on the roof of the Central Pavilion of the Venice Biennale, constantly obscuring its façade in hazy mist which renders the Pavilion mysterious and in flux, depending on the atmospheric conditions and the direction of the wind. The movement of the mist emulates the intrinsically mutable nature of thought processes with their varying intensity and temperament.
An opacity reigns over the Pavilion - the solid engine of thought – and once through the mist and inside there is a warehouse room of grouped objects connected to 50 keywords. These words are chosen in collaboration with a select group of his collaborators with the idea that they are vital and relevant to dissect and redefine our present moment. Some of these objects come from the archive which has been amassed and preserved over the past 25 years, while others have been specially selected or suggested by others for the project.
The relationship between the grouped objects and each word is tentative, hesitant, and provisional, and clear associations may or may not arise from them. During the course of the exhibition the objects may be rearranged and moved from one group to another, or new ones could be added. By mimicking the subdivisions of the mind, the intention is that these grouped objects, connected to individual words, will be processed in each viewer’s mind and the result will be something similar to a very advanced, hyper-technological dimension. What at first sight could be considered ‘archaic’ will turn into the most advanced augmented reality.
These 50 key words are further decoded elsewhere with a series of clandestine talks in a Second World War bunker in an undisclosed, protected, and soundproof location in the grounds of the Venice Arsenale. True to its historic use, the bunker is a room specifically dedicated to meetings where innovative ideas and concerns of an imperative nature are exchanged and shared, giving rise to a field of perplexity. It measures approximately 13 x 3.5 x 2.5 metres, and is fully refurbished, de-humidified and soundproofed, going down to about 90 centimetres below ground level.
The bunker is intended to be undisturbed and uncontaminated, so that participants can fully engage and process their thoughts and lose any sense of time, with a view to creating an independent guerrilla knowledge. This intimate discourse is live-streamed via audio online, transcribed and published as a distinctive Thinking Head publication dedicated to each individual word.
Each talk includes a number of 3 to 7 participants and will take place in the course of a day behind closed doors and without a public audience, with their duration at the discretion of the participants. They are rigorously selected from various disciplines and backgrounds, encouraging a coming together of various ramifications in the understanding of each individual word, where different disciplines converge in the analysis of a common meaning or in perpetual pursuit of its redefinition.
Prior to each talk each participant receives a selection of images from the artist’s archive and further derivative words, which serve as a personal visual and lateral response to the keyword. At the end of the clandestine talk, the artist invites each participant to provide further words and images and these are continuously uploaded to the Thinking Head website. Participants, as well as those selected but unable to attend, are asked to submit a written text, either written by them or by another author, that they deem pertinent to one of the project’s 50 words. The texts contribute to the project as though they were the transcription of the thoughts of the Thinking Head and are archived within the DISTRACTION subdivision of the head on the website.
These discussions may produce uncertainty and even failure, unpredictable answers to unanswerable questions and more, mirroring the effect of the mist often hiding the façade of the Central Pavilion and metaphorically letting the orientation fail.
Lara Favaretto has participated in the Biennale of Sydney, Sydney (2008); the Sharjah Biennial, Sharjah, UAE (2009); the Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul, Turkey (2011); dOCUMENTA(13) in Kassel, Germany, and Kabul, Afghanistan (2012); Manifesta 10, The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia (2014); The Liverpool Biennial (2016); Skulptur Projekte in Münster and Marl (2017); Manifesta 12, Palermo, Italy (2018); Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy (2019, 2009, 2005). She has had solo and group exhibitions at The Bass, Miami Beach, Florida, USA (2019); Kunsthalle Mainz, Mainz, Germany (2018); Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai, UAE (2018); Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia (2018); Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg, Germany (2018); Kunsthalle Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany (2018); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, USA (2018); Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, USA (2018); Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, UK (2017); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, USA (2017); MOCA, Cleveland, USA (2017), Rennie Collection, Vancouver, Canada (2015); MAXXI, Rome, Italy (2015, 2010); Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, UK (2015), Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, Denmark (2015); Castello di Rivoli, Rivoli, Italy (2014, 2010, 2005); Schrin Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, Germany (2014); Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, USA (2013); Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France (2013); MoMA PS1, New York, USA (2012, 2011); Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE (2012); Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, USA (2012, 2010); The Gardens, Vilnius, Lithuania (2012); CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, USA (2012); MUSAC, León, Spain (2011); Museo Fortuny, Venice, Italy (2010); Fundación/Colección, Jumex, Mexico City, Mexico (2010); Magasin, Centre d’art contemporain de Grenoble, Grenoble, France (2010); MART - Museo d’arte moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, Rovereto, Italy (2010); Tramway, Glasgow, UK (2009); Museo MADRE, Naples, Italy (2009); MOCA, Los Angeles, USA (2005); GAMeC, Bergamo, Italy (2002).