Tuesday. 26/4/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

Opinion / Alexis Self

Sound and vision

At the Venice Biennale one usually gets a sense pretty early on of who is the favourite to win the Golden Lion, the top prize at the world’s most prestigious art fair. Even this year, despite the hype being more diffuse, crowds had begun to coalesce around a few favourites by the second day of the preview. Of these, the work of Zineb Sedira, representing France, had the longest queue, which seemed at the time to signify her impending triumph.

Inside the French pavilion, Sedira uses video, music and dance to express her Franco-Algerian identity, whose eclecticism is captured by a full-scale reproduction of her living room. But it was Sonia Boyce (pictured), curator of the neighbouring British pavilion, whose queues petered out pretty early on, who scooped the prize. Her work, entitled “Feeling Her Way”, features videos of a recording session by five black female musicians at Abbey Road. Boyce is a collaborative artist and, she told me, she “just wanted to see what would happen” when these five women were put in a room together.

The effect, of an inchoate sound demonstrating the spontaneity of musical expression, is a stirring one. Yet the work is let down by the visual element – flat-screen TVs, gold furniture and digital wallpaper – which seems kitsch and manufactured next to all of this raw sound. As with so many things, our appreciation of art is subjective and it’s important to interrogate why a prize has been awarded to one work over another. But those deliberations are not shared with the masses or collectors, whose obsession with “the market” is turning all art into commodities. On Saturday, Boyce lifted the Golden Lion and the queue for the British pavilion snaked all the way through the Giardini. That also meant that punters could finally get into the French one.

Image: Getty Images

Defence / USA & Ukraine

Returning to the fold

In a show of support for Ukraine, the US announced on Monday that its diplomats will gradually begin to return to the country, starting this week. The news came after US secretary of state Antony Blinken and defence secretary Lloyd Austin took a stealthy trip to Kyiv for a meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky (pictured, centre, with Austin and Blinken), during which Ukraine’s president was informed that Bridget Brink would be nominated as US ambassador to the country. Washington also announced an extra $300m (€280m) in military aid, including the provision of heavy artillery, armoured carriers and the Phoenix Ghost drone. “This support is important on a practical level but also on a symbolic one because it sends a message to Vladimir Putin that the US is investing in the future of Ukraine – and that we will not be scared off by threats of Russian attacks,” former US diplomat Lewis Lukens tells The Monocle Minute.

Image: Getty Images

Culture / Italy

International rescue

Italy has signed a decree enabling its heritage-protection task force to operate overseas, following a request from Unesco. The so-called “Blue Helmets of Culture”, best known for their work protecting Italy’s cultural heritage after earthquakes in 2017 and flooding in Venice in 2019, have already trained more than 1,000 Iraqi cultural-heritage experts and were involved in efforts to save buildings after the 2020 Port of Beirut explosion. The hope is that the measure will make it easier for the team to help protect sites and items of cultural importance from natural disasters, wars and terrorist attacks around the world.

Dario Franceschini, Italy’s minister of culture, is optimistic that the move will inspire other countries to establish similar task forces of their own. “It is vital that the EU or the UN adopt an instrument of this kind, as the UN has done to protect lives,” said Franceschini in a statement. “Individual countries must not be forced to act alone.”

Image: Alamy

Diplomacy / Japan & South Korea

Mending bridges

South Korea and Japan have long been partners in economic, cultural and security matters but diplomatic relations between the two countries have been frosty during the administration of outgoing president Moon Jae-in. Though the two countries are largely in agreement about North Korea, tensions have flared over historical issues relating to Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945. But Moon’s successor, president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol (pictured), has offered an olive branch by sending a delegation to Tokyo for five days of meetings, which will continue until Thursday.

An appointment with prime minister Fumio Kishida has yet to be confirmed but the group met Japan’s foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on Monday and there is talk that Kishida might attend Yoon’s inauguration on 10 May. Delegation leader Chung Jin-suk, from Yoon’s conservative People Power Party, arrived in Japan bearing a letter from the president-elect, expressing hope for a rapprochement. If there is a reset, sensible heads in the region will breathe a sigh of relief.

Image: Getty Images

Health / China

Strategic errors

Beijing has ordered the mass testing of its citizens after dozens of coronavirus cases were detected in the capital’s 3.5-million-strong Chaoyang district. Though Beijing’s infection rate is significantly lower than that of most of the world, it’s a troubling development for Chinese officials who have steadfastly pursued a “zero-Covid” strategy, even after a two-week lockdown in Shanghai failed to keep cases at bay (more than 19,000 were reported in the 24 hours to Monday).

There are signs of growing discontent in China over the human toll of lockdowns, including shortages of food and daily necessities, and a lack of access to medical treatment. All of this has been compounded by a relatively low vaccination rate among the elderly and the waning effect of China’s vaccines. The country’s authorities should follow the lead of other former zero-Covid countries, such as New Zealand and Australia, and accept that it’s not a sustainable strategy, roll up their sleeves and focus on getting as many shots into arms as possible.

Image: Roberto Patella

Monocle 24 / Meet the Writers

Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer

Georgina Godwin meets Dutch author and poet Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer, whose bestselling novel Grand Hotel Europa has recently been translated into English. It is a moving masterpiece that examines European identity, nostalgia and the end of an era.

Monocle Films / Global

The secret to finding a spring jacket

Bruce Pask, the menswear director at Bergdorf Goodman, is fêted for his unfussy personal style, so much so that the New York department store has given him his own space – B. – in one corner of its shop floor. As the mercury rises we asked Pask to give us the lowdown on picking a quintessential menswear staple: the spring jacket.

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