With the wreckage of a boat in which more than 700 migrants died, a sculpture of linking hands forming a bridge, and the words of a letter from Gandhi to Hitler among the works on show, artists are putting climate change and populism centre stage at the Venice Biennale.
Tomas Saraceno's piece On the Disappearance of Clouds, which moves with the wind, accompanied by music and the sound of the water beneath it, is intended as a warning about global warming. While Lorenzo Quinn calls his Building Bridges sculpture – six pairs of hands clasped to form a bridge – a call to action.
They are being erected in the Arsenale former shipyard, against the backdrop of a city that stands as a historic east-west gateway and a continent which is preparing to vote in an election that is shaping up as a battle of populism versus more open social democratic traditions.
His sculpture isn't meant to be a campaign platform, Quinn says. But his ideals are clear: "This sculpture is more about taking action, and actions are stronger than words, and that's why [it depicts] building bridges... we need people to actually do something about it and we need to bridge cultures.
"Humanity has always worked best when [it works] together. We've achieved incredible things together, never by closing [ourselves] off with barriers but [by] actually opening up to the rest of the world. That's what I want to transmit with this sculpture – so six [sets of] arms, five represent each continent and one love, the hand of love" he explains.
For the 58th edition of the Venice Biennale tone gallery entrance is covered with mist and fog.
In the Indian pavilion, artist Jitish Kallat's installation presents a letter written by Mahatma Gandhi to Adolf Hitler before the beginning of the Second World War, in which he pleads for peace.
The letter begins with the words "Dear friend" and ends with the word "friend" – making friendship the parentheses around a message asking for self-reflection, according to the artist.
The installation, called "Covering Letter" projects the words on a stream of fog and mist that evaporates when the viewer walks through it.
Meanwhile the carcass of a ship hauled off the sea bed four years ago off the coast of Libya, with hundreds of bodies of migrants, inside has also gone on display.
It is the work of Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Buchel, who calls it Barca Nostra (Our Ship), a play on the Latin Mare nostrum, meaning "our sea" – the term used by the ancient Romans to refer to the Mediterranean.
The 58th Biennale, entitled 'May You Live In Interesting Times', opens on Saturday 11 May and runs until 24 November.