Described by curator Christine Macel a 'yes' to life in uncertain times, Ros Brennan shares some of the 2017 highlights from the world's most prestigious art exhibition

Known for its production of glass, silk and drapery, Venice has been at the heart of Western Europe's maritime trade for centuries. The interminable parade of merchant vessels cruising across Venetian waterways is very much a part of the floating city's DNA; a proud symbol of its place in the international economy.

Every two years, Venice welcomes a maritime trade of a very different kind. Instead of perishable goods, the shipping containers are filled with sculpture, painting, photography, ceramics and printmaking destined for the holy grail of art exhibitions: the Venice Biennale.

In 2017, 120 artists from 51 countries sent their work across the seas. The six-month long exhibition unfurls across the historic Giardini, the Arsenale, the Central Pavilion, as well as countless disused palazzos, churches and unsuspecting corners of the island, ready for the appraisal of the more than half a million visitors.

It's such a large-scale operation requiring a huge infrastructure, one wonders how the intricate veins of Venice's canal system cope. Logistics aside, there is something undeniably magic and heartening about this 120-year tradition. It's a collective glimpse into the utopian dreams of the world's great thinkers and philosophers. Diasporic threads of the population exhibiting side by side as equals; stripping back the veil of their ego and baring their souls for the world to see.

The 57th edition of the Venice Biennale exhibition, which opened in May, is titled "Viva Arte Viva." As Curator Chrisine Macel explains, "In a world full of conflicts and jolts, in which humanism is being seriously jeopardized, art is the most precious part of the human being."

Macel went on to stress the role of art in unstable times: "It is the ideal place for reflection, individual expression, freedom, and fundamental questions. It is a 'yes' to life, although sometimes a 'but' lies behind. More than ever, the role, the voice and the responsibility of the artist are crucial in the framework of contemporary debates."

Viva arte viva: highlights of the 2017 Venice Biennale