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Joana Vasconcelos, Trafaria Praia (detail), 2013. Installation within the Trafaria Praia ferryboat. Photograph: Luís Vasconcelos. © Unidade Infinita Projecto

In order to give a name to the 55th installment of the Venice Biennale, director Massimiliano Gioni borrowed the title "The Encyclopedic Palace" (or "Il Palazzo Enciclopedico" in its original Italian) from the artist Marino Auriti. The title refers to Auriti's conceptual plan for a museum that housed the entirety of the human race's knowledge and inventions, and was chosen to describe the 55th Biennale's survey of the last 100 years of art, not simply a grouping of contemporary work.

The six-month event will show the work of 150 artists from 38 countries, including the first exhibition presented by the Vatican. Obviously, there's more to the vast Biennale than one can squeeze in a blog post, but these five shows have caught our eye and are worth checking out if you're headed to Venice.

Ragnar Kjartansson, "S.S. Hangover," 2013
Courtesy the artist; i8 Gallery, Reykjavik; Luhring Augustine, New York

1. Ragnar Kjartansson's "S.S. Hangover" at various locations
To make the most of Venice's canals, Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson created a kinetic sculpture using a fishing boat built in 1934 in Reykjavik and six local brass musicians. The band will perform a site specific composition by Kjartan Sveinsson while continuously sailing in a semi-circle pattern meant to simulate stereoscopic sound. They'll also periodically drop off players at piers while the band continues to perform, highlighting different elements of the composition, while altering the piece being played on the boat.

2. Dayanita Singh at the German Pavilion 
Dayanita Singh, who has photographed scenes of life in India for decades, will show photos from her 2001 work Mona, which examines the culture of eunuchs in India. The project, which began as a commission for the Financial Times to accompany a story about eunuch culture in 1989, was scrapped after Mona, the subject of the photos, demanded the negatives be returned to her. After realizing the feature was for a British newspaper and not an American one, she feared relatives who did not know she had become a eunuch would find out. Despite having to cancel the original assignment, Singh befriended Mona and photographed her over a decade later for her book Myself Mona Ahmed.

3. Richard Mosse at the Irish Pavilion
Using a custom-built large format camera and infrared film originally developed to detect camouflaged enemies during combat, photographer Richard Mosse documented conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo with his surreal photos of pink rolling hills, red trees, and illuminated water. His installation, "The Enclave," is a multimedia work shot in 2012 with the goal of rethinking war photography. During the Biennale, the work will be released as a 240-page monograph from the Aperture Foundation.

4. Joana Vasconcelos at the Pavilion of Portugal
This year the Pavilion of Portugal will actually be housed in a traditional Portuguese ferry boat covered in Portuguese tiles called azulejos. The ferry boat, called Trafaria Praia, is both a reference to Venice's canals, as well as the national "seafaring" identity of Portugal. Trafaria Praia will house work from Joana Vasconcelos, and take periodic 30-minute voyages between two ports in Venice. 

5. Koki Tanaka at Japan's Pavilion
For his showing at this year's Biennale, Japanese video artist Koki Tanaka tried to answer the question, "What message should Japan be sending to the world after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami?" In order to share the experiences of those who survived the earthquake with attendees who were more removed from the tragedy, Tanaka's video installation will assign visitors tasks designed to put them in unfamiliar positions, meant to represent the challenges of responding to a disaster.

Visit the Biennale online for more information.