Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Venice on my mind

This skinny writer has been flitting around. Not internationally. On trains, in cars, in boats, on heels. I was invited to the Australian Pavillion at the Venice Biennale, and rocked up with my accent and previously mentioned handbag. I felt a little silly and couldn't find my friend (hello, telephone?). But it was so lovely to be swept up by art works and gorgeous lighting and swanky people and that bubbly didn't hurt either...

The Venice Biennale is like the Oscars of art ceremonies, with most of the countries you can think of represented in national pavillions in the Giardini at the the north of the island, or in the vast halls of the ancient Arsenale nearby. If you pay the entry fee of 25e you can see either one, then come back another day and see the other. There are also free exhibits are scattered across the city in curious rooms lapped by canal water, or elegantly decaying palazzi overlooking boats swishing past. Grab a map in a bar or at the station, and start hiking (sometimes you have to catch a vaporetto and it's a good idea to buy an all-day travel card). Do wear a hat.

Ai Weiwei watched by prison guards
It's tremendously exciting, even if you don't quite understand what you find before you. And such a thrill to see the machinations of art at work. I saw Tibetan monks preparing coloured sand mandalas and a friend's fabulous design on show. I hiked up to the church of Sant'Antonin to see SACRED, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's six massive steel boxes placed incongruously on the dazzling marble floor. Through tiny window holes you can see the 81-day prison experience of Weiwei in a series of dioramas depicting the lack of privacy and the sense of menace inside the cell, complete with the artist sitting on the toilet watched by guards.

Congolese soldiers in a hot pink war - can beauty convey suffering?
Though I spent three days walking about I still feel I haven't seen enough. And some works were so compelling you want to see them again. Like the Irish Pavillion, which showed the film documentary of artist Richard Mosse, the culmination of three years of exploration of war-torn Congo. Shown on multiple screens in a darkened room (you sit on the floor with boats gurgling past), you are surrounded by gun skirmishes, a discarded body on the road, an endless refugee camp - all shot on discontinued military film intended for camouflage detection. The result is a viciously beautiful voyage in jarring colour through a country frayed by war. Local sounds, songs and metallic music accompany the series of scenes which offers no narrative, no exit. I found it compelling.

On my last day I wandered into a palazzo called the Future Generation Art Prize, and I joined a small group of people in a lavishly furnished Venetian room. They were watching a young man dry-humping the white sheets of a four-poster bed. I watched for a few minutes, thinking how lusty and naughty in the afternoon, feeling like a total voyeuse. What cheek(s)!

No photographs of that, sorry ladies, but here are some other arty glimpses.
Jeremy Deller's English Magic - hawk clutches Range Rover in his critique of wealth
David Bowie steps out on hIs 1972 tour, a year Deller examines through image
Chinese sweetness and kitsch
This man is an island - from the Finnish Pavillion


The marvellous and manic work of Sarah Sze from the USA

Body talk on the lagoon
Sumptuous palazzo detail - sigh !


13 comments:

  1. Nice exprrience. Lovely combination. Venice with its own art oscars. Cat it sure sounds very sociable

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    1. It was grand and I'll be going back! There was a lot of socialising and movement going on but for me an exhibition is often about the quiet striving of the artist. Symryn Gill, Australia's representative, spoke beautifully and, given the pavilion is open to the elements, her works with weather along the months of the show. I loved this concept!

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  2. What fun! How lovely to be invited.

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    1. Oh and lots of people watching too. Loved it! Are you coming up for a look around?

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  3. What cheek(s)! Ha, ha! Seriously though, I listen to radio programs and see TV programs about the Biennale but have never really heard what it's like to be a visitor (as against an artist or journalist) wandering around. I enjoyed your write up.

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    1. In the past I spent time with visual artists so it's refreshing to go back into the fruits of that world. I've always made a day of it as it's not too far from where we live - even when the kids were small I've herded them into the touchy-feely exhibits and let them roll around and sworn at the stroller! Now that they are older and have formed their own opinions it is interesting to see them submerge in art. I didn't have any of the clan with me last weekend, but I'll drag some of them along this summer.

      Afterwards I always head off to my favourite bar and sit in a corner. And usually doze on the train going home!

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    2. Sounds like a perfect day ... and how great to be able to have a drink or two and then train home. I love combining a nice wine with a gallery visit. They go well together!

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    3. Yes it is! And the great thing is that it last all summer and you can keep going back to the freebies.

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  4. What I wouldn't give to have been there with you...

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    1. Oh Averil it's every two years and goes till November and I could give you the grand tour - just like Sherry! X

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  5. Oooh, I'm jealous! I've never been. Not to Venice - there I've been many times, but can never get enough - but to the Biennale. One day...

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    1. I'm pretty sure you'd love it. Then we could have a Campari spritz afterwards! See you in Matera??

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  6. Green with it! Wish I could have been there! Your pics are wonderful, even if we didn't get to see exactly how the young man was humping the bed sheets ;) I'll just have to imagine!

    xx

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