Monday, 31 July 2017

Venice 2017

This year we again made our pilgrimage to another Venice Biennale. As usual we had done our homework and knew in advance what to watch out for and the impressions of some critics. However this time around we had the added incentive to see the installation of dear friend David Medalla, one of whose works was chosen to be included in the Arsenale. Logistics aside Venice was in full swing and as usual the heat of July meant that we had easy access to all venues, despite the exorbitant cost of the ‘vaporettos’ which meant that generally we walked everywhere. Our hotel was the same one we have used on our last few visits, very central, and from where we were within walking distance of most venues. This also had the added benefit that in passing we walked through most of the tourist spots, something that one always wants to include even if you have seen them a few times already. Venice was full of people but the great majority had no idea that this huge event ‘The Biennale’ was happening under their very eyes.
David Medall's 'A stich in Time'
Lorenzo Quinn's Hands

Now I am not an art critic but I do like to comment and discuss, and this year there was much that incited a response. The first thing that disappointed was that the German pavilion was missing the performance that is its main exhibit this year. Perhaps the performers were taking a day off, much like I used to do in my youth, when the sun shone outside, or perhaps there was a dispute about salaries or who knows what, but although it had been touted as a highlight this year, we were treated to an empty scene where a glass floor with the two spaces (above and below the glass) loomed empty like something was about to happen. It reminded me of the story about the Munch painting (The Scream) in which a long line of visitors at a museum waited to see (and take photos of) the empty space from which the painting had been stolen!

Kiki Smith's at the Central Pavillion

The Russian pavilion, generally my favourite, was a bit less exciting this year, though they did have some new ways of displaying some twenty or thirty mysterious sculptures, in that the shadows which one could see behind each sculpture were not created by light but in fact projections, which is kind of strange. Why would an artist go to these lengths to create shadows when the same effect can be arranged more easily, unless you had a few assistants who had nothing to do and you gave them this huge challenge. ‘Now go and create a shadow for each of these sculptures, take photographs, buy storage media, buy projectors and install electric fixtures, and project from a suitable location to make the whole thing look authentic’! 
Russian Pavillion
Still, art works in mysterious ways and who am I to criticise.
Phyllida Barlow at the British Pavillion

There were a few pavilions which need not have bothered to show up but there were also those which had made huge works and filled their spaces to the brim. One of these was the British pavilion which was so overstuffed with Phyllida Barlow’s sculptures that it was difficult to walk around. The Japanese and Chinese were also full of innovative pieces. It would be hard to do justice to the whole event without getting into a lengthy discussion so let us just say that there was much to see with a few duds. A few that stick in my memory were Azerbaijan, Ireland, Japan and Canada.

Japanese Pavillion

The ones who seemed to be having difficulty with their spaces were the likes of Uruguay and Venezuela. Uruguay appeared to have a collapsed roof, the reason for which I can only guess, and could be that a heavy object suspended from above or the huge storm the previous evening a few minutes after our plane landed in Venice, might have contributed to its shutdown. Egypt was also listed as closed, but it seemed to have recovered by the time we got around to it, showing a video story which was mysteriously left unresolved by the time it ended.
Rina Banerjee at the Arsenale
The two different locations of the Biennale as usual and the myriad associated ‘Collateral Events’ in beautiful ‘pallazi’ made us really hustle during four days of intense walking. On our first day at the Giardini, as we made our way out at closing time a huge storm blew in and mercifully a largish tavern in front of the exit accommodated what seemed like a few hundred visitors, squeezed in like sardines, for an hour while we downed our ‘spitzers’ and the storm raged and finally ended into bright sunshine.

Marisol in Venice

On our last day we tried very hard to find the Scottish pavilion located in a remote church. We got there just before it closed and saw the video which had received some curious reviews. ‘Not my cup of tea’ I thought to myself as it had the story of Pinnochio on a loop in a fantasy setting. Nicely done but not worth the effort to go and find it! The minor silver lining was that nearby and quite by accident we discovered the Palazzo Ca’ Zanardi where our friend Luca Curci (Itsliquid/Bari) has curated his exhibitions during the Biennale season.

All in all a very nice and interesting Biennale and enjoyable in the company of our friends Maximiliano and Maria Jesus, who know a thing or two about Venice.
The full set of photos from Venice Biennale 2017

Some pics of me in Venice (photos by Marisol Cavia)