Our Venetian adventure began over cobblestones, poking our heads down small alleyways in the maze of Venice, searching for our accommodation. Down a small meandering alley was an unassuming door where we were met and shown in to a beautiful apartment on the second floor. Big and light with a loft bedroom and a big comfy couch.
We had decided to come to Venice somewhat late in our planning, the main reason being for the Venice Biennale one of the biggest art festivals in the world. The biennale is presented as a huge curated exhibition held across two venues as well as national pavilions which are curated and managed by the countries themselves and a huge range of side events. This year the show was curated by Okwui Enwezor, a Nigerian born curator under the theme ‘All the Worlds Futures.’ It is a fascinating event held all over Venice and it is particularly interesting to see how each country chooses to present itself in its pavilion. We decided to start with one of the larger areas called the Giardini and so we hopped aboard a water bus and were on our way.
Our plan was to get there as soon as it opened and try and see everything before it closed. We didn’t want to have to pay for another day and besides there was just too much more to fit in and see. We arrived expecting hordes and were pleasantly surprised. The area was huge and their was just the right amount of people, we never felt rushed or crowded and had plenty of time to sit with the art. We ate some breakfast next to a work by Carsten Holler who seems to be all over Europe at the moment. A large retro carnival ride cordoned off to the public slowly rotated in the sun. It was sad and lonely and seemed to speak of either a future without children or of a future where children are cut off from the joys of the current era.
By chance the third pavilion we entered was also one of our favourites of the entire biennale, the Dutch pavilion with works by Herman de Vries. Minimal, yet somehow powerfully emotive, the work seemed to remind us about our connection to the natural world. De Vries had collected natural material from around Venice and presented these in a delicate and expressive way along with soil samples from all over the world, photography and a simple and evocative reminder of all the ways to be.
A mention has to be made of the Finnish pavilion with an intricate and incredibly detailed animation piece of ethereal seasonal change housed in a wood cabin, complete with the strong smell of cedar.
The second pavilion which really blew us away was the Norwegian pavilion with a work by Camille Norment entitled ‘Rapture’. She had used the design of the pavilion so well that her piece and the building which housed it were one elegant and beautiful experience. Large shattered windows, stark light interior and an array of speakers with a chorus of female voices and the sound of fingers on glass and water harnessed an immense feeling of fragile beauty, rapturous and sad.
As we wondered around the Giardini area we noticed a number of large monuments dotted around the gardens and pathways made of cheap ply and plastic which on closer inspection were honoring hidden insecurities and issues. They were amazing, hilarious and thoughtful looks at the idea of martyrs and heros.
We approached the Australian pavilion with expectation, how would we stand up to the rest of the worlds pavilions? What would we be saying as a country through the artist we chose to represent us? It was also the newest pavilion to be built on the island and we were curious to see what kind of architectural art space had been selected.
Situated on the bank of a canal was a large black box of a building in striking contrast to the many classical buildings of the other pavilions. Although perhaps a little bit last century, a Modern autonomous art box. Emm thought they wasted the view of the canal with not enough windows. We were happy to discover Fiona Halls wunderkammer installation called ‘Wrongway Time’. Within the darkened and blacked out room a giant cabinet created an imposing wall around a central square space. The room was cool and quiet and immediately gave us the feeling of a museum space. The exhibition was busy with a huge number of artworks, harsh truths carved from bread on atlas pages, endangered sea life carved form tin cans and myriad of political and social criticisms. It was a dense and fascinating show.
The pavilion of Korea looked like it was a window into a future of technological isolation and separation from the natural world. The projection and use of space were immersive and skillful and the glimpses of narrative created a feeling of being in the personal space of the character in the film, living in a cold technical world.
A special mention for the most hilarious entry in the biennale goes to Sarah Lucas and the UK pavilion for her hilarious write up and irreverent sculpture work. The best painting work for us was Adrian Ghenie from Romania with his large and colorful paintings combining numerous techniques. We also enjoyed Celeste Bousrier Mougenot’s French pavilion with its soft white fake-stone piazza for lounging while watching a giant tree dance around the square.
Day 2 saw us tackle the other main ticketed area of the biennale at Arsenale. Mostly made up of the All The Worlds Futures exhibit, we found this half of the ATWF exhibition much stronger then it’s counterpart in Giardini. The exhibit was long and lead us in and out like a maze through the old armory. We encountered a trust registry were Dotahn signed a contract with the statement ‘I will always do what I say I am going to do’
We were fascinated by a slow motion video showing a bullet shot through ballistic gel with the remnants on display. The jiggling of the gel hypnotic with shock waves.
Emmily fell in love with Ricardo Breys collection of boxes filled with all manner of craft and treasures in ‘Every Life is a Fire’.
We were left with the feels from the strong video and installation piece made all the more impacting with the tolling of the original church bell in Gone are the days of the Shelter and Martyr. The other video art work that gripped our attention was NoNoseKnows which was a surreal look at the pearl industry and white privilege with its entry through the roller door of a pearl factory.
It was at this point that we realised that the majority of the video art was documentary based using a traditional interviewing technique with little thought to its presentation within the space. We got tired of trying to sit through a documentary while walking through a large exhibition. Also our brains had begun to melt and we found ourselves vagueing out and wandering lost without the ability to take anything else in. It was time for a lunch break and debriefing before heading back out into the heat and seeing the other country pavilions. We were determined to see everything before it closed for the day.
The South African pavilion was very political and was made all the more interesting with our personal experience of South Africa, Argentina had amazing resin sculptures from Juan Carlos Distefano and the entry from Holy See was a disturbing atreum made from the caul fat and intestines.
We were soon to see an installation which used documentary in a way that utilized all of the space and broke away from film narrative. the Singapore pavilion and Charles Lim Ye Yong presented a documentary about the sea levels of Singapore and its seemingly endless supply of sand for expanding the city. The shows clever use of large flat panel screens and perspectives of construction as land strata was amazing.
The Latvian Pavilion by Katrina Nelburga and Andris Eglitis was a fantastic ramshackle building of wood and half-built angles and aging space technology. We got to sit in a creaking tin space capsule like a cockpit as the entire structure rotated between two screens with video of a male choir making spaceship noises.
As the heat got too much we rushed past a pair of giant metal pheonix for some gelato before the final home stretch of the exhibition.
We were glad that it was Friday and Arsenale had extended it’s opening hours. Although we must admit we rushed through the large Italian pavilion which was segmented into partitioned white cube spaces and stickers from the show demonstrated the magical art wand. Finally we became deities in the China pavilion before wandering through the gardens to the exit in a major art stupor.