Thursday, 31 October 2013

55th Venice Biennale - even more recommendations of what to see before it closes

I did promise a second blog post about our exploits at the 55th Venice Biennale and as it nears its end I though I had better get a move on.
Sunny skies, relaxing canals, and plenty to see and do; what more could you want from an art holiday? It also helped that our apartment was fairly central and also being 600 years old it added to the atmospheric Venetian experience. As mentioned in my previous blog post we did get lost often and so my advice is to allow time for everything to take a bit longer than you expect. 

Our perfect apartment in Venice, home for 5 nights in July 
In my first post about the Biennale I mentioned the artist and artworks that sprang immediately to mind when people asked about my favorites and in this post I will continue with more from other memorable biennale experiences. 

Arriving at our apartment at 2pm we still had time to walk through the city to The Giardini and buy tickets in readiness for a full day of art the following day. I was also very pleased  that we were able to hop onto Joana Vasconcelos’s pavilion Trafaria Praia on time for the 5pm sail around the lagoon. Having watched online updates of the Portugese ferry boat being renovated over the previous months I was definitely focused on experiencing it for myself. The gentle sail around the lagoon sitting on Portuguese cork stools and then getting up close and personal with her luscious textile glad grotto below deck were very definitely worth  it.

Detail of the luxurious, textural and sensual delight that was the below deck 'grotto' on Trafaria Praia
The next day we did our best at ‘doing’ The Giardini. The Encyclopedic Palace exhibition which has been curated by Massimiliano Gioni is split in half; half is within The Giardini and the other half in The Arsenale. 

The first item of the Encyclopedic Palace show that you encounter in The Giardini is Carl Jung’s famous Red Book. Photographs of this weren’t allowed but you can see selected images here. However experiencing it was absolutely fantastic; with theatrical lighting and luscious pigments the illustrations in his book are really quite breathtaking and it all felt quite wondrous. The book is especially important as it was during the period in which he worked on this book (1914 - 1930) that Jung developed his principal theories of archetypes, collective unconscious, and the process of individuation. 

His illustrations are records of the visions that he achieved through what he called 'active imagination' - a process that helped inspire his concept of the collective unconscious. It is said to be possibly the most influential unpublished work in the history of psychology. 

Massimiliano Gioni has curated an exhibition which tries to show the amazing breadth and variety of art that has been made by artists (worldwide and over many years) in an attempt to discover what the world really is about. He has selected works by both artists and outsider artists all of whom have tried, or are still trying, to find a way to make sense of the world. And then the question is, "Is it 'The' world or their world?" There are many many possibilities and a sense of the cosmic very definitely runs throughout the show. Some artists seem to take a fairly systematic approach to their explorations where others tackle the subject from many angles at once. They all have incredibly idiosyncratic views of the world; and isn’t this precisely what makes humans so interesting? 

Eva Kotátková’s installation, Unsigned (Gugging), is a visual presentation of the parallel worlds of psychiatric patients, prisoners and people held in (and who feel trapped) in educational institutions. She is interested in their own inner universes. 

Just a few worries as recorded during Eva Kotatkova's research
Faced with such a concentration of visual stimulation as you are in the Biennale you do start to respond by listening first and foremost to your instinct. I fell in love with this painting by Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern, my personal name for it is, 'A bit bitey', (a favourite phrase of mine from the film Shaun of the Dead) but I didn’t read the entry in the guidebook until months later when I noticed that a cousin who is currently at the Biennale was also sharing images of his work online. I decided to find out more- I had assumed that he was an outsider artist and I was right but there is much more to know about him including: that he created his own mystical cult, was admired by the Surrealists and also worked as a dairy farmer and a circus performer during his very strange and eventful life. 

'A Bit Bitey' is the perfect name... in my opinion!
I turned around in the gallery teeming with other Biennale visitors and was drawn to a collection of small dolls house like models; intrigued I inspected them more closely and I observed that each drab and dingy model room seemed to be supported on small funnels. This art required that I open the guide book straight away! So this contemporary artist, Andra Ursuta, has made these in an attempt to purge herself of, "past physic trauma”. These are models of her childhood home in Transylvania where her family made a living from rendering down pig fat to make soap. For me the funnel shaped pedestals/ legs represent the draining away of this fairly repulsive material. Not pretty but very personal. 

The amazing collection of 387 model buildings made by Austrian insurance clerk, Peter Fritz and presented as an artwork by artist Oliver Croy and architecture critic Oliver Elser is very definitely pretty, but for me it is especially of interest because of the story behind it. I personally love the homemade aesthetic of models (flowery wall paper and (now) vintage DYMO tape sign writing) but I would prefer to put more emphasis on and celebrate the creative endeavours of Peter Fritz. What I feel uneasy with is that simply by discovering it and presenting them collectively in an art situation should that give the discoverer of the models (Oliver Croy and the architecture critic Oliver Elsner the elevated importance that they seem to have been given - their names are at the head of page 66 of the Biennale Guide Book. Does discovering work (admittedly after it’s creator had died) and going to the bother of presenting it give you any amount of artistic ownership? 

Spot the DYMO tape sign-writing on this one 
Back out in the Giardini we appreciated not only the art but also the variety of pavilion buildings themselves. 
I have no idea which country this pavilion belongs to but I do love the roofline.

I have no idea which country this pavilion belongs to but I do love the roofline
Talking of roofs, Simryn Gill, representing Australia this year, took the roof off of their pavilion completely. This building was designed by Philip Cox and built in 1988. A new building has been commissioned and will be completed by 2015. This one has done very well as it was only intended to be temporary and has lasted 25 years. 

The building has very appealing curves and also a certain 'open-ness' now
Sadly we just missed the last entry to the Republic of Korean pavilion so I wasn’t able to experience the, much talked about, immersive experience. All I have is this tantalising glimpse into something kaleidoscopic, etherial (and sparkly!)

However we did time it just right for the Polish pavilion. Once an hour you hear the very impressive sound art of Konrad Smoleński. Smoleński has composed a symphony using traditional bronze bells, full-range speakers and other sonorous objects (metal lockers with doors which reverberate) and the guide book explains, “By using a delay effect, Konrad Smoleński offers an insight into a world where history has come to a standstill, thereby approaching the radical propositions of contemporary physics with its perception of the passage of time as an illusion”. 

That’s the ‘art stuff’ and now for my description- From outside it doesn’t seem all that loud, then while I sat at the entrance preparing my ears for the thundering, booming, buzzing, vibrations I watched as people exited (some of them with hands over their ears and looking in pain). So I took the plunge and stepped into this magnificent wall of sound; it completely vibrated through my body and felt extremely powerful. Sadly this video does not do it justice at all and when I tried to record it myself my video replayed completely silently as it is beyond the limits of most small electronic recording devices. 

One of the two cast bronze bells, speakers and metals lockers , all part of the Polish pavilion sound art
Sometimes art can be a bit too clever well too clever for art tourists which have a lot of art to see in a limited period of time. We later read that the front of the Danish Pavilion had been modified so it’s no wonder that we failed to find the entrance and so sadly didn’t get to see Jesper Just’s video pieces. This Designboom article shows more pictures of what I was up against and explains that the work was both video and also an architectural intervention playing with the architecture of the space. 

But if you can’t find the door within 30 seconds I’m afraid we had to move on; Pavilions to go to and Art to see!

I really can't find the door!
Would I be blowing the British trumpet too loudly if I said that Jeremy Deller got it just right? Art should be refreshing so serve your weary art visitors tea, show them something really old (and of course present it well) and then give them a chance to make their own souvenir print to take home. He ticks a lot of my boxes!

Neolithic flint axe heads .... and of course beautifully presented. 
I think Jeremy Deller would be happy to know that every time I use my downstairs toilet I am reminded of him and his 55th Venice Biennale show. A do-it-yourself souvenir always wins support!
I still haven’t mentioned all that is worthy of mention so my advice is to either hop on a plane now and catch the 55 The Venice Bienalle before it closes on 24th November 2013 or alternatively plan ahead for the next one in 2015. 

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