Welcome to the second of a miniseries (although on saying that I think I’ve already gotten carried away writing) of posts on the Venice Biennale. This post looks at the experience of visiting the Biennale as a whole focusing on a few of my personal favourites and thoughts (pictured).
I’ve been to the Liverpool Biennial four times over the last eight years and can confidently say that when it comes to Liverpool I’m somewhat of a seasoned Biennial explorer. I love it! Armed with a map one hits the streets in search of artistic treasures ever searching in eager anticipation that the piece of art which is going to profoundly change or shape your life is around the next corner. The art, located in dozens of different galleries and locations showcases the best, 'the worst' and weirdest of contemporary national and international art. To me, the Venice Biennale is like the holy grail of biennials, the ‘mother of all art shows’ and such is its height on the metaphorical pedestal of admiration in my mind that the premise that one day I may actually go visit this hallowed place seemed almost mythical or some fantastical dream.
On Tuesday 19th of November that dream became reality.
Thus ensued an almost biblical-like pilgrimage by coach, plane, boat and foot as we* plastic mac and welly-clad chartered our way through the flooded streets of Venice toward 'Il Palazzo Enciclopedico' translated as 'The Encyclopaedic Palace'...
Held across two permanent venues in Venice, the Giardini and Arsenale (as well as in dozens of temporary locations throughout the city) the Biennale features 88 participating countries each housed in their own pavilion/venue, hundreds upon hundreds of artists both professional and outsider, spanning all mediums, art forms, materials and scales making the Venice Biennale, now in its 55th year, one of the biggest of its kind.
The curator Massimiliano Gioni wanted this year's central pavilion to explore the ‘world of artists’ or particularly what it means to be an artist working in the world today. He says artists today are, ‘Not satisfied by imagined realities but conceive global realities...moved by aspirations to an all-embracing knowledge and sensitivity’. The theme of the Encyclopaedic Palace was first created by American artist Marino Auriti who filed a design for, ‘an imaginary museum that was meant to house all the worldly knowledge, bringing together the greatest discoveries of the human race...’ It’s an appropriate theme for what did feel like a walk-in cabinet of curiosities, bursting with everything from the quietly considered and mystical, to the sublime, the loud and the ambitious. Each artist in this central exhibition explores individually their own or collective/global obsessions, imagination dreams and aspirations, aptly described in the catalogue as internal images ‘in an era besieged by external ones’. I particularly like that statement when wandering around noticing how many people are experiencing the art through their phones more than their eyes. And where does most of our history of human knowledge come from? Books of course, so what better way to open the encyclopaedic palace than with a book, in particular Carl Jung’s ‘Red Book’ an illustrated manuscript of self-induced visions and fantasies created by the psychologist. It sets the scene between the idea of internal images and self meditation as a way of acquiring knowledge (be that self knowledge or world knowledge) which each artist has created work that responds to that idea differently.
Admittedly, I didn’t make as much effort to interpret this reading into any of the works I saw as I wondered round in a state of complete wonderment thinking, ‘that was the real Carl Jung’s ‘Red Book’, ‘I’m in Venice!’ and ‘My god this place is huge!’ Then again, maybe being in a state of rapt awe was exactly the right mindset to go investigate art works that have been curated around the inquisitive nature of knowledge and creativity...
How refreshing to be this excited about art!
Right from the start the Venice Biennale was not the gluttonous heap that I experienced at Frieze London. This was far more considered, less consumerist and more inclusive to a wider spectrum of both professional and outsider artists. It is a kind of showcase of the art world and human creative endeavour rather than trying to sell it to you or make it appear ‘cool/fashionable’. I was amused to find the layout of the Giardini, in its own park with over thirty individual permanent pavilions acted like some sort of anthropological Disney Land for art,
‘See you later’ I’d say, ‘I’m off to Germany to go see the Ai Weiwei stools’.
Or, ‘Have you been to Spain yet? It’s full of piles of rubble.’
And, ‘Meanwhile in Russia it’s raining money!’
Of course it was a lot less kitsch (believe it or not) and corporate than Disney (not that I’ve ever been) but had a comparable layout by having many separate locations all in one area as well as a similarity to the wonderment that Disney has to children that art has to artists. There is definitely an air of spectacle in all of this and it is so difficult to retain a meaningful sense of focus on the situation and have a qualitative experience as to a quantitative one. I opted for the latter and indulged myself in a torrent of visual stimuli. This doesn’t mean I abandoned thinking altogether as for the art which really ‘struck a chord’, I’d hover around longer and revisited during the course of the day. A few of the many, many artworks that had that affect are presented below, but it would be near impossible to mention them all.
All of this and in the context of the mysterious and beauty soaked streets of Venice, it was sometimes hard during the day to tell the difference whether I was seeing art or whether I was in it!
|Jose Antonio Suarez Londono 'Franz Kafka Diarios II 1914-1923 (13 x 20cm each page)|
On a personal note, one of the most exciting artists I found was in the 'Encyclopaedic Palace'. Quiet and understated in a horizontal glass case in the middle of the room lay hundreds of tiny drawings/paintings on paper, a different one for every day of the year. Regular Spanner in the Workz blog readers may remember that I am currently embarking on my own 'drawing a day' journal which is now a month from completion. It is almost impossible to photograph the whole of Suarez Londono's work because the 'whole' is lots of individual remarkable drawings that were arrestingly captivating. Things got even better when I read that the work was a drawing each day by the artist to a corresponding text, the work I was seeing in response to Kafka's diaries. 'Extra points I'm thinking for the use of Kafka and immediately go back to looking in the case for a drawing of a beetle or strangeness with a new dark, disturbing sense of wonder. I appreciate the photo above is hard to see, but I promise you, these drawings were exquisite (there was a drawing of a folded sheet of paper, how banal you say, but it was brilliantly drawn) and had all the makings of purpose and meaning that left me reflecting what I am currently lacking in my own drawings. [Note to self -think of ways to use text to create (not illustrate) images]
This is an excellent link to a book of his drawings: http://issuu.com/drawingcenter/docs/drawingpapers101_londono
*'We', as in the fair and illustrious Fine Art degree students from Somerset College. To whom I'm incredibly indebted. Thank you to any of you reading this.
Images sourced from: http://www.universes-in-universe.org, http://www.galeriagracabrandao.com, http://allanmccollum.net, http://zoltanjokay.de/zoltanblog, http://www.e-flux.com