So, Kim Jong- un opens the new airport in Pyongyang. Fabulous because the ongoing regime has done so much to improve standards of living and wages to facilitate North Koreans traveling...oh, wait.
The press is left astounded by a chocolate fondeau fountain, Mars bars and beer bottles. Also by duty free stores selling watches.
But Kimmy is allegedly not so happy with the revamp. He thinks the architects got it wrong. And the architect behind it? Whispers are circulating that Kimmy had him offed as he's nowhere to be seen and hasn't been seen in months. Is it a conclusion that the media are jumping to? A joke on Kimmy's head strong approach?
Who knows how much of all this is true. Comment of the day though seems to be the one about the grave fears for Kimmy's hairdresser when Kimmy himself finally sees the haircut he's had him running around with. Bitch ain't gonna be a happy camper. And while he's at it maybe he can rethink the jumpsuits.
All tasteless jokes aside, I guess that old school beauty in the picture (sourced from old publicity images) isn't ever going to get to be a bit of #ruinporn.
North Korea is heading into modern territory.
THIS is a partner post to my guide to a day at Giardini at the Venice Biennale.
You’ll find all the practical information about getting to the Biennale and its layout on that post.
Just a note to remember. Forty eight hours in Venice will give you ample time to visit the bulk of the ticketed sites, and probably enough time to visit nearby exhibits like Macau and Hong Kong. Seventy two hours will give you the ideal amount of time to soak in Venice and navigate around its maze of canals so that you get a taste of the best of the collateral events too. But be warned. Venues are closed on Mondays, so if you’re thinking of making a long weekend out of your trip, be ready to hit the pavements on Friday morning.
To get the most out of Arsenale you’ll need a full day. On Fridays and Saturdays the site is currently open until 8pm…worth noting and taking a packed lunch if you’re prepared to be a real trooper!
This year there’s a lot to see at Arsenale, particularly in the Corderie and Artiglierie areas which function as collective exhibitions and that host over 100 different artists this year. This in addition to a couple of dozen international pavilions that are scattered around the old ship yards.
There’s so much different work on show, particularly in the Corderie and Artiglierie that it would be impossible to cover in a single blog post. So what I’m going to do is focus on the six things I think you should not miss here and let you explore this maze at your own pace. In addition, I’ll give you the tips for what I think are the six best national pavilions scattered around Arsenale and then a couple of little diversions to keep it challenging.
After you make your way through the obligatory (and always enjoyable) Bruce Nauman light pieces, you’ll eventually begin to run into the work of the late Terry Adkins. His sculptural pieces which often blend brittle and softer more tactile materials are exhibited in a way that allows us to enjoy his abstract pieces and to respectfully lament his passing.
Nearby Terry Adkins’ work is a piece by Italian artist Monica Bonvicini (Room #2). A former winner of the Golden Lion (1999), Bonvicini, in addition to being a presence on the international biennale scene, has also exhibited in major spaces since taking home the prize. Latent Combustion (2015) is a jarring, conceptual installation piece. Like roses being hung and dried, Bonvicini suspends her bouquets of black, rubber lacquered chainsaws from the ceiling. They dare you to walk in and amongst them, repelling you with their muted violence and the pungent smell that the industrial materials off set.
Nidhal Chamekh studied at the Fine Arts school of Tunis and lives and works in Paris. In light of recent events that have taken place in his native Tunisia, Chamekh’s series De quoi rêvent les martyrs 2 (EN: what do martyrs dream of 2) is sadly poignant. Artists rarely commit to large scale works without doing preparatory drawings (or digital designs beforehand these days). Martyrs on the other hand focus on the end and their end goals.
Preparatory drawings often are a starting point, a beginning point, and as such offer the chance to step back into the beginning, rather than focus on the end. In these beautifully drawn works, Chamekh seeks to transgress back to the original, starting point, to address the disturbed dream states of people who are willing to create acts of atrocity. These technically well drawn, though ominous images are carefully designed. Chamekh sparingly introduces colour into certain works and avoids it elsewhere, suggesting that these fitful dream states and obsessions are devoid of the vibrancy of life, even in their embryonic phases.
You might at this point step out for a breath of fresh air or some natural light to reset those pupils of yours. If you head out of one of the doors on the left handside as your making your way through the Corderie, you’ll make a pleasant discovery of Ibrahim Mahama’s rather phenomenal Out Of Bounds. It’s an installation of epic proportions, made of sacks that cover and transform the entire passage way that runs parallel to the Corderie. The young Ghanian artist uses these fibre sacks like a patchwork, achieving something that only large scale public works (usually done by much more experienced artists) are capable of. Here, the installation speaks of the inequality that is rife not only around world, but through the art world too. Covering the Corderie with a network of this fragile and sturdy object speaks volumes not only of Ghana’s economy but of the inequality that is even on show at an international art exhibition. Incredibly powerful!
MANY thanks to you all for following my tweets and posts about the Biennale.
For me it is an art event that I always look forward to, and I love sharing my opinions about the works and the effort that gets put into it.
You'll know that I have posted in detail about the 12 pavilions which I think are this year's real highlights at the Biennale. And in my one day guide to Giardini and one day guide to Arsenale I do my best to also steer you towards some other pavilions and works that I think are not to be missed.
So, in recapping, my favourite pavilions this year:
Japan: The Key In the Hand brought an element of romance to a biennale that is otherwise very unromantic. Strange considering it is Venice, after all.
Indonesia: Often the dark horse of the Biennale. They do it again. Heri Dono delivers using an actual war horse :)
Korea: The reliable, technologically driven pavilion that rarely fails to deliver. And this time it bends time and space in every way possible.
Australia: I walked in with critical eyes and walked away feeling like Fiona Hall achieved something of a purging on behalf of us all. The purge we need to get to our next stage of evolution.
Tuvalu: tiny Pacific island nation uses Taiwanese artist to punch well above its weight for its second show at the Biennale. But will the themes it addresses limit its future participation at Venice?
South Africa: Inspite of everything that has gone down in South Africa, we still haven't learnt our lesson. A mixed and busy show that will move you but won't leave you feeling harried.
Georgia: Do you walk on broken glass or do you choose to submit to the iron glove (curtain). The most powerful political statement at this year's Biennale.
Latvia: those familiar but mysterious temples that dot the domestic landscape. Sexist bat caves to retreat into and for contemplation or teletransporters that inspire all kinds of creativity?
Kosovo: A country marked by war and diplomatic efforts leaves scars behind. Usually not as beautiful as these ones though.
Serbia: Always with a social political view at the ready, this year Serbia's pavilion is like a geopolitical graveyard. But more moving.
Romania: One of the few pavilions that brought painting to the Biennale. But my gosh, what a talent Adrian Ghenie is. One of the most remarkable painters I ever remember seeing.
Spain: If Australia brought the purging, then Spain brought the circus to town. The one that we have created as a society, and that the Spanish pavilion mirrors in a super, pop culture way.
Remember, if you're visiting the Biennale to download my two one day guides to help take the guess work out of what to see and how much time to spend seeing it.
Giardini and travel info here.
Day two itinerary at Arsenale here.
IF you ever wanted to see a microcosm of life in Italy just use public transport here. Even in Venice on the vaporetto transport is the great equalizer.
I've been blogging like a mad man on Venice. But I'm nearly done.
I'm just putting together a one day guide to the Arsenale exhibitions and beyond to go along side my guide to Giardini. That way, you've got two solid days worth of guided material and insight into what you're seeing.
Venice is, beyond its unmatched beauty and uniqueness, an event city. Biennales of dance, art and architecture sit alongside the renowned film festival to keep visitors enthralled.
In the spirit of this, you might want some more information about what it's like in Venice. I always think it's best to go to a local source, but given many of you might not read Italian, I've culled together three different blogs to give you a taste of the expat experience in Venice. These three writers will give you varying takes (all different to my own) on what life is like for them in the city of Canals.
Like your romance? Try Contessanally's blog which rounds up the more romantic and artisan side of the city. Here.
Nan McElroy is a sommelier, so in addition to steering you around the canals, she'll have a few good tips on where to eat and drink should you not be up for a panino and a beer. Here.
Cat Bauer has lived in Venice for almost twenty years and has written for a number of publications. You might enjoy her insight here.
HAVE we ever lived in a time when the international stage hasn't had at least one aggressor? A superpower whose approach to politics leaves us quaking with fear and often for good reason.
A nation whose actions seem to fly in the face of everything we've been working towards globally in terms of rights and progress, but whose lassoing of the east/west debate has done much to create division for its own political benefit (and the detriment of its people).
I could be referring to any one of a number of countries today. And we have our fair share of rogue cowboys on the map. But I'm referring to Russia, and you kind of know it already.
Imagine coming out from under its iron bushel only to find that its new transparency is more the stuff of smoke and mirrors than glass. Imagine finding yourself in a nation which must use its presence in the international arena to air not only its grievances, but its hopes and fears in order to bring attention to the problem with its neighbour, and what it means for us as a global community.
This is where nations like Georgia find themselves. At the foot of Europe, but on the precipice of a geopolitical debate that makes their strategic position more of a hindrance than anything else.
The 56th Venice Biennale is the most heated and political in recent memory. Artists this year are trying to make sense of an ever more complicated world where geopolitical lines are rapidly being redrawn and the tragedy that comes with it is being paid for, not by politicos, but by innocents who are cornered behind their scratchily drawn lines.
Lines that stealthily change. Borders that are redrawn, not on a map, but with fences that get erected in the middle of the night or where disputed, occupied territory expands rather than contracts.
The Georgian pavilion, Crawling Borders, brought to life by Rusudan Khizanishvili, Irakli Bluishvili, Dimitri Chikvaidze, Joseph Sabia, Ia Liparteliani, Nia Mgaloblishvili and Sophio Shevardnadze is a maze of stealth fences, photography, mirrors and glass. The allegory used is that of a DNA chain which functions perfectly well only until something external corrupts it. Despite its unwillingness to host the overpowering, external entity, eventually it is forced to alter its fabric and become something else.
The Georgian pavilion is an unnerving, contracted space that mirrors the occupied territory and the fragmentation that this causes at human level, starting with the children who witness it on a daily basis.
It's an emotive but powerful use of the space: uncomfortable but beautiful in the way that splintering glass can be. The most political of the pavilions I saw at this year's Biennale, but one which I think addresses geopolitics better than anything else.
One of my top six picks for Arsenale. Was it one of yours?
I DON'T know about you, but I know that when I go to certain international events, there are certain countries I root for. For me, South Africa is one of these countries.
I think of South Africa as Australia's distant cousin in many senses. When I'm with South African friends or meet South Africans, there is a sense of kinship I think I feel with them.
I'm not suggesting that Australia and South Africa are identical, and nor that they have dealt with their own historical mistakes and deplorable pasts in the same way.
But internationally, there are some cultures that just seem to gel better with others, in part because though they may be thousands of miles apart, they share more than just an essence. There's a kinship that grows when you share similar demons that in a large part you inherited from your parents (even if you made them your own) .
Culturally, South Africa today is still processing its past on the international stage, in part because it still has wounds that need tending to, and in part because the world seems not to have learned sufficiently from South Africa's history.
I try to keep an eye on what is happening down in South Africa. When artists travel Europe's way I make a bee line for them...for example, each year I look forward to seeing Dada Masilo's dance creations when they come to Rome. I look forward to them as eagerly as I do visiting the South African pavilion each Biennale...it's my own way of rooting for a country.
This year, for What Remains Is Tomorrow, over a dozen artists have been drawn together to explore "imaginary truths''' and ''ideal narratives'.
The idea behind the show is to mix the contemporary in with moments of the past, in a bid to address the themes of power, freedom and civil liberty in South Africa. And as always, South African artists are not afraid to really probe. Anything that contributes to a healthy, open debate.
South African culture is a layered and complicated beast, and as such, What Remains Is Tomorrow, seeks to explore this complexity through a range of media.
Despite the complexity of a group setting such as this, I will say that much of the exhibit seems like it has been really honed in, aided by the strong monochromatic theme that takes precedence and keeps things clean rather than cluttered despite the range of mediums.
Piquing my interest at the exhibit, were three artists who work across a range of media themselves.
Gerald Machona, whose Ndiri Afronaut (I am an Afronaut) comprised of a sculptural piece (made of, amongst other things, decomissioned Zimbabwean dollars) and an accompanying video which was both moving and entertaining (and visually stunning). Machona's work here refers to recent events which suggest that the ethnic violence (towards Zimbabweans who make up a sizeable part of the community in South Africa following the waves of migrants who fled the failed economic state) is flaring again. A lesson that perhaps South Africa and the rest world have not yet mastered.
Robin Rhode's Blackness Blooms, which alludes to Don Mattera's poem of the same name was also wonderful. An eight part C-type series in which an Afro comb teases and nurtures a head of follicles until it blossoms into a wonderful, complete and bold hairdo, rich in symbolism. Engaging and a lovely mix of the traditional with a dash of street thrown in.
One of my other highlights from the show (the amount of video in the show warrants at least a half hour in the pavilion and more if you want to do everything justice) was Moha Modsiakeng's Inzilo video. Do you remember those old gelatin photos with their rich silvery layers and beautiful blacks and whites? Well Modsiakeng achieves that finish with digital precision in his video Inzilo. Taken from the word representing mourning/fasting, Inzilo features Moha going through an intimate, private ritual, a rite of passage, but although its a very focused and inward journey, it is a private act for the public's benefit.
There's a lot to get through in South Africa's reasonably compact pavilion, but although its too layered to cover in sufficient detail here, you'll find it's one of the best pavilions of the year at Arsenale this year. In part because (inter)national ideas and concerns are largely given individual, humanist forms, even within the group setting.
One of my top six at Arsenale. Was it one of yours? Leave me a comment to let me know your thoughts.
I don't want to make you cry.
But there are moments like today that I just love my new life in Puglia.
It really is the most beautiful part of Italy. The wet, windy dream of your Mediterannean fantasy. Case in point: today I've popped up to Polignano a Mare. Pop lovers might recognise it as the place Utada Hikaru got married.
Gorgeous! But back to work tomorrow. #deadlines :(
I often get asked what life is like for the gay community in Italy by friends abroad. People assume that because it's a Western European country that life is reasonably progressive here, as it is in neighbouring countries like Spain, Germany and The Netherlands.
Had they asked me in the month of July or August I'd probably be too distracted by the good looking locals, the gay beaches and the brilliant electronica parties to think too much about the situation.
But the month of June has delivered with it all the answers we need for the question at hand...read on and hopefully I'll have given you a pretty comprehensive snapshot of what the situation is like here.
From the outset let me say that I am not an activist. I probably quite naively believe that there is room for everyone in a society, even if reality continues to prove me wrong. But I have a brain and a conscience which is more than I can say for some parts of the wider community, and community leaders in particular who always seek to divide.
Earlier this month Rome celebrated its annual Pride event with crowd estimates ranging between 500-600k.
Alongside Milan's Pride, Rome consistently attracts huge numbers in part because pride there acts like a magnet for many people in the south of Italy.
While a number of southern cities are now hosting events (including Naples, Palermo, Bari and my new base of Lecce), the LGBTQI community still has less of a presence in the south and therefore those who want to march often do so in the protection of the country's capital.
In the country's capital and across its political offices, the current centre-left government, run by Matteo Renzi is busy trying to enact a number of huge reforms including the reforming of the public school system and the drafting of legislation to introduce civil unions on a national scale.
Renzi's goal is to have the legislation enacted as soon as possible - it's been one of his platforms since coming to power - and the idea is that the civil unions will in the main part replicate the system used in Germany where the protections are all but identical to marriage but without that pesky word being mentioned and, as in Germany, without provisions for gay couples to adopt.
Italian opinion polls show that despite the tentacle like reach of the church, the majority of Italians are in favour of civil partnerships. Any political organisation worth its salt has done its own polling to confirm this trend, and as such, even the usual suspects on the right are not demonstrating opposition to granting the right of legal acknowledgement to the unions, even if they are playing the political game and obstructing thousands of points in the draft legislation to slow things down.
Having realised that the public tide has turned, the right is shifting its stance.
The new line is that on the whole, they begrudgingly support civil unions (after all, their constituents are already on that page), so the debate has shifted towards gay parenting and the alleged perils that Italian children and families face, and its an attack that is being propelled by the usual suspects.
This month, a Family Day march was convened by pro-life and pro-family groups and the Catholic church and attracted a crowd in Rome for which estimates ranged between 300K and 1 million people. Even the Catholic press cited the 300K figure, but suffice to say the "Difendiamo i nostri figli" (Protect our Children) march drew in the parishioners in much the same way that occurred in France when gay marriage was legislated. This after months of lobbying and preparation from the network of churches and parishes that dot the land. Stepping into a church the other day to photograph the art, I was shocked that there was actually a poster inciting people to join the march.
But this new pope? Isn't he the good guy in all of this?
Well, some will have you believe so, and the church's involvement in the march was more grassroots in nature, with the Bishop's Council not formally being involved. That said, any negation that the church was involved would be a blatant lie (as I said, I spotted the poster in a church, and it was a mass produced poster some 600km away from the march itself).
But Francis has actually been doing a lot of late to fan the fires and to stoke the church's underlying agenda. While the perception is that he's gay friendly, the reality is that the Church's stance has not changed at all, and that he in fact is opposed by large factions within for conceding any public ground on the matter. As such, he has been releasing well timed statements to reinforce the Catholic church's fundamental belief in the traditional family. Every family needs a mother (female) and a father (male). Any sentiment to the contrary is unacceptable. Period.
And so, in sensing that civil unions are now politically untouchable, talk has shifted towards the idea of family and gender as being the perils that civil unions will bring with.
The march, although ostensibly one against civil unions, was presented as a march for traditional values, attracting its audience by opposing the idea of gender ideology that conservative groups believe is being piloted in Italian schools as part of the education system reforms.
What they are mistakedly, but conveniently, referring to are a series of initiatives based on improving social cohesion and harmony through the use of materials which challenge stereotypes. Materials that, the likes of which have been in circulation in Western schools for decades.
Materials like Salvero la Principessa which champions the use of words over violence, or Zaff, or E Con Tango Siamo in Tre, children's books which are designed and written to help children overcome their prejudices towards minority groups. These titles sit alongside conventional materials in some libraries in an attempt to acknowledge the growing diversity of society, but that right wing groups and certain politicians are demonizing, suggesting that there is no place for them in schools, and no space for these ideas to be considered.
Ultra conservative media outlets like Breitart (like Fox but exotic) and the dozens of Vatican connected media outlets will have you believe that these materials are indoctrinating children into cross dressing and, you know, basically trying to destroy the entire society because they are an affront to the church's agenda.
And what of Arcigay, the national LGBTQI group that attracts so much foreign press? Aren't they using their resources to help the government sensitize the public to the nuances of the debate? Well, although they have chapters in many Italian cities, (some of which are more active than others), much of the gay community here views them as being inneffective, so other groups like Mario Miele, or even much smaller groups like LeA- Liberamente e Apertamente here in the relatively small town of Lecce are using their own resources to strike back at the misinformation that is polarising the community on a piecemeal scale.
It's a long running debate which, in shifting the focus away from gay marriage, is tapping into another form of ingrained discrimination that the LGBTQI community has yet to overcome. LGBTQI people are conditioned into thinking certain things by society, one of which is that they are not entitled to become parents. There's a self flagellation that occurs suggesting that the ingrained religious beliefs are very hard to overcome in the quest to get over self loathing, especially when society as a whole is doing little to counteract it.
We've seen celebrity scalps in the debate already: Dolce and Gabbana waded unnecessarily into the debate in a classic case of this self-perpetuating loathing, and are now paying for it at brand level (good luck to them, as tax evaders, designers and self conflicted social commentators I can do without them).
The children in danger argument has though, infiltrated the mass media. Even local starlets like Lorella Cuccarini (I know, that name means nothing to me either) are becoming embroiled in a debate which substantially seems to be reinforcing the idea that, yes, we'll concede on partnerships, but in doing so, you, the gay community need to acknowledge that whatever you do you won't be seen as part of any family unit, and your yet to be enshrined rights have no place in our education system, nor should they be acknowledged in any other way. This is the case for adoption. But in a way it also addresses the consensus towards members from the GLBT community who have children of their own. (Surrogacy and assisted fertility is not provided to singles in Italy, though many hop over to Spain or other nearby countries to get around the law).
The overall message. Strides are being made and Italy (like my homeland Australia) will inevitably get on the right page of history. But before that happens, or perhaps while it does, groups like the church will continue to use kids as pawns in their own political agendas. Is their goal to obstruct the presence of non nuclear families so that they can instill just enough hate and self loathing in the next generations as well? That's my guess. What's yours?
Heri Dono is arguably Indonesia's most famous artist on the world scene.
Indonesia, Australia's northern neighbour, is not widely cited in art circles beyond the Asia Pacific. Instead, read anything about Indonesia and you're likely to be reminded that it's the country with the world's largest Muslim population. Though this may be true, it is a sign of Indonesia's more recent (re)incarnation. It's also the backbone of a world view that is as much a sign of our times as it is of our tendency to simplify the complexity of history and cultures.
The Indonesian archipelago has had a long history thanks to its placement within the South East Asian economic routes and was the subject of ongoing fascination of European colonial powers from the 1500s. Indeed, the Portuguese, British and Dutch all had a vested interest in Indonesia, which culminated in the Dutch establishing the Dutch East Indies, a colony (formed mostly of modern day Indonesia) which endured until the end of the second world war.
Why the history lesson? Because it's important to understand the context of modern Indonesia through what it endured before declaring independence.
This is a complex and fascinating nation that is more than the home to Bali or SE Asia's most important Islamic centre. This is a place that can attest to the effects of colonialism for one thing. A place whose indigenous tribes were studied by Western anthropologists, a nation whose pluralist religious systems (and their associated artistic expressions) contributed much to the West's obsession with ethnography that was rampant throughout Asia. A country whose complexity can't be accounted for by simple titles like most populous Muslim nation. We're talking about an archipelago made up of up to 17,000 islands, at least half of which are inhabited. How do you define that?
Heri Dono begins from this view point, and for Voyage/Trokomod goes about turning the traditional ethnographic and political perceptions inside out.
But it's not just the external perceptions that get folded in on themselves. Heri Dono is also interested in laying bare the inner divisions that occur in his native country. This is a nation that is riddled not only with divergent cultures and customs, but one that is marked by its own history of occupation and the presence of radicals and separatists (much like many modern nations).
So how to go about turning the internal and external on their ear? By entering into the mentality that lies within. And the vehicle is a war horse, suggesting that there's a lot going on within 'Indonesia'.
By situating a Trojan horse within the walls of the pavilion, Heri Dodo is representing the beast within and challenging us to explore the nation within and not just beyond its international boundaries.
This is no Classical Western war machine. It's menacing like a world power but also incorporates its own soft power ethic by tapping into the Indonesian identity. Think a cross breed of Trojan horse and Komodo dragon (hence the Trokomod label).
This ingenious and menacing entity has a hard exterior but is soft on the inside: incorporating traditional local textures like rattan and batik to temper its ferocity and the religious symbols that kept ethnographers so fascinated. They are protected by that iron shell which has its own agenda. Hovering around the beast are the familiar motifs of Heri Dodo's angels who are free to roam, unconstrained.
But what about those canons you see on the Trokomod? Well they function more like periscopes, and here is where the genius exists. It is here that East truly meets West. Peep inside and the ethnographic traditions get flipped: inside you'll spy curios from the Western world. It's a role reversal that suggests that there is more than one world vision on offer should we be prepared to entertain it, and more than one way to place Indonesia in the global context.
And thus, Heri Dodo and Indonesia achieve a mix of humour, reflection and the blurring of intercultural boundaries that many of other countries at this year's Biennale fail to. We've all got a lot on our plates, and we're not all in the mood to play, but thankfully, someone has a sense of humour at the Biennale this year.
One of my top six picks for Arsenale this year. Was it one of yours?
The Republic of Kosovo, one of the world's most recently defined nations. A place that fitfully came into being after years of ethnic conflict and military action. A state that is now immersed in diplomatic negotiations in an attempt to be unanimously recognised by the international community.
Artist Flaka Haliti (b.1982) is representing the European nation with the youngest median age with Speculating On The Blue.
So how does Haliti make sense of Kosovo's past, present and future? And what it does it mean on a more global level?
Haliti's installation is site specific. Like a tiny, land locked nation it is wedged into a tiny space, abutted by countries whose inhabitants have higher average ages and whose sovereignty were recognised much earlier, but often under similar circumstances.
Like a territory that is pockmarked and scarred by the darker sides of politics and violence, her tiny space is reduced to being furnished only with what remains. In this case it's sand, metal and light. Suggestions and remnants of a military zone, of conflict, with terrain that is hard to plow through and a low horizon line that breaks through the remnants of walls and barriers that had been constructed to separate and redefine a setting. Acts that gave new identity to the generation that erected them, but that the artist deconstructs. These are broken remnants of walls, and walls that have gaps in them are useless, meaningless. They can be navigated around, walked through, and can not even hope to successfully contain what sits within them, no matter the effort spent in creating them.
A remarkable highlight at Arsenale this year, and one of my top six there.
An island nation of just 12,000 people. The smallest country represented at the Venice Biennale this year. A place where the highest peak is just a couple of dozen metres above sea level. A country that is doing its utmost to use any and every international forum to draw attention and seek help to counteract the very real prospect of it vanishing under water in the face of global warming and rising sea levels.
This is Tuvalu's second outing at the Biennale. Their first outing was memorable. This time around, Taiwanese artist, Vincent J. Huang (yes, he's back again) is more subtle with Crossing The Tide, but the urgency of the issue at stake remains. While last time around Huang required user participation, this time around he's trying a softer approach. The installation beautifully calling to mind the blue waters of the Pacific, and leaving visitors to contemplate the environment.
The adoption of the Daoist principles of Zhuangzi's ancient text that noted that there was no separation between man and nature.
But an odd decision has been made by the curatorial board. While it's admirable that the pavilion has adopted a paper free policy, encouraging visitors instead to visit the website, the lack of any immediate didactic information in the room, that could otherwise steer the mostly European audiences towards the goals and aims of this largely unknown country, is a lost opportunity. Perhaps the curators can find some way of incorporating some textual information before the peak summer run.
That said, despite the urgency of the environmental situation, the deceptively tranquil environment offers a refuge from neighbouring pavilions. Geysers occasionally erupt with a low whirring gush, blowing steam from the walls, misting up the environment and playing with the preconceived ideas of island paradises.
This is one of Venice's most effective presentations this year. If anyone is an authority on the environmental challenges posed by global warming, then it's Tuvalu. In many ways one could say that they have more authority on the issue than a landlocked nation like Switzerland who have approached the theme in a similar way this year. That said, it's nice to know that this crucial aspect of our future is being addressed by more than one artist and national board, particularly under the light of All The World's Futures.
Definitely one of my six picks at Arsenale.
UNLESS you’ve got the ability to control father time, you’ve got a bit of a battle on your hands at the Venice Biennale. This year’s edition, the 56th, runs through to November 22, 2015.
GETTING TO AND/FROM THE BIENNALE
If you’ve been there before you probably know the drill and should skip down to my tips. But if you’ve never been and are going for the first time, read up on the practicals here first. You’ll need to set some good time aside, not only to see the best of the Biennale offerings, but also to move around the city and the huge Giardini and Arsenale complexes.
The majority of visitors arrive via vaporetto (Venice’s water buses) and if you plan ahead you’ll probably find that you can get an express route to Giardini or Arsenale from the train station. Line 1 will take you through Venice’s Grand Canal, whereas line 5 will take you more directly to Giardinetti. Avoiding the Grand Canal on the way over can halve your travel time...save that scenic ride back for sunset. Vaporetto are notoriously expensive: €7 per ride and there are always long lines for the tickets, so pre-purchase them from the machines beforehand to save yourself the worry.
TICKETS AND LAYOUT
For those of you who’ve not been to the Biennale before, there are three areas of interest to you. You’ll need a ticket for Giardini, where the historic, national pavilions are located, and the same ticket will also serve you for Arsenale, the shipping yards where the remaining bulk of nations exhibit their work. In addition to these areas, the city of Venice also hosts another 30 or so collateral events around the city itself.
Tickets are usually valid for up to ninety days and allow you a full day’s entrance to Giardini and a full day at Arsenale. The collateral events around the city are mostly free, and worth seeking out if you have the time, as countries like Thailand and New Zealand for example often hold their exhibits ‘off campus’.
Forty eight hours in Venice will give you ample time to visit the bulk of the ticketed sites, and probably enough time to visit nearby exhibits like Macau and Hong Kong. Seventy two hours will give you the ideal amount of time to soak in Venice and navigate around its maze of canals so that you get a taste of the best of the collateral events too. But be warned. Venues are closed on Mondays, so if you’re thinking of making a long weekend out of your trip, be ready to hit the pavements on Friday morning.
WHAT NOT TO MISS AT GIARDINI
This year at Giardini things are a mixed bag. To get the most out of your day I’m going to recommend the pavilions that I know you’re going to get the most out of and that warrant you spending extra time in. And because I’m so damn diplomatic, I’m going to just omit the nations that I think you should steer clear of or visit briefly.
Upon entering I normally make a beeline for Spain first, but this year I think you need to warm up a bit first before heading into the Spanish pavilion.
Instead, first, go and see what all the fuss is about in Switzerland, where global warming gets a look in. Pamela Rosenkranz‘s Our Product installation won’t require much of your time but will likely stay with you for much of the day.
I’m not often one to boycott national pavilions, despite my political beliefs. Well, OK, I boycotted the Vatican’s exhibition at Arsenale, but, despite my problems with the Russian administration, I think the complexity of that country and its rich visual arts history deserve to be respected. With that in mind, this year, the Russian pavilion has been repainted, and inside, Irina Nakhova’s The Green Pavilion revisits Russia’s avant-garde past, dividing the space into four distinct areas. The very different approaches will ensure that at least one of which will be a hit with you (or give you the great opportunity for a selfie).
Is it just me or do you come from a country whose media is just embarrassingly bad too?
I mean, they're always looking for a local angle on things, even if it means dredging up the past. Twenty two years later? Seriously? I'm talking to you Australia.
Really, what enters into their heads? I expect more from certain journalists - I won't name names but there is something embarrassing about this. More like it's an editor who decides that this is what readers need to think and read.
I hate complaining about things on Twitter but today I just had to.
I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Do you have it worse than we do in Australia?
If we can always count on Korea to bring their A game to the Biennale, then the one other certainty is that you can rely on Serbia to make a grand political statement. And not in a way that aims to whitewash the political reality.
The Ottoman Empire. Tibet. Yugoslavia. The United Arab Republic.
Nation states that no longer exist but whose echoes still persist. And in the setting of the Venice Biennale, the soft power Olympiad, where the nations that still exist on the map duke it out, what do these spectral nations tell us about the fleeting nature of art and sovreignity?
Ivan Grubano's United Dead Nations seems like a simple and straightforward idea for that cavernous space. Then you get to thinking, how many years did it take him to scour the globe to find original flags from the dead countries he eulogizes on the walls? The flags that are reduced to dhobi wallah rags, dipped in paint and beaten against the floor, their blood and grit left for us to walk all over before we consider which pavilion to visit next.
Flags that from a distance look like collateral victims on war grounds.
But our own desires will soon enough take us elsewhere...we're free to continue roaming the international playground of art, free as such to skip from country to country.
But only if we can liberate ourselves from those who no longer have a nationhood to ascribe to. Those who for a variety of reasons exist now only like faint memories or in old atlases. Collectables in an age when the symbolism of art and soft power representation can be stripped at any moment of their significance, and be sent the way of obsolete and now powerless nations from history.
This year at Giardini was a mixed bag for some of the regular Biennale hard hitters. I walked away with all kinds of disappointment and audible grunts after visiting the US, French and Austrian pavilions. Ditto for the Netherlands and Denmark.
Thank god that there are certain nations on whom you can rely to always bring their A game. And the refreshing thing is that they are not the usual suspects. No, in fact, the countries that I think really put a lot of thought and effort into their Biennale showcases are generally punching above their weight: yes, I'm talking about you Hungary and Serbia. They totally know how to show up a super power!
But if we are going to talk about consistency and staying 'on-brand', then we don't need to look any further than the Korean pavilion. They nail it. Every single time!
This year, with The Ways of Folding Space & Flying, Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho embark on a kind of digital archaeological quest back in time, raising questions about the relevancy of the current notion we have of art and asking what place will art hold in the future?
[South] Korea is one of the countries that always thoughtfully considers the themes of a biennale and carries them out to the letter. They have a way of mixing in their trademark technology in a way that almost embarrasses their Giardini neighbours, but just enough East Asian philosophy in the mix to consistently elevate the works beyond being simply technical.
The title of this year's project for All The World's Futures comes from the Korean words chukjibeop and bihaengsul. Based on Taoist practice, chukjibeop means hypothetically contracting physical distances. Bihaengsul, on the other hand, refers to the supernatural ability to levitate, and travel across time and space.
As such the themes, which in a way also feed into meditation practice, suggest the desire we have as people to overcome our barriers, and that can only be achieved through an eventual leap in our imaginations (and abilities).
The work which is all digital, engrossed visitors, and kept them in the pavilion longer than the works in others did. People would have happily camped out or picnicked in the pavilion had they had the chance.
While they sat watching the huge screens, the protagonist in the film ran like a hamster in a wheel that was like a temporal mobius strip, generating power and giving her the ability to go back in time.
The motif of renaissance era figures working away as artisans was jarring and audible: the clanging of metals signalling the arrival of, the futuristic type...but wait...just who was that person from the past?
The studio quality of the work was undeniable. By also being visible on the pavilion's exterior, something few other nations (aside from Norway perhaps) bothered with, the Koreans tapped into the year's obsession with borders and the idea of inclusion and exclusion.
A crowd favourite for sure. Impressive and slick, and worth putting a half hour or so aside for if you have the patience and want to enjoy it to full effect.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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