I'm a dual national, so, in more prosperous times, I'm often lucky enough to spend some time in my hometown (Melbourne) as well as Rometown (Rome).
Obviously, COVID19 has thrown all that out the window.
I've spent almost a year now working mostly from home - feeling a bit Hitchcocky constantly looking out my rear window - as I work away on my day job and my writing.
With Australia's closed border policy, and restricted movement in Italy due to the ongoing high number of COVID19 cases here, there are times when I feel neither here nor there, a sentiment that I think we've all been feeling this last year.
That said, with the lifting of some restrictions here in Rome, I managed to escape out to the Palazzo delle Esposizioni to check out the 2020 Quadriennale.
I did have a date back in October to see the Quadriennale with two of my most dedicated gallery loving friends, but we were sent into lockdown the day before we were due to see the show.
It's billed as Fuori (=out in Italian) and, as pan-contemporary exhibitions often do, it left me delighted and perplexed (and sometimes just plain unimpressed).
But that said, I was so hungry to get out of my living room and experience some culture first hand, that even when I found the artwork underwhelming, I was just happy to be seeing things through someone else's perspective for a change.
As a huge exhibition designed to push the boundaries over two enormous levels, there were obviously still some gems in the line up.
Among the highlights for me were Irma Blank's gorgeous indigo blue panels. They sent me back to Japan and the old ukiyo-e prints that I studied at uni.
Also enjoyed the playful nature of the work by the Tomboys Don't Cry collective and the adjoining room in which Diego Gualandris did things with painting and textiles that I've never seen someone do before and Raffaela Naldi Rossano had my fatigued little brain working overtime until it eventually decrypted her powerful textual messages.
Getting out and about to take in some culture or feed off of other people's ideas is not an easy prospect at this point in time. And maybe you're neither here (Rome) nor there (Melbourne). But wherever you are, you can take a free virtual tour of the Fuori show if you're interested.
It's a lovely 360 of the huge exhibit that allows you to take in the cavernous spaces and representations of all the artwork in the show.
Want to get out? Do it here.
It’s that time of year when I put my curator hat back on and try and give you the benefit of my experience (and very subjective opinion) to make sure you get the most out of your visit to the Venice Biennale.
The Venice Art Biennale is one of few fixed events in my calendar that I make sure I never miss.
Every time I go to Venice it takes my breath away. I don’t know whether that’s because of the extortionate prices they charge for practically anything, because the city’s just so fucking beautiful or because these days I only go there for the Biennale and I find myself lost in my thoughts when I’m there.
Factor in the bonus of some artporn and a few spritzes and the Art Biennale usually makes for a perfect weekend away for an art nerd like myself.
For me the anticipation often starts a few months’ earlier than the actual visit. If I haven’t already begun sleuthing of my own accord I usually start getting excited about it all when I receive a couple of texts to translate for promotional purposes or for the gallery wall panels.
This year’s May You Live In Interesting Times- the fifth consecutive Biennale I’ve attended- had all the same build up of Biennales past but the actual reality of the visit marked something of a change for me.
Usually after each visit I really struggle to whittle down the national pavilions to a concise best of the best. I have to go through my notes and reflect a lot in order to get my head around what I saw and what spoke the most to the curator and the artist in me. (You may or may not know that I was a curator and gallerist once upon a time).
I inevitably end up feeling like I’m short changing a few artists because so many had something exceptional to offer.
Worse still, I normally spend so much time being enthralled at a national level that the central, combined exhibitions feel like an obligation that I have to get through, carefully managing what little time I have left to search out the gems and filter out the distractions and all the noise.
This year was almost a complete reversal for me. I found myself struggling to enjoy many of the national presentations and instead more enthralled by what was on show in the collective exhibits which under Ralph Rugoff’s curation felt unified, cohesive and engaging where in the past they were often a rambling, time consuming mess.
I won’t go into Giardini and Arsenale just yet- they’ll get separate posts as per the tradition of this blog.
But I will say this: if you’re planning on heading to the Biennale this year you’ll do well to manage your level of expectation, especially if you’ve visited Biennales in the past.
This year there’s very little that’s playful or fun and humour is in very short supply. This year is a serious Biennale and worse still, very few artists who had a national showcase to play with managed to really hit the mark.
So you’ll have to be patient and pace yourself until the highlights present themselves (and sometimes re-present themselves) and make the long, expensive vaporetto ride seem worthwhile. And of course get a leg up with my tips and suggestions.
Me and my crew spent the train ride over to Arsenale chewing over some story doing the rounds on social media. I don't remember what it was but it was the reason we ended up having a pretty heavy morning chat that day.
The crux was how in Italy too many people are quick to reduce the ultimate role of women down to mother/potential mother. There's no alternative on offer and worse still, no acceptable argument against it. We noted that the obsession with woman as creator is well, lazy and limited and especially overused in the arts.
I know, we could've spoken about the croissants or the scenery but some days you see something on social media and it takes you out on a tangent.
Not all that different to what's on offer at the Biennale- where lots of artists are following their own tangents spurred on by themes that will be familiar if you're on social media or if you read the press.
Arsenale has less national pavilions than Giardini, so there are a few honourable mentions in this round up of what I think are the ten (+1) pavilions you should focus on.
Reality is the huge group show (90+ artists which will get a separate post) is going to gobble up most of your time so you'll want to make the best of whatever time is left over.
I'm starting somewhere unexpected- New Zealand to be precise. Lisa Reihana (Emissaries) gets a tick for the best use of space at Arsenale.
She's made a kind of panoramic video that mimicks the old scenic wallpapers popular in Europe once upon a time and fills the long narrow space that NZ has been allocated this year.
The video is interesting if a little heavy handed for the Biennale. Reihana has basically brought the conversation gripping a lot of former colonial countries to life: the one in which we are starting to articulate imperialism by bringing the darkness of the acts of colonial founding fathers to light.
The scale of the work is impressive and it's not too dissimilar in theme to the work of Claudia Fontes (The Horse Problem, Argentina). Fontes is using the symbols of Argentina's founding myth to address angst and frustration. Colonialism, paternalism and the overarching state narrative are not so much the white elephant in the room but a white horse who is chomping at the bit and ready to explode from frustration with the state (as represented by the national pavilion).
My friends think I've taken the easy option in choosing Fontes as one of the highlights: her work here is bold, pretty and striking but I also think it's one of the more intelligent uses of space and a pretty powerful subervsive statement about the spectacle of nationalism that makes the Venice Biennale both fun and ridiculous.
Spare a thought then for Tunisia. It's not had an easy time of late politically or socially.
I'm giving it a special mention because despite political obstacles, they (like the NSK collective) have managed to bring a political protest to the Biennale. The Absence of Paths is an installation: a booth where attendants will issue anyone a passport (a feesa). Its value is questionable and its blue ink (required for your fingerprint) frustratingly difficult to remove afterwards.
Its a simple bureaucratic act- a passport or a visa issued instantly - which offers comment on the refugee crisis and it happens so quickly that you wind up thinking (and trying to wipe off the stain of bureaucracy) only afterwards.
There are few things that I love more in Italy than the Venice Biennale.
I feel an immense sense of privilege that I have been able to visit it four times since I've been here.
Each year I do my best to write up my thoughts in the hopes that my impressions can help other visitors make choices about what to focus on- or give people who have no plans on visiting a down to earth curator's view on things. There are 29 national pavilions in addition to the group show at the Venice Pavilion here at Giardini and this post is dedicated to my favourites. A separate post about Arsenale- the other main complex of pavilions will follow.
About a third of the national pavilions at Giardini were offering up what I thought were brilliant or thought provoking work. The ten that I've selected here are more or less in line with the selections of my Biennale crew- this is the fourth Biennale we've visited together and although we usually bicker like sad old toffs on the train ride home this year we pretty much had consensus with our choices.
There were a lot of disappointing exhibits on offer at Giardini- especially from Great Britain (too art school), Spain and Holland (too much video and not engaging at that) which are usually my favourites- leaving me with the idea that this year it's Arsenale that is really worth the extra time and effort.
But a visit to Giardini will still blow you away if you spend more of your time at the following national pavilions (in no particular order):
3. South Korea
10. Czech Republic
More detailed comments about these pavilions and the artists after the jump.
What a busy year. My job has eaten away much of the time I usually spend writing and researching, but a boy's gotta pay the bills... and have something that resembles a social life.
A boy's also gotta travel. See things. Get inspired.
Aside from having a bit of a Roman summer, I'm moving around the country a bit, visiting people and places and getting back into the swing of seeing as many exhibitions as possible.
Recently I finally got around to visiting Macro's Street Art exhibition Cross The Streets. I had rocked up to the opening night but it was a mess and there were too many people and too little organisation to make it worth my while. So I headed back and visited - curious to see the work of a friend of mine who has a substantial number of works in the exhibit.
As chuffed as I was for him, I'm a bit indifferent about institutions hosting street art, and about how selective the exhibit was. All I will say is that you can't have a major street art show in Rome, which in recent years has become a major centre for open air/street art and not include the works of Hogre. That said, I did love the work of Lucamaleonte (pictured). His tumblr feed here.
Lushsux continues to make a splash with his series of selfie murals around Australia.
No plans to cover up the latest in Geelong, because they're on private property.
What's more interesting is the hit/miss pixelation of the images appearing across various mainstream news sites. In regards to the photos being used, I'm curious to know who it is that's, erm, censoring them?
Newsflash. An academic marketing study found that millennials don't relate to Madonna anywhere near as much as they do people like Zayn Malik, Adele or Taylor Swift. Geez, that's university time and money spent well.
As expected, Zayn will land in at No.1 on the US album chart with 157,000 "equivalent album units." That's basically Billboard short for streaming totals plus 112,000 actual album sales. What it takes for a major #1 hit album these days it seems. Mind you, someone should tell the university of Southern California that this time last year Madonna made it to #2 with 116,000 actual sales of Rebel Heart. Perhaps millennials are not yet the be all and end all.
Stuart Haygarth makes a compelling visual statement that should encourage you to pick up any trash you see at the beach. Beautiful book project unveiled here.
We're living in desperate times.
These are desperate times my dear.
There's no way out of here.
There's no way out my dear.
- Back to the Wall, Divinyls.
WHEN it comes to contemporary artists and their heavily oiled machines, very few currently have the kind of press pull that China's Ai Weiwei does.
I have watched him with some fascination over recent years. His studio has produced some thought provoking work, and the current exhibition at Melbourne's NGV which pairs him with Andy Warhol certainly offers some food for thought.
Anyone that knows of Ai Weiwei will know that he is a dissident extraordinaire. Often, this has worked in his favour. The relentless hounding he received from Chinese authorities earned him all kinds of empathy from across the world, art lovers and beyond.
Earlier this week, the new hardline Danish government's announced that it would seize the assets of asylum seekers in order to cover the housing and food costs. This against a backdrop of violence directed at immigrants in Scandinavia. Ai Weiwei's respponse? A quick, swift decision of his own to close his current exhibition at Copenhagen's Faurschou Foundation.
In this case, the gallery publicly backed the artist's decision. And let's face it: such a powerful, symbolic gesture on the artist's behalf could only curry more favour with the public, leaving the gallery with no choice to support such a move. (Not suggesting that the Faurschou Foundation don't support Ai Weiwei's move, but as a former gallerist I also know that there are times when it is churlish to go against an artist's decisions - regardless of what agreement or contract might be in place).
It was a great, symbolic move on Weiwei's part.
Subsequent to this, Ai Weiwei has announced that he has opened a new studio - in Lesbos, one of the Greek islands located in one of the preferred migratory route into Europe. But the existence of the studio in Lesbos, staffed by volunteers, students and artists has been marked by Ai Weiwei's presence in the area. And in addition to other advocacy, Weiwei has tried to pull of a photographic stunt which hasn't exactly gone down as well as his Danish actions.
You see, Weiwei has chosen to re-enact one of last year's most polarising photographs: that of the drowned Syrian toddler who washed up on Turkish shores. In case you can't work it out from seeing the picture, he has decided to reenact the role himself.
Now, you can admire such a call to arms and celebrate the artist for bringing light to the issue. But the thing is, we are well and truly aware of the human crisis that is taking place in and around the Mediterranean. Ai Weiwei, in re-enacting this photo, in my mind, is rather cynically trying to ingratiate himself into the wider argument and has done so in a completely insensitive, sensationalist way.
In a lot of cases I would probably applaud someone in his position for being brave enough to use sensationalism under the circumstances where we need to be shocked into action.
But last year's image, for good and bad reasons, became one of the most powerful images in the recent history of photography and journalism. It is so well recognised and well known, that a reenactment is completely unnecessary, and dare I say, a poor move on the artist's part, despite those who took to twitter to laud it as being powerful.
If anything, the end result of the reenactment is the cheapening of the tragic events that took place last year (and that continue to take place). That photo European polarised governments into action but not until there was intense debate about how appropriate it was to publish the image in the media, and what that ultimately meant for the grieving family and families like it.
If you are one of the world's most recogniseable artists with a pool of talent at your disposal, and this is the most creative and engaging way you think you can bring attention to the plight of Syria and beyond, then I think you need someone by your side to tell you to stop, take a step back and rethink things.
Far better in my mind were the series of Instagram pictures that Ai Weiwei shared which were very much human and not at all a mistaken form of self aggrandizement. They are just as powerful and allow people to draw their own conclusions about the plight of people who are escaping the war torn parts of the Middle East.
So, in the space of about a week, and against two very different European backgrounds, Ai Wei Wei has quickly gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. And other than promote the fact that he has a new southern European studio in operation, he's achieved little more than a dent to the goodwill he has earned when he himself has been the target of injustice, rather than of pantomine drama.
Does art still have the capacity to heal? I'd like to think so. But as always, it still has the ability to reflect the world that we live in, the world that we want, and the mistakes that we make that separate these two spheres.
This image is perhaps one of the most powerful I've seen by an artist in a long time.
It's by Imranovi, a Syrian artist who has been displaced by the ongoing conflict and who is now based in the UAE.
Imranovi and the upcoming pop up exhibition in London of his work is covered over at CNN.
More of his work over at his tumblr page.
Event Horizon, a city wide installation in Central, Hong Kong by Sir Antony Gormley has got more than a few Hong Kong residents hot under the collar.
What's the issue? Is it that the 31 lifesize and anatomically correct bodies are basically like illegal immigrants? No, that's not the case: they've been commissioned by the British Council and paid for with the public purse. And they'll be around until May 2016. And the statues have all been modelled off of Gormley himself, so technically it's just one person we're talking about. Sculpture I mean. Sheesh.
Is it that the placement of a few of the statues atop of tall buildings set off a spate of panic from some residents who feared they were witnessing people who were attempting to plunge to their death from great heights? No... Well, that happened in the sense that police allegedly received calls but these boys are a bit too stable to do anything rash. And besides before arriving in HK they were temporarily resident in Rotterdam, NYC and in Brazil. They're way too street smart for that nonsense.
Hong Kong is full of sophisticated people and more and more is becoming seen as one of the main artistic centres of Asia- not just the financial one it has long been.
That said, culturally there isn't much of a precedent for these kinds of works in this area. So they're pointing out the statues - 31 of them in a city that's home to 7 million people (?- fact checker?) are variously creating a nuisance, an obstacle or other health and safety issues. Basically that the presence of these figures is interrupting the bustling nature or Central.
Remember this is Hong Kong, not Rome or Rio. People move faster in HK, they've got things to do, don't you know? As much as the idea of these sculptures has to be a little confronting for some, I've a feeling that Gormley's goal of having residents reassess their setting, and looking at the urban environment they live in with a sense of wonderment will win out.
The idea that they attract the eye up and down and all around the city, with each statue being visible to another, sounds like a winning city walk in the making to me.
It's not that I'm sorry. I'm not.
But its coming up to six years that I've been writing this blog, and as a result, there's room to revise some ideas from time to time.
Not for example on selfie sticks, or on anything Vatican-y (except Ratzinger and Padre Georg: I loved them: such a cute couple!).
But a while back I posted about how Taschen and Gisele Bundchen had teamed up for a Gisele coffee table book.
A very expensive, don't head over to the bookshop if you're having trouble with the rent or your mortgage payment kind of book. I mean, I didn't say it was going to be a flop or anything, but I guess I was questioning the whole Why? of it all as Tim Gunn would say.
Well, we needn't worry for GB. Girl's gonna have no problems paying her rent and in selling out her ludicrously overpriced book she has proven that there are a lot of people with some warped priorities. Like your coffee table book could feed a village kind of shit, but what would I know?
But really, was there really any doubt its run was going to sell out?
Supermodels are recession proof!
Someone needs to bottle their essences and study that stuff at the Harvard Business School to better prepare us for when there are no arms sellers left in the world to keep the economy spinning.
(I know that sounds a little Silence of the Lambs but I don't mean it in that way).
Anyway, while I'm at it...
Almost six years ago I moved to Rome. And I was immediately struck by how street art was still in its infant stages even though graffiti per se has existed in Rome since, well, Roman times. Back then when I posted about the burgeoning scene I thought it was going to take a while for Rome to get to a point where its edginess as a city was matched by what you see on its walls.
Well, lo and behold. I sit corrected. When the Huffington Post calls you out for being the emerging European capital of street art, you can start to believe it.
It's not really mentioned in the article, but there are a few reasons why certain parts of Rome are becoming open air galleries. On the one hand, galleries like the Wunderkammern in Tor Pignatara and the colletive Laszlo Biro - (hi boys) - have had a huge hand in this. They paved the way for much of East Rome's street art/urban renewal by encouraging large scale projects in conjunction with residents and the local municipal offices. Or by simply producing great, very graphic friendly work (as in the case of the LB crew).
In addition, a lot of Roman suburbs are the subject of wear and tear. Asking a tenants committee if an artist can have an external wall in exchange for its repair and adornment is a no brainer in cash strapped Rome.
Keep an eye out though for other emerging hot spots in Italy. Palermo and Genova are the cities to watch for if you ask me. They've got some great up and coming scenes and artists that rival what's happening in Rome and Milan.
In the meantime, you can find Laszlo Biro here and the Wunderkammern here.
AS a lifelong fan of Keith Haring, I love stumbling across his ongoing influence, even now that he is long gone from this place.
In the past I blogged about the mural in Melbourne that Keith produced in the early eighties and the attempts at conserving it for future generations.
Keith made it to rarefied territory for a contemporary artist. His unique view at the world and the way in which he made it accessible to people made him one of the most loved figures of modern popular culture. It didn't hurt that he came up during New York's eighties renaissance.
But there's something about Keith's work which has always resonated across the generations and the cultures. And the Keith Haring Foundation continues to spread his message through its partnering with all kinds of initiatives around the world. There have been events in Latin America, Europe, Australia among others that have kept his legacy alive for new generations.
That makes me, as a fan of his, happy. So, I was really quite chuffed to see that the local chapter of the Arcigay association, Arcigay Salento, has partnered with the Keith Haring foundation for their second annual Viva La Vida contest.
The idea behind the contest is two fold: it is designed to highlight contemporary art and issues which affect the LGBT(QI...) community. This year's theme is tied to Keith: artworks inspired (not necessarily mimicking his style) that highlight the main elements of the project. Selected works will then be voted for via the group's Facebook page and possibly be selected for inclusion at the exhibition which will be staged at the contest's end.
I imagine the emphasis is on local artists, but I love the idea of this kind of project. It's inspiring and heartwarming. I'm happy that there will be a little piece of Keith for me to enjoy in the new year, and my little black heart is unexpectedly warmed by the whole thing.
Melbourne's NGV is gearing up for its next blockbuster exhibition. One which will see the pairing of current artistic cause celebre, Ai Weiwei with perennial art world favourite Andy Warhol.
You've already been given the heads up on this exhibit due to all the fuss that has been created in the last week or so. For those who have been hiding away from the web, let me help bring you up to speed.
Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei is being billed as a major show which will bring together over 300 works by Warhol and more than 120 by Ai Weiwei, with the aim of exploring their practices side by side. Weiwei, no longer passport less, but ever a parriah in the eyes of the Chinese government, had pitched the idea of creating an installation made of Lego at the space. He said the work would make reference to "Australian activists, advocates and champions of human rights, freedom of expression, freedom of information and the Internet." Presumably, by using a commercially produced object that we immediately associate with childhood and innocence, the symbolism wouldn't be lost on viewers.
Problem is that we don't live in a world where freedom of expression is as straightforward as it seems, especially in the commercial realms. There are always bigger factors at play when you're playing in the big leagues.
The story has it that Ai Weiwei put in an order to Lego headquarters for Lego pieces, with which he planned to create the installation. Lego, declined to fulfill the order, indicating that they were an organisation that steers clear of having their products used for political purposes. A few days later, the organisation announced that they would be opening one of their flagships in Shanghai. Coincidence? Anyone smell a rat?
It seems that Lego toys don't actually build anything despite the old copy lines. There are limits to expression, and not just in using squarish shapes that you have to batter into control with a mallet. Or in quashing expression in general.
But this is an age where people mobilize through social media, and picking up on the unpleasant whiffs that the story was offering, and capitalizing on the attention at the same time, Weiwei attracted a lot of support and sympathy. There were stories circulating of how people were sending him their own Lego pieces to use, and his studio in Beijing became an official collection point.
Well now the NGV, Melbourne's historic art gallery, has waded in. They've announced that as of today, visitors can pop by and donate lego pieces, by dropping them into the sunroof of a convertible which will be parked in their sculpture garden. Melbournians need to celebrate this. Why? Because it's a way of sidestepping the politics or counteracting them? No. Because it's Springtime in Melbourne, and being able to drop off your Lego pieces at the NGV is a fabbo way to get some more spring cleaning done - and to help a brother out. Just imagine it... you'll be able to go around saying that you have some artwork in the NGV!
In the end, Lego's refusal to fulfill the artist's order seems to be a win win. It will render whatever installation Ai Weiwei can fashion from the donated pieces more potent than the simple commercial exchange could ever have done.
And, NGV's support of the initiative will go someway in helping them in their quest to be seen as a contemporary venue, and not the stuffy, historical house that they were traditionally seen as.
I plan on popping by to inspect the end results when I pop over to Melbourne over the new year.
NGV press release here.
Sara Goldschmied & Eleonora Chiari are two Milan based artists who have worked together for some time.
The Museion space in the North Eastern Italian city (some would argue that it's actually not very Italian) of Balzano commissioned the artists to produce an installation as part of the collateral events for Milan's Expo.
Their response? An eighties tribute. And you know how much I love the eighties.Pretty ingenious idea if you ask me. They imagined the Italy of the eighties and managed to tie in their observations and experience with more than just a bit of social commentary.
How? By imagining eighties Italy as a party or more precisely, as the remnants of a party. Dove andiamo a ballare questa sera? (Where shall we go dancing tonight) is the resulting work. The snapshot of what began to happen the very morning after the party had ended. You know when the guests have gone, and there's no life left at the party...just the left overs that need to be cleaned up and cleared away.
In capturing that moment, Goldschmied and Chiari have effectively acknowledged and paid tribute to the Italy of the eighties that no longer exists today (but whose consequences live on).
What they're referring to was the Italy which was experiencing something of an economic boom, and large scale (unfettered?) reevelopment. This coinciding with Italy's notoriety as being one of the centres of Europe's cultural and party scene.
It was a party that brought with it a lot of fun, but a socio, economical and political mess which is still being dealt with today.
Love the idea, love the concept, and in a way, also love what happened next...and to think I thought it was modern life and not modern art that is rubbish. Check what happens here.
A FRIEND once likened my opening of a gallery in an inner city suburb of Melbourne as being a bit like the wholesale import of culture into the area. Given that he is an urban planner, I thought about the remark somewhat. The said suburb already had a reasonably well developed cultural scene, but I think the particular stretch of the high street I opened was regrettably a bit like the no-man's-land my old tennis coach used to warn me about steering clear of on the court.
But we live and we learn, but the high cost of rent in the world's major cities dictates.
I live in, let's say, an economically challenged area of Rome, many of whose inhabitants are not known for their sophistication.
I particularly hate a lot of the people in the neighbour hood if you want me to be honest.
Last night, a new nominee for my Dislike campaign received my vote; the woman who lives on the third floor in the building opposite mine. She routinely clears her table each night, and bats her tablecloth out of her window, letting the debris (including paper serviettes) simply fall to the street (our street) below. She watched with the kind of detatched fascination that most people watch snow falling as the grubby bits of paper simply floated down onto the street.
These two analagies came to mind when I got to thinking about one of the things that I actually do appreciate about my area. The Wunderkammern, a groovy little artspace that opened on the otherside of the tracks, about a five minute walk from my place.
I've seen a few interesting shows there; not an easy feat in a space that has very limited opening hours; but increasingly, I am growing to love the approach and the program that seems to be unfolding.
Click on READ MORE to continue the post.
Visitors to the FotoGrafia festival at Macro Testaccio would be best advised to visit the international pavillion after the Italian, for it is here that the unfortunate disparity between the local and the international offerings are most evident.
Here, photography is again exciting, moving, and artists use it as a medium to tell stories, share experiences and clearly articulate concepts in a way that unfortunately doesn't happen often enough in the adjacent pavillion.
Willem Popelier's __and Willem (2010) gets the ball rolling in a complicated, yet visually simplistic style. Here, Popelier constructs a photographic genealogy of twin brothers separated at birth. Relationships become hard to follow, convoluted and impossible to keep track of; its a conceptual process brought to life in a cold, scientific, yet graphic way, augmented by the more thorough accompanying book which further delves into the subjects and takes you beyond the often hilarious headshots that you cling to as you try to follow the upheaval of relationships and family over the years.
Mizu no Oto (The Sound of Water), curated by Rinko Kawauchi, features the work of Japanese artists, broadly linked by a tribute to the power and symbolism of water. Beyond the catastrophic potential of water which we have seen the worst of in the past year, Asako Narahashi delves into a world in which sight is still possible, but sound is distorted by submergence in water; images in which the photographer documents the shore from deep water are powerful and atmospheric where the horizon line is no longer relevant, orientation is distorted and our sense of involvement is heightened. Elsewhere, Kawauchi's Illuminescence images seem to be in line with this year's theme at Venice, though thankfully they seem to belong here.
Elsewhere The Place Where I Belong, curated by Marc Prust convincingly spells out the dualities and difficulties of those who have grown up in bicultural environments. In particular, Katherine MacDaid and Rania Matar's photo essays on life in the Middle East are beautiful excursions into texture, pattern and design, whilst at the same time offering up intimate portraits of life and the subjects that make up their second worlds.
Datascapes by Matthieu Bernard Raymond switches the direction around, using GIFs to integrate our obsession with graphs and charting into environmental settings. Here natural phenomena become living charts plotting everything from productivity to profit; in these modified black and white images we are forced to contemplate our modern life and its often diammetric opposition to the environment and our surroundings. The temptation to fill the large space with an elongated series is resisted; the point is clearly made with the half dozen or so images that are chosen for the exhibition.
Leaving this second pavillion with the same friends I left the first with, the conversation became one of confused jubilation. This is what a good international photographic festival should leave you feeling. Here, the objectives of the exibits were clear, their execution sharp, and the images varied and compelling. In short, this half of the festival was a celebration of photography and not an excuse to be self indulgent or to treat audiences with a form of contempt in which its simply enough to plaster walls with images as if they are some kind of wallpaper.
Exhibition runs into October, so if you are in Rome, make sure you head there, but follow my advice!
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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