I haven’t been hiding.
I’ve been pious. I’ve been dedicated.
I’ve been swept up and away by a lot of things.
By work, writing, travel. Sleep deprivation. Thoughts. Plots... and an obsession with a lot of Lorde’s Melodrama. Particularly her lyric writing which is phenomenal by pop standards and amazing in general.
Although as each song on Melodrama plays out I tend to become less interested in the sonics, the lyrics are increasingly absorbing. The potential outcome of drink driving on Homemade Dynamite in particular has stayed with me this week but as has the loveliness of The Louvre. In the back, but it’s still the louvre. ❤️
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.
Last month I made my usual pilgrimage to Venice to check out this year's Biennale - Vive Arte Vive.
Overall another great exhibit but you have to know where to look to skip the content will otherwise sap your time and rob you of the chance to concentrate on the good stuff.
I've put together some tips on what to seek out both at Giardini and at Arsenale. If you're planning on making the trip you've got til the end of November to be awed, wowed or meh-ed.
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.
So I'm back in Rome and getting back into the swing of things.
And thank god I'm here, otherwise I wouldn't have had the chance to see Annette Messager's amazing show at Villa Medici, one of Rome's undisputed jewels.
If you head down you'll be confronted by Messager's playful, witty installations that look at look at themes of identity and femininity (with a look into masculinity as well).
Messager is a prolific artist who has been working for decades, and her non conformist attitude shines through.
Recommend you visit while it's still on: bonus are the amazing views you get of Rome's historic centre.
I guess the warning signs were present from the beginning.
After all, the first album I ever owned was by Culture Club. Cyndi Lauper was my first love and Madonna my first obsession. The first poster that I ever tacked up on my wall was of Wham! Just a year or two later, my young distrust of David Bowie and Prince turned to undisputed love.
My idols weren't just pop stars to me. They were more than their hits. They were touch stones. It can't be a coincidence that they were also among the world's first mainstream LGBT artists and allies. The gender benders and the rule breakers of the music video age.
These were artists who were prepared to consciously take on sexual politics on a scale people never had before thanks to the music video medium. Acts who could've taken the easy road rather than attract criticism through their opposition to the status quo.
Artists who felt and moved at a time when we valued trickery and cultural violence over anything else. The acts who gave people like me a solid footing and foundation to explore music more dangerously and widely because their music was already something more than just pop.
George's talent? It was there from the beginning.
We might've been distracted by the fluro, by the white speedos and the Choose Life t-shirt but George wasn't. As a kid he was already a brilliant songwriter. And then there was that voice to remind us, lest we'd forget all caught up in the leather jacket, sunglasses and designer stubble.
George may not have seemed it in the eighties, but he was just as subversive as his peers. If you look back at his videos, his early and consistent use of models to shift the spotlight away from himself was a master stroke. As was his ability to be unfailing honest about his troubles and struggles.
By the mid nineties he was already growing into a modern trobadeur. He was unmatched for how he could write something so unexpectedly moving like Jesus To A Child or make I Can't Make You Love Me all his own, while still being able to push out great white boy soul like Fast Love or Too Funky to remind us again not to categorise or limit his exceptional talent.
That a huge segment of his audience abandoned him must've been a devastating blow, even if publicly he disavowed the fans who'd washed their hands of him. His unapologetic, frankness about his sexuality after his public outing was refreshing, especially because he never let it overshadow him the way the press often did and wanted it to.
2016 was finally the year that we stopped talking about the 27 curse. You know, the one that claims anyone famous that we love when they're 27 and in their prime. Instead, we recognised 2016 had taken its place: the Grim Reaper year, here to take away whatever remnants many of us had of our youth. And George, taken on Christmas Day closed out the horror year, leaving behind a lot of love and an amazing discography you should go and rediscover. Now.
Well, after the year that was, it's hard not to turn to things for comfort. Sex. Drugs. Panettone. Whatever floats your boat.
The importance of things changes in time.
Time gives us the ability to decide the true significance of things.
Once upon a time, very few people out of Europe could name or locate Belgium on a map.
Belgium may well have been a fascinating bi cultural place. But history meant that it was overshadowed and influenced by its more populous neighbours: the Colonial era superpowers of France and Holland.
In recent years, Belgium has a new profile. Brussels, the Belgian capital, has become the administrative capital of the European Union. In the last year or so events there have also made it infamous as a hotbed of terrorist activity.
But prior to that, Belgium was just another sleepy European country. For hundreds of years it was nothing more than a stop over point or home to the some of the world's best small scale breweries.
If you're a beer drinker, you're likely to have sampled a Belgian beer at some point in your life and likely to have enjoyed it.
Some consider Belgian beer to be among the best in the world. UNESCO do too apparently, because in November 2016, they added Belgium beer[s] to their Cultural Heritage List.
Now, it's a UNESCO list which is like a sister list to the main one we see every year in the press. You know, the one about places and buildings and that kind of jazz.
This list is mostly about food or languages or cultural events that are hard to classify.
If UNESCO wasn't so Euro centric it's likely that we could have all kinds of awesome stuff on this lesser list. As it stands, it's full of worthy stuff like falconry and shrimp fishing on horseback. But it could be so much more international. Imagine if it included things like Cosplay, Ben and Jerry's or wearing a singlet, tight football shorts and thongs to the supermarket in Australia.
Still, it's a useful list if you're looking for interesting dinner party fodder.
And if you're a Belgian beer drinker, congratulations, you're also now a cultural gatekeeper. If you have that golden liquid in your fridge [or any items in your larder that fall under a Mediterranean diet or even a tin of Turkish or Arabic coffee], you should apply for museum status in your local city and charge bitches entry into your kitchen.
Because for all the gorgonzola, caviar and paté in the world, it's the beer that is going to give you serious cultural credentials from now on. And you should take advantage of the fact that you've just joined the curator's club if you've got a bottle of the Belgian stuff on hand. Because soon enough everyone's going to want to join.
The month when Bob Dylan won the nobel prize for literature and we all rolled our eyes.
A month when evidence surfaces suggesting Russia and Putin were behind the Democrat email hacks and bids to influence the American election. And too many of us rolled our eyes.
It was a confusing month. It was about when we started believing that the Trump gig was up.
Trump's unprepared, ranting appearances on the debates [well, anywhere really] were like watching train wrecks: I won't concede if Hillary wins. I won't release my tax records. Sniffling, snotty. A screw loose.
If his increasingly paranoid ramblings weren't enough, recordings surfaced in which Trump boasted about his exceptional communication skills when it came to women.
The result? A much deserved pussy riot we hadn't seen since Moscow, 2012.
Great, we thought. His campaign is finally sunk. Americans will not vote for this man.
October 2016. The month when certain people of voting age in certain states of the United States clearly weren't interested or clearly weren't listening. That aside from the signs of Russian interference and the demonstrable traits of the Republican nominee they decided that they just didn't give a fuck.
October 2016 was the month when we - and the press - didn't bother to listen to them.
And now we're all going to be f*cked as a result.
I think Kathy Griffin is the only person on earth capable of naming every one of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's children.
But the mini army that Jolie and Pitt put together has been one of the most powerful militaries of our time.
Whatever country they go to is conquered and colonised. Flowers suddenly start growing from parched, barren lands and the sins of poverty, illiteracy and disease suddenly vanish. All that's left is a fleeting view of from behind of camera flashes and UN flap jackets. And nobody can understand a word that's being uttered because the poliglot army has its own language that is undecipherable to us normal people.
The power of Brangelina has always laid in their impossible beauty.
It didn't matter if they did things that we lay people didn't approve of. It was unimportant that we didn't think things were right.
There were those among us who were always secretly rooting for Rachel from Friends. Feeling remorse for her and for how that black and white photo of her and Brad cutting a wedding cake had been ripped up and trampled all over by the Jolie war machine.
We were blinded by the next level beauty that Brangelina gave us as compensation. By their single handed effort in changing the world. How they refused to marry until gays and lesbians could. How they were down with Shiloh being a girl or a boy.
So imagine the world crisis when Jolie filed for divorce in September. How we were suddenly confronted with accusations of child abuse (unfounded) and left without the seven nation army that Brangelina spearheaded.
What were we supposed to feel when the couple that has it all throws in the towel? Because, admit it, when terrible or sad things happen to beautiful, rich people, it's hard to give that much of a f*ck.
But what are we left with? Who are we left to look up to? George and Amal? (but they have no kids). Ryan and Blake Lively? (who is a kind of Gwenyth Paltrow protege and therefore somehow not up to the same level of Angelina?)
Every time the Olympics rolls around we're already exhausted.
Exhausted by all the news coverage about how much of a disaster the impending games are going to be.
Reports run for months in advance, explaining how unprepared the host city is, how budgets have been blown, stadiums are unfinished and how there's no chance in hell that [insert city name] will ever be able to pull it off.
We got that with Rio. And in spades. But with Rio, the disaster theme continued once the ball was already rolling.
Alongside the actual events were the stories about robberies and how there were curfews in place to minimise danger to athletes and officials.
Obviously, olympians had different views of the olympics. Usain Bolt looked at it like a place of unfinished business. Michael Phelps looked at it as a gold mine.
Douche bag Ryan Lochte used it as an excuse to show the world what white privilege means.
But the real star of the 2016 Olympics wasn't part of the American team.
It was Tonga.
Tonga had some cute uniforms. And I liked their riff on the Swiss flag. But really, I wasn't looking at either of those things when the opening ceremony played out. Even as a pacifist, the Olympics were suddenly about Taekwondo for me. In particular, Pita Taufatofua. His oiled up appearance broke the internet.
Pita stole the show. Right from the opening ceremony. The medal count and events didn't matter from that moment on.
The Aussie born/based athlete grew up in Tonga. Taufatofua didn't make it past the first round of his bout but his appearance at the opening ceremony declared what we knew to be true. The 2016 Olympics belonged to Tonga.
As if we needed more proof, when The Daily Beast posted an inflammatory article trying to out gay athletes at Rio, jeopardising the safety of some of them [after all, being gay can be a dangerous thing in some countries] Amina Fonua, another Tongan olympian [from the 2012 games] came out scathing and stole what was left of the show.
Tonga, that tiny, little place in the Pacific that people have only heard about was suddenly everything. A place whose inhabitants are capable of breaking the internet and setting hearts a flutter without doing much more than stripping off a few layers of clothing.
And that kids, is what the OIympic spirit is all about.
2016 was the year of the undisguised rage. Of the village idiot.
So it seemed somehow fitting, when, in July, so many of us took to the streets to become vigilanties.
Pokemon Go came and got people off their couches.
The idea was genius. Use digital mapping to create a kind of treasure hunt to capture Pokemon in and around people's local areas. Get people up and active and have them use their smartphones for a truly interactive experience.
Pokemon Go forced people to interact with one another. It made people socialise in a way that social networks have failed to. It brought about world peace... wait, that's not right.
But there was a brief moment this year, when all it took for people to take to the streets was something digital. Nothing political, no outcries, just good old fashioned gaming fun. And it seemed for a few weeks at least that the potential of technology could be used for something good.
But then came the other side of human nature.
You know, the one when people started using the game to lure people into danger. To rob them. Or those unfortunate, isolated instances when Pokemon just happened to be hiding in the vicinity of cadavers.
Man, those little Nintendo beasts did a better job of crime solving than Angela Lansbury in Murder, She Wrote.
And eventually, with it, the wane in popularity. But only after Japan had reminded the world how superior it was in respect to every other country in the world.
I lived in Rome for four years. Right now I'm on a who knows when it will end secondment down in the south of Italy.
Your guess is as good as mine.
There's a lot I love about Rome, a lot I hate about Rome and a lot of things that just make me marvel when I'm there.
One of those things is that Rome has a birthday.
Yep, on April 21 each year, billboards get filled with birthday messages for the city. At last count, the city was officially 2,769 years old. Begs the question, what do you get someone that's had everything?
How about a female mayor. One of the things the city has never had.
This year, Romans elected Virginia Raggi mayor. First time in the city's history it's ever happened, and look, they even put a ribbon on her to celebrate.
When she was elected, the city was hopeful. She came to power on the back of the populist Cinque Stelle political party, who promised to get Rome back into ship shape condition. No more mafia Capitale. No more blundering. No more waste and corruption.
Flash forward six months and ViGi is fighting for political life. She's had three of her henchmen, I mean, appointed colleagues, stripped of their roles amidst accusations of corruption. The Cinque Stelle leader, Beppe Grillo (a former comedian) has threatened to strip ViGi of her association with the group and in the last week, has severely curtailed her autonomy. He has a say in her every move right now. Begs another question. Did Romans vote for ViGi or did they vote for BepG?
Either way, Romans are not happy. The city council has adopted a lot of auesterity measures that have become very unpopular with Romans. Their cuts have been significant and important services like women's shelters are now at risk. They've also systematically been destroying Rome's live music scene, but I'll post more on that separately.
So, yes, Rome got its first female mayor. Hurrah. But not an autonomous one, and not one that is likely to make it much longer in the city's cut throat politics.
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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