You know we're in a sorry state when humour is the victim at the Biennale.
This year, very few countries or artists have put forward something that will bring a smile to your face, and you will have to seek them out.
If you've a perverted sense of humour like I do, then Sarah Lucas' work (British Pavilion), in spite of its socio-political themes will make you think and laugh, as will Spain's take on what we've been reduced to in contemporary culture (more soon on that one). Even the awkward clutter of Canada's BGL Collective will feel like temporary respite.
But beyond that, the Biennale hasn't been as political of late as it is this year. European nations in particular seem to have a lot on their conscience this year, meaning many of them aren't in the mood to play.
There's a lot of soul searching going on, and even before the events of 2011, Japan was already in a contemplative and questioning mood.
This year's Japanese offering, Chiharu Shiota's The Key In The Hand, is positively dripping in retrospection, but, it's shaping up to be one of the year's biggest hits with visitors. Why? Because it achieves its aims with the kind of wistful romanticism that you find on the canals of Venice but that is otherwise completely lacking at the Biennale.
Shiota presents a large scale and painstakingly detailed installation alongside some endearing videos in the outdoor pilotis. In the installation, two wooden boats are placed like catchments for a deluge of keys hanging from an intricate maze of red yarn that is suspended from the ceiling. Each string bears a key, a memory that can be contained and locked away for safe keeping in times of uncertainty.
Outside, the video monitors present children who recall their own memories to the camera: they playfully and resolutely share their memories of event before and after their own births, a touching and poignant means of pointing to the questionable accuracy of memory.
But in our current political climate, the installation as a whole also works on another level beyond the protective warmth of memory. Globally we find ourselves at a time when boats have a renewed political and intercultural significance, and where Shiota's keys could just as easily be the keys to unlocking and forging new realities and memories. This dual sense of hope has not been lost on visitors such as myself, who are already enamored of the work's intricate but straightforward, formal beauty.
Whatever your interpretation, The Key In The Hand, is a welcome respite from the storm of discontent which seems to be brewing all around it, and for me at least, the standout at Giardini for emotional punch.
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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