Venice is no longer the romantic and serene place of Canaletto’s paintings – not during tourist season anyway. And during the opening weekend of the Biennale it was a truly nasty and unpleasant city. Besides the fact that it was extremely hot, unimaginable crowds were pushing and shoving to move through the tiny streets, climb narrow bridges, or be the first to get on a ferry. There was no concept of priority seating, or genteel manners – it was just dog eat dog.
And yet, exploring the pavilions outside the Giardini and the Arsenale was the real pleasure. I loved entering the palazzos – beautiful testaments to an era when art and culture was at the center of life here, not only an event. What are these palazzos used for when the Biennale is over?
The most interesting pavilion for me was that of Lithuania where artist Darius Mikšys, instead of creating a work of his own, decided to invite all the artists that had ever been awarded a grant by the Ministry of Culture in the last twenty-some years to contribute these funded works to the exhibition, to create a historical archive and show of the work that has been until now deemed worthy of financial support.
Behind The White Curtain, as the show is titled, alludes to the area where all the 173 pieces are stored. And the best part about the show is that it allows and encourages the audience to make their own exhibition by selecting which pieces will be shown by the pavilion support crew, who literally go behind the white curtain upon request and bring out artwork which is then exhibited until the next request comes in. Of course there is a very poetic performative element to this too, the constant movement and the flux of the exhibition, and the control that is given to the audience over what they look at. And in terms of actual content, the position of the artist vis-a-vis these works, many of which are quite traditional and lacking any sign of contemporaneity, is quite ambiguous and poses an interesting tension.
At the Arsenale I saw a few exhibitions, but the most interesting piece was Fernando Diaz’s Outside Itself, an installation made of small plastic balls glued together by robots in a pattern decided by the movements of the audience under a sensor that transmitted the information to the said robots. It was beautiful and super cool – also interactive, which is becoming more and more important to me these days.
In the same space was One of a Thousand Ways to Defeat Entropy, whose stand-out piece was Hans Op de Beeck’s eerie and dark interior of an average home in Europe, with a view to a garden and a fountain, but with everything, fruits, beds, sheets, etc. made of concrete. Only two fluorescenet lights are on, giving the whole environment a dreary and melancholy grey feel – as if a volcano had enveloped the whole house and conserved it as is.
The South African pavilion had a great party and I loved the hors d’oeuvres, but the show was not very noteworthy although it was with great expectation that I went to see it as this is the first time that SA is at the Biennale. Mary Sibande’s sculpture of a woman dressed in a mix between a maid’s Victorian gown and a military outfit alludes to the dreams of the artist’s mother, who wanted to escape her social limitations as a maid and reach other heights. There is an interesting dance and a poetic gesture between her and the figures in front of her, almost conducting the gestures of this large group of women who look to be dressed as soldiers posing as if taking aim.