The International Art Exhibition in Venice is a world-wide attraction and is considered one of the most representative exhibitions dedicated to contemporary art. As always, the Biennale is spread over the entire city of Venice. There is the Giardini housing the different countries’ pavilions; the Arsenale, with the Italian Pavilion and several collateral events around the city, including the Future Generation Art Prize @ Venice.
In the Giardini, it is practically impossible to see everything comprehensively, and most people decide to focus on just a few pavilions. In my view, the French, British and Central Pavilion (which includes work by artists from a variety of countries, not just one) are the most interesting.
It is a different and completely unusual space.
Chance by Christian Boltanski is the central feature of the French Pavilion. It is an enormous installation made of scaffolding, traversed by a huge filmstrip of new-born babies’ faces. In another room a video divided into three parts projects different segments of the human body superimposed onto a face (i.e. the eyes of one person, the nose of another, the chin of yet another, all changing at high speed). It is an attempt to examine chance and fate in a philosophical, as well as an amusing, way – the spectator is given the liberty to decide how to engage with the work: with a more serious and theoretical attitude or in a playful one; getting lost in the muddle of “chances”.
Mike Nelson’s project, I, Imposter, differs from the works in other pavilions – the building itself has been used to create the work. Each room in the labyrinthine space is a kind of laboratory, including an old-fashioned, photographic darkroom full of black-and-white prints. After entering the pavilion the viewer is immediately taken on a trip in time and place – you could be in France, England or China. It feels as if you are stepping into someone else’s head; entering into memory and the obsessions of a mind. There is a claustrophobic feeling, but when you leave you feel the need to go back in. It is a different and completely unusual space.
…art can be appreciated for its ability to make people think…
In the Central Pavilion there are too many outstanding pieces to describe, so I will limit myself to commenting on the stuffed pigeons that have created so much debate. The pigeons, which are situated in the roof of each room in the Central Pavilion, are an artwork by Maurizio Cattelan entitled Others, and are an idea already used by the artist in Turisti (1997). I have difficulty in finding anything positive to say about this artwork. However, in my opinion, every form of art can be appreciated for its ability to make people think and to initiate discussion, and Cattelan’s installation certainly does this. It challenges the spectator to reflect upon the nature of the art work – why the pigeons are all over the Central Pavilion, how appropriate it is to place such a work so close to a Tintoretto, and so on.
This year the Arsenale is showing some very interesting works, in particular, Dayanita Singh’s photographs: Dream Villa and File Room. The latter portrays storage rooms filled with thousands of paper archives, and it caught my attention for its ability to convey a sense of calm and order, as well as oppression and chaos. Another work that attracted my attention at the Arsenale was Nick Relph’s series of three overlapping projections of documentaries on Ellsworth Kelly, Rei Kawakubo and the history of tartan.
The Biennale is a celebration of contemporary art, and it is an incredible experience to walk around this beautiful city and discover so many astonishing art works.
Images courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia