Your reward at the arse end of the Arsenale is Christian Marclay’s grossly overrated Youtube Supercut/massive copyright violation ‘The Clock’: another repeat offender from the British Art Show at the Hayward gallery. As in London, the room is populated with sheep doing their duty and spending the minimum amount of time that seems decent with this mandatory important piece of art before they move on gratefully, wondering what the hell all the fuss was about because it’s just like something off of Youtube.
Beyond this point countries like the United Arab Emirates, Croatia, Chile and the like are tacked on in a fairly perfunctory way like the appendices in an academic book that nobody ever reads. The insignificance of the work presented invites a swift exit and doesn’t speak well of whoever chose the artists. I’m fairly confident that all of these countries have better and more deserving artists than the ones shown at Venice, but that seems fairly irrelevant since at the moment curators seem to be selecting artists by blindfolding themselves and picking their names randomly out of hats.
Saudi Arabia’s effort by Shadia and Raja Alem is the only effort worth even commenting on, and then only because it’s so completely out of whack with everything else on show at the Biennale. Continue reading
Urs Fischer’s melted (and melting, thanks to lit candle wicks) wax sculptures almost comically literalise the ‘Illuminations’ theme, although he must have felt like a total fool at the private view since nobody else seems to have bothered to follow any kind of brief. Any thematic convergence at the Biennale or any artist presenting good work seems to have occurred more or less randomly.
The items presented are also highly Venice-appropriate: a wax simulacrum of Giovanni Bologna’s disconcertingly titillating Renaissance ‘Rape of the Sabine Women’ (at the time of my visit just torsos with lots of drips, fallen muscular debris and face remnants) is surrounded by two unremarkable wax office chairs and what looks like a nonchalant smart casual artist or gallery-goer showing no concern whatsoever about his head being melted off.
I liked this. It was somehow grandiose and self-effacing at the same time. A rare example at the Biennale of an artist discovering a striking aesthetic and an interesting artistic tactic for himself, rather than just taking these things off the shelf or osmosing them with virtually no conscious decision-making process during his art school days. Unless there’s a whole school of melting-things artists that I don’t know about.
The time has come for us to talk about Ryan Gander. He’s obviously considered the bee’s knees right now, with exhibitions all over and fawning articles and whatnot. Why, I couldn’t tell you. True to his It Boy status, his work runs through ‘Illuminations’ in the Arsenale and the Main Pavilion like a persistent tumour, popping up and bumming you out every time you’ve dared to hope you’ve seen the last of him: some nerdy polyhedral dice in a case, various other precious conceptual interventions that make you want to slap him, more lumber piled against the wall, this time with wall text making a pathetic and half-hearted appeal to Mondrian because the bits of wood are all painted in bright colours.
No other artist seems to be so well represented either in terms of quantity or of geographical distribution across the Biennale sites. Has he been slipping the curator secret lengths? I can’t think of any other sensible reason for his ubiquity when one discounts the quality of his work or ideas, both of which are unimpressive… albeit par for the course in the desiccated, pretentious, all-head-and-no-heart world of certain art critics and curators.
Artists, stop it stop it STOP IT with the fucking old school film projectors; Emily Wardill, Gerard Byrne and others all seem to think that running their work through a clacking, grimy piece of obsolete AV equipment automatically gives it gravitas and the sheen of a proper art film. It doesn’t. I expect they go around disdainfully saying that they’ve never done anything digitally. Just give that shit a rest and think about learning how to really make a film instead of disguising your own limitations behind the limitations of old technology.
Byrne is also a black and white photography=SERIOUS merchant, as seen previously with Birdhead’s B&W prints of themselves getting liquored up then riding each other like horses and on numerous occasions elsewhere, in Shannon Ebner’s work, and Dayanita Singh’s, and so on ad nauseum. If your photos are boring and devoid of significance or beauty, doing them in monochrome and/or presenting them in an archaic format doesn’t magically make them interesting. I’d call this the Instagram Syndrome. Boring, banal or inept photography doesn’t magically become interesting because it’s grungy and having to jazz it up in this way probably indicates that it is boring, banal or inept and you know it.
Elisabetta Benassi, on the other hand, really grasps how to do technological nostalgia right if it must be done at all. Her gloomy installation of automated microfiche readers, apparently showing captions from old stock photos, puts technology in an ominous Orwellian (or Brazilian, as in Terry Gilliam’s film) context as the machines incessantly scan the microfiches without human intervention, stopping occasionally upon pieces of information that we as humans- pattern recognition machines ourselves- can hardly fail to see as significant in some way.
Since the captions are almost always minus the photos they belong to, moving through the installation allows you to see the weaving of a strange, unstable new metanarrative derived from all these damaged (or vandalised) fragments. Very evocative, but what it’s evoking is a time and a technological moment that never existed in reality. That’s the real magic. Benassi judges perfectly the balance between the romance of old things and the fact that living in the past was usually no better than the present: often much worse.
James Turrell is James Turrell. You need to queue up Disneyland style to see his ‘The Ganzfield Piece’: two empty but weirdly bigger-on-the-inside spaces defined by a discombobulating, illusory, changeable coloured light. Unfortunately I didn’t see anybody freak out or fall into it in a state of confusion, as people have apparently done sometimes. That was disappointing. When other people were in there I fantasised about giving them mental breakdowns by going around the back and whispering in a VALIS-like voice that reality is a lie, the universe is run by multidimensional machine elves, and so forth.
Saying that it’s a beautiful, meditative experience is probably somewhat redundant because that’s what everyone always says. It’s still a beautiful, meditative experience when there’s a queue of people huffing and puffing because they’re waiting to be allowed in and several minutes is far too long for them to be thwarted in their selfish desires. And even the possibility that a work of art- especially one consisting of just light, space and time- could mess with a person’s head to such a degree that they forget how to stand up is testament to Turrell being an actual, authentic artist.
Unlike, say, some moron who stacks bits of metal and wood against a gallery wall.