Tag Archives: Venice


27 Sep

The Singapore Pavilion’s ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ will probably remain “unknown” forever because the woman was refusing everybody entry on the grounds that there was too much of a cloud in there. Seriously, she said the smoke machine was making excessive smoke. This seems a bit like saying the sun makes excessive heat: true sometimes, but there are ways around such a problem if one applies a little bit of lateral thinking and common sense. All I can conclude based upon the available information is that the cloud, at least, is an actual physical one. I don’t think nobody being allowed in to “know” it was a conceptual act, though. I may be wrong.

I was sitting outside and gathering my hate I mean thoughts for a few minutes; she refused a steady stream of people who had stupidly made the effort to find the place and dared to assume they could actually visit the art work. I wonder if she ever let anybody in at all.

In short, Singapore Pavilion people, you might want to think about capitalising on being at the Biennale in Venice and hundreds or thousands of people being interested in your artist’s work instead of actively wasting their time and throwing it back in their faces. Five minutes more and she closed up entirely, then went flouncing off.

Basically she didn’t want to do any work that day and having visitors come in was annoying her. Gallery people, you’re not doing visitors a favour by deigning to let them see art. They’re supporting you.



26 Sep

To be completely frank, although some of my best friends are Welsh and they have such lovely teeth and a natural sense of rhythm and excel at running and everything, their culture is so vibrant etc., Wales’ pavilion is in an out-of-the way and nigh impossible to find cluster consisting of itself, Bangladesh and Iraq. Therefore I couldn’t be bothered to waste my time in tracking it down. Is some big cheese at the Biennale sending a passive-aggressive message by exiling these strife-torn and dysfunctional countries to the Venetian equivalent of Siberia? Only joking, of course: Bangladesh is hardly dysfunctional at all.

I’ll also be honest and say that I walked past Karla Black’s effort for the Scottish pavilion by chance. I went in with an unseemly glee, almost wringing my hands and swishing my cape like a melodrama villain. I fully intended to hate it and knew I would write a load of nasty shit about it because I already know that I loathe her work vehemently. You won’t catch anybody admitting to that in Art Monthly or The Guardian… even though every reviewer, writer or critic does precisely the same thing sometimes. She’s yet another repeat offender from the British Art Show and clearly another flavour of the month, or more accurately “oppressive soapy stink of the month”.

Did you think I was going to announce a dramatic change of heart when confronted with the shattering beauty of Karla Black’s sculptures “rooted in Kleinian analysis”? Sorry, Nimrod. This exhibition was shit and it made me angry. Continue reading


22 Sep

The official gloss on Maurizio Cattelan’s contribution is worth quoting almost in full: “[He] has surprised Biennale organisers by re-creating ‘Turisti’, the work he produced for the 1997 show featuring 200 stuffed pigeons and fake pigeon shit on the floor.”

Either that or he’s twigged that the curator is a dimwit with no sense of quality control whatsoever, and Maurizio thought he could get away with just handing over some old thing that was only clogging up his studio anyway. So, thanks to him there are stuffed pigeons everywhere. These ‘turisti’ are certainly an apt dig at the actual turisti who perch in pestilential flocks all over the Giardini and whose presence seems hard to fathom given that they don’t seem the slightest bit interested in art. Most of them sound as if they couldn’t think about one thing at a time, let alone operate on any kind of complex intellectual level. Or maybe these people know exactly what they’re doing and they’ve found in the Biennale the perfect place in which they’ll go entirely unchallenged by art or ideas. Continue reading


20 Sep

Christoph Schlingensief turns the German pavilion into a convincing simulacrum of a church, albeit a David Cronenberg Videodrome church that shows endless timelapse video loops of decaying rabbits. Overwrought, Wagnerian choral music blasts out as people (including several Muslim women and this lifelong atheist) automatically and comfortably settle themselves into the candlelit pews for a quasi-Christian experience. Nobody dares approach the altar, even though there seem to be things up there that we should look at.

Just like his Giardini neighbour Mike Nelson, Schlesinger completely gets it: how to use the scale and scope afforded by having a whole building at one’s disposal, how to bring people into his world, how not to break that world once they’re in it by doing stupid shit like over-explaining or asking for anything except that people trust him a bit because he’ll look after them.

I’d like to note here a kind of iPhone or iPad/tabletisation phenomenon visible in the video presentations (whether good, bad or incomprehensible) across the entire Biennale, including Schlingensief’s bank of rabbit-rotting projections: portrait format (i.e. 3:4 or 9:16) video everywhere, as if it truly only just occurred to many people that a rectangular screen can be rotated 90˚ just like a canvas or a piece of paper.

Mike Nelson’s UK pavilion was one of the few places where I wasn’t furiously (sometimes in every sense of the word) writing notes, so absorbed and transported was I by the experience. Also, it’s bloody dark in there.

That word “transported” is relevant: Nelson actually does make you feel like you’ve woken up in a strange place, or popped out of the TARDIS doors and stepped foot almost casually in some mysterious past or future. To me that’s a very precious experience. I’ve been lucky enough to travel quite a lot and have those kinds of experiences in places that are unequivocally real, but Nelson has the gift of manufacturing them from raw materials at will.

At Venice (or rather, no longer in Venice) you step into a low-key nightmare world, perhaps a complex of workshops somewhere in the Balkans or on the Bosporus. There are filthy work benches with unidentifiable machine parts strewn on them, a courtyard lined with doors and staircases, none of which seem to offer any meaningful egress or escape.

There’s the tiny, genius detail of a ridiculously creaky horror film door that swings shut of its own accord behind you, complaining all the while. There’s a grimy photographer’s dark room and nearby photos hang from the ceiling in what can only be described as a menacing manner: the photos are of the building we seem to be in, or of similar ones. It’s almost as if the building were documenting itself, or dreaming of itself. Nothing specific or particular can be demonstrated to have happened… but whatever that nothing was, it wasn’t good.

For once, a Brit has done us absolutely proud at the Biennale. Tracey who?


19 Sep

For a change, the little précis about the Japanese pavilion nails it: “… Japanese media art, which has been refined as part of a phenomenon known as the Galapagos Syndrome in which Japan, isolated from world standards, has evolved in wholly peculiar manner.”

This is perhaps also a typically Japanese understatement with a slight hint of apology. The Japanese art scene and what they consider proper art are (to my mind, anyway) thrillingly open-minded and unconcerned about the overly serious and self-important stuff that holds sway elsewhere. Sometimes this means that the sense of accessible, jolly inclusiveness disguises content that’s not as interesting as the aesthetic: but that’s exactly my point. Japanese art- and to some extent all east Asian art outside of the mainland Chinese art industry’s brutalising, acquisitive influence- is about ideas and feelings but doesn’t always see the need to go automatically for the very biggest ideas and feelings.  Small ideas and feelings can be beautiful. Sometimes it’s fine for art to just be pretty or clever or fun, whereas Western artists seem to have it drilled into them that all three of these things are strictly verboten and that they always have to pretend they’re the most intelligent person in the room: most especially if they really aren’t very bright at all.

Japan’s mirrored animation installation plays games with optics, space and one’s sense of distance in a similar way to James Turrell’s installation over at the Arsenale, but since it’s Japanese it does so by giving the impression of having your head stuck in a pinball machine instead of Turrell’s puritan minimalism- which I also like in a different way. I got no sense that Tabaimo’s ideas or the experience was anywhere as deep or wide as Turrell’s, or that the content was anywhere near as interesting as the technically accomplished production and set design. I’ve mentioned this kind of failure a few times already, but I’m more forgiving of style over substance victories when people don’t come along afterwards and try to lay down an intellectual smokescreen to cover up the resulting void of intellectual merit.

Nearby, the work in Korea’s pavilion looks like the work of three different artists: enormous fibreglass mannequins and the moulds they were cast from obviously having relationship issues; heavily armed, florally-camouflaged soldiers creep through an equally flowery environment in photos and video works; mirrors shatter themselves when looked into by visitors. Actually it’s all the work of one artist, Lee Yongbaek, and I really liked it all. In my experience, Korean galleries and artists rarely disappoint. Lee obviously skips around and follows his ideas all over the intellectual, artistic and genre landscape (as I try to do and love doing, and often cause bewilderment to art world people by doing), so there’s obviously a personal connection here too. A nice discovery.

Navin Rawanchaikul’s Thai pavilion is a kitsch spew of quasi-communist and cult of personality parody and ridiculous camp, but enjoyable rather than irritating. I don’t know whether it’s strange or entirely fitting that half of the Thai pavilion is actually a cocktail bar.

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