So last year I headed out to Venice for the opening of the 2011 Biennale with artist Wayne Chisnall, who also played the role of official photographer for the piece I wrote for RWD.
It was an unforgettable week. The art, the people, and the city itself collectively made me swoon. And Wayne photographed me looking like a criminal in the mafia-themed section of the Italian pavilion (which I really liked even though many art critics panned it), so that was a highlight. Below is the article I wrote:
Image is nothing. Thirst is everything.
How to tackle the 54th Venice Biennale if you have an undying
thirst for art? That was our question before, during and after this year’s event. I had five days to see the art at 89 international participants’ pavilions (each country has its own venue to display work of its choosing), 37 official collateral events, and a ton of other additional arty events. Oh, and did I mention the parties? They were a conundrum in their own right, as whichever one you attended, you were consumed by the fear that you were missing out on a better one elsewhere.
Photographer Wayne Chisnall and I spent most of the first morning queuing to pick up our press passes, little knowing that queuing was to be a constant theme during our time there. What to see first? A lot of people had been hyping the British pavilion, so we thought we should probably aim for that. And lo, there was a long snaking queue in front of it and we were informed that we would have to wait for around two hours to get in. We decide to leave that until later and head for the official opening of the Japanese pavilion. Free food and wine. Yes please.
Or no thank you as it turned out. Never have I witnessed such a scrum for canapés, with people literally shoving one another out of the way to snatch a piece of bread. Then I spy with my little eye something beginning with P. Prosecco. At the German pavilion. Much less chaos (god bless the Germans). We grab a drink while a friend gets chatting to people, asking them if they’re going to see the Anglo-Japanese thrash metal band Bo Ningen. They inform him that they’re not Japanese, but Korean. Cue long round of apologies.
The Koreans actually had one of the best pavilions, featuring sculptures of robots, a video of soldiers dressed in flower camouflage moving through a set filled with plastic flowers, and more video installations projected within mirrors. They also had people dressed as soldiers who cunningly headed to the US pavilion to create an excellent photo opportunity for themselves as they posed in front of the upturned tank, which featured an athlete running on a treadmill on top of the tanks’ tracks.
Highlights inside the US space included an ATM connected to an organ which played music when people made withdrawals. Never have I seen so many people allowing themselves to be photographed while using a bank machine. Every hour, a gymnast would also appear to do somersaults and flips over the installation of replica flatbed airline seats.
The enormous queues eventually forced us out of the main sites of the Giardini and Arsenale and into Venice itself, where the more recent entrants into the Biennale were situated. Luxembourg had an incredible show reminiscent of a fairground’s hall of mirrors. 2011 newcomers Bangladesh and Haiti showcased interesting work, Iraq returned following a 20-year absence with a strong show, while Azerbaijan attracted interest by being the first pavilion to ever have work covered up by its own authorities (and sadly to Western eyes, the work really wasn’t that controversial).
All in all, it was a hectic time, as I managed to tick 59 pavilions off my list. But in true Biennale style, now that I’m back in the UK, the fear has descended. I’m left wondering, what did I miss out on seeing? So go! It’s on until November and there’s a lot to see. Just don’t tell me that the ones I missed were the best ones. I just might cry.