Venice’s labyrinthine maze of narrow streets and canals can swallow up the unsuspecting art tourist; no amount of maps – printed or digital – can save you. To find the off-site exhibitions scattered around the city, you’ll need courage, luck and comfortable shoes.
Leaving aside for now the nebulous politics and philosophical debates that can be explored in what it means to ‘represent’ a country, the pavilions that made some effort to acknowledge the context of Venice were by and large the most successful.
Karla Black At Fault (detail), 2011. Courtesy the artist and Gallery Gisela Capitain; photo: Gautier Deblonde
This year Scotland is represented by the Turner Prize-nominated Karla Black. Hats off to her – it was worth getting completely lost on the way to see this show. Greeting us was a heap of beautiful junk – huge bits of crumpled paper and twisted/hanging polythene as well as delicately freestanding polystyrene pillars, a new medium for the artist. Matching the colour scheme of the airy suite of top-floor rooms that has housed the Scottish Pavilion for the past two Biennales, soil, sawdust and bath products perfumed the sweltering spaces – beautiful to the point of sickly. I have only ever seen Black’s work in the cool surroundings of a white space but this was a perfect match. A coquettish, yet strikingly bold show.
Ireland have a large sculpture of interlocking cuboid structures by Corban Walker. Scale plays a large part in the sculptural practice of the artist and this was a simple and neat if safe presentation.
Representing Wales this year is Tim Davies. One of the quieter and more discreet of the national presentations, Davies is showing a number of videos spread through the dark rooms of the Ludoteca building near the end of the Via Garibaldi. Videos of young cadets marching through Cardiff and an accompanying footage from a camera on a cadets’ helmet as they run and a tired young cadet girl struggling to stay upright hinted vaguely at a political critique on global warfare without really going anywhere particularly new or interesting.
As well as the British, Wales, Ireland and Scotland Pavilions, ArtSway’s New Forest Pavilion was one of a number of exhibitions and pavilions grouped in a cluster of buildings in and around the Palazzo Zenobio, not far from Campo Santa Margherita. Iceland are represented by the pairing of Libia Castro and Olafur Olafsson and various iterations of their ongoing project started in 2003 ‘Your Country Doesn’t Exist’, a project that has travelled around the world, in various forms to proclaim this simple (if perhaps offensive to those people to which this is actually true?) message. Footage of an opera singer proclaiming the phrase from a gondola around Venice, singing the phrase in English, then Italian.
‘The Mediterranean Approach’
‘The Mediterranean Approach’ is a nicely judged group show including some good films from artists like Palestinian Khalil Rabah, Zineb Sedira and Moroccan filmmaker Faouzi Bensaidi using a static shot of a white wall to playfully fast-forward through the history of a community at action in Le Mur (2000).
Bangladesh and Iraq
Opposite the Ludoteca are the Bangladesh and Iraq Pavilions, both opting for group shows of artists exploring – in various ways – the recent history of their own country’s troubled past and the fast-changing social situation of each country today. A highlight was Promotesh Das Pulak’s series of collated photographic documentation exploring the collective memories of the 1971 war for independence and how this event has formed the collective memory of Bangladesh today.
A quick hop on the Line 1 vaporetto to the Rialto to see the Pino Pascali exhibition at the Palazzo Michiel dal Brusa. Having missed his recent show at Camden Arts Centre in London, I was really looking forward to this show – Pascali is an incredibly interesting artist with a wildly eclectic life tragically cut short at the age of 33. Unfortunately the bulk of the poorly installed exhibition is dedicated to past winners of the annual Pino Pascali Prize rather than to the artist himself. There was some of his own lesser-shown work on display, however, which gave an insight into an artist with an eclectically varied set of interests in everything from weapons to African art to trains to whales.
Barry X Ball
Barry X Ball’s intervention amongst the collection of the Ca’ Rezzonico sees computer-aided marble reproductions and classically influenced sculptures exhibited throughout the luxurious rooms of the Palace. Melded in and curiously stood apart and even influenced the craftsmanship of the original sculptures when shown alongside.
At the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa was a great solo show by Enrico David – his first in Italy amazingly and the first large-scale presentation of his work that I’ve seen since his Turner Prize nomination last year. A number of new and interesting works. Well worth seeing.
Organized by Marta Kuzma, Pablo Lafuente, Peter Osborne and Office for Contemporary Art Norway, Norway's contribution this year comprises an extensive talks programme, with speakers including Jacques Ranciere, TJ Clark and others. More information at the OCA website here
Stay tuned for a report on the collateral museum shows from Christy Lange!