VENICE BIENNALE : you don’t have to like it all

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This last week we have been braving the infuriating warren of Venice, walking many miles seeking out art, art and even more art. After spending almost two months in rural areas of the Balkans, we were really looking forward to, and in need of this visit. The Venice Biennale is the ultimate contemporary art binge, and after 4 days we were left feeling sickeningly stuffed, like art cookie monsters!

The impulse to rush through the Biennale was horrible, and we decided early on that we would give up on the idea of seeing everything and stay with something that held us, for as long as the work needed. In the crowds of immaculately dressed people, we were surprised by how much art we didn’t like, and by the creeping sense of discomfort with the ‘art world’. As artists, to be led to really question what you do, and what it means to be an artist in the world today, is an incredibly valuable thing. With lots of questions whirling around our minds, it was comforting and enjoyable to listen to Grayson Perry’s Reith lectures in which he interrogates the current state of art in a really human way.

As Alan Bennett said when he was a trustee of the National Gallery, they should put a big sign up outside… you don’t have to like it all.

Venice 01And just as it all started to become too much… we came across Thomas Zipp’s padded cell (how appropriate).

Grumbles aside… seeing so much art was very inspiring, and there were some works which made everything worth it. One Pavilion in particular stayed with us. Gilad Ratman’s Israeli Pavilion was very enjoyable and engaging on many levels. Through video, sound, installation and intervention in the building, he modelled the whole space to reflect upon a real and imagined history. The piece, called ‘The Workshop’ tells the story of a group of people from Israel making an arduous journey to Venice through a network of underground tunnels and caves- eventually showing them popping up out of the hole that still remains in the floor of the Pavilion. The videos then show the people set about creating clay busts of themselves in a wild and primitive way- howling and bellowing into microphones. The clay heads remain in the space as physical evidence of the true and fictional story that is being told.

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The narrative unfolds slowly and unpretentiously and I just loved the warmth and absurdity of the whole thing. Ratman presents an alternative vision of the world, where people cross borders freely, and an undetected, underground journey from Israel to Venice is somehow tangible. As a child I dreamt of secret tunnels and living in caves, and it seems that ‘The Workshop’ draws upon basic, shared human experience. This was our first introduction to Ratman’s work and we are now enjoying discovering more about him and his distinctive vision.

I’m sure that this won’t be the last time we attend this strange banquet of art, but for now we are still recovering from an art hangover with a nice dose of Grayson Perry’s Reith lectures to help us on our way!

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