Venice Biennale 2017 – Part III:
What not to miss around town
This is the last chapter of our guide around the 2017 Venice Biennale. Besides the main venues of Il Giardini and the Arsenale, there are literally thousand of things to see around Venice – too much to name them all. There are plenty of National Pavilions scattered across the city, and more palazzo’s hosting exhibitions to coincide with the Biennale then you can image. Here are our highlights!
James Richards at the Wales Pavilion
James Richards’ interest lies in the possibility of the private amidst the chaos of quotidian media. His work makes use of a growing bank of material that includes cinema, works by other artists, camcorder footage, late night TV and archival research. His presentation at the Wales Pavilion centers around two new works, supplemented with a series of digital collages.
The pavilion opens with Music for the gift – a six-channel electro-acoustic installation that explores the capacity of sound to render artificial spaces and locate sonic and melodic events within them – shifting around the viewer, setting up and shattering these imaginary settings. The result is a cinematic and multi-sensory experience – an arrangement of vivid emotional cues to be navigated subjectively.
What Weakens The Flesh Is The Flesh Itself is a video made with collaborator Steve Reinke. The starting point for the work is a series of images found in the private archive of Albrecht Becker – a production designer, photographer and actor imprisoned by the Nazis for being homosexual – held at The Schwules Museum*, Berlin. Amongst pictures of friends and photographs taken whilst serving in World War II is a collection of self-portraits that reveal an obsessive commitment to body modification and his own image: duplicated, repeated and reworked within. The artists have drawn on hundreds of these self-portraits and combined them with medical footage, educational film and text to construct a piece that interrogates what it means to build a body of work of the body, and for the body to become a work itself.
Egill Saebjörnsson at the Islandic Pavilion
Ūgh and Bõögâr are two Icelandic trolls whom Egill Sæbjörnsson encountered back in 2008 – a chance meeting that led to them immersing themselves in the artist’s life and vice versa. Out of Controll in Venice arises from their shared story: bringing together a café in Giudecca, handcrafted coffee cups, a LP, a book, a clothing line, a perfume, a digital experience and much more.
In the Islandic Pavilion the two shapeshifting trolls have taken over the form of a coffeebar – too lure in as many people as possible. But the café in Giudecca exists for more than simply rest and relaxation. Activated by layered projections of light animations and sounds, Ūgh and Bõögâr are talking to each other about their lives, thoughts and experiences. From time to time they make strange noises and perform a beastly performance. Their interaction reveals to us who they are at the same time as they assuage their insatiable hunger for humans and for knowledge about our way of life.
The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied. at Fundazione Prada
This trans-media exhibition project is the result of an ongoing in-depth exchange between writer and filmmaker Alexander Kluge, artist Thomas Demand, stage and costume designer Anna Viebrock and curator Udo Kittelmann.
Udo Kittelmann underlines how this collaboration is generated out of a “shared awareness both on an emotional and theoretical level of the critical aspects of present times and the complexity of the world we live in”. In a dialogue of polyphonic references and constellations between the contributions of each artist the exhibition spans film, art and theatre media. The confluence of image spaces and scene settings for a variety of atmospheres transforms the historic palazzo of Ca’ Corner della Regina into a metaphorical site for the identification of the worlds we live in and our personal attitudes to wards them.
The exhibition aims to provide comprehensive insight into the respective production of Alexander Kluge, Thomas Demand and Anna Viebrock whose artistic endeavours have always extended beyon d the aesthetic and imaginative and were conceived with political and historical intentions. All three artists reveal themselves as pathfinders and clue seekers, witnesses and chroniclers of times past and present. Out of this an exhibition is generated intended as a space for experiences and encounters. This visually powerful multi – layered environment bestows expression and meaning on the everyday and on th e worlds of yesterday and today between apparent normality and catastrophe in a society divi ded between lust for life and loss of trust extreme distress and never – ending hope.
Philip Guston & The Poets at Galleria dell’ Accademia
This major Philip Guston exhibition explores the artist’s oeuvre in relation to critical literary interpretation. In a spirit reflective of how Guston himself cultivated the sources of his inspiration, Philip Guston and The Poets considers the ideas and writings of major 20th century poets as catalysts for his enigmatic pictures and visions. Featuring works that span a fifty-year period in Guston’s artistic career, the exhibition includes 50 paintings and 25 drawings dating from 1930 until his death in 1980. The exhibition draws parallels between the essential humanist themes reflected in these works, and the language of five poets: D. H. Lawrence, W. B. Yeats, Wallace Stevens, Eugenio Montale and T. S. Eliot.
The exhibition is organized in thematic groupings, each corresponding to selected writings and poems by one of the five poets. Beginning with D. H. Lawrence and his 1929 essay Making Pictures, Guston’s work is introduced through an exploration of the artist’s visual world, considering the very act of creation and the possibility that painting holds. In early and late works from his oeuvre, the exhibition probes into Guston’s ascent to ‘visionary awareness,’ that is, his encounter with complete forms, images and ideas, and their physical manifestation.
Lucy McKenzie at Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa
For her first solo exhibition in Italy, La Kermesse Héroïque, the Brussels- based Lucy McKenzie has made a group of new works, including mural paintings on canvas, painted objects, sculptures and figures – combined with elements of decor (such as lighting and furniture) to explore the relationship between style, ideology and value. In 2014, the artist bought De Ooievaar, a dilapidated villa in the Belgian coastal town of Oostende, built in 1935 for a Catholic doctor with a large family. Its architect, Jozef De Bruycker, was active in the Flemish collaboration with Germany during World War II. As part of a painstaking restoration of its Art Deco, De Stijl and Postmodernist interiors, McKenzie has embarked on a long-term programme of research to uncover the conditions that produced this unique and remarkable design.
McKenzie frequently employs methods and thought processes derived from the applied arts. In her painting practice this can be seen in the use of commercial techniques such as trompe-l’oeil, stencilling and sign writing. With its labour-intensive mode of production, and alignment of value with skill, trompe-l’oeil is an innately conservative idiom. But it is this conservativism that facilitates a tension in the relationship between form and content, and is thus able to generate a sense of immediacy while at the same time creating an emotional distance.
Pierre Huyghe at Espace Louis Vuitton
The Fondation Louis Vuitton is presenting three works by Pierre Huyghe from their collection – between narrative, action and fugitive memory, all connected around Huyghe’s 2005 project A Journey That Wasn’t. This film is the result of a journey to Antarctica on board the Tara, belonging to the famous explorer Jean-Louis Etienne. The purpose of the expedition was to visit a new island that was formed by melting polar ice caps. An albino penguin was said to inhabit the fringes of the colony of its fellow creatures on this island. The project is expressed in two parts: the expedition itself and a translation of the island’s topography into sound. The sounds are then transformed into a musical score, which is performed by a symphony orchestra on the Central Park skating rink in New York. The film plunges the viewers into opposite worlds: pure and unspoilt nature and a spectacular urbanized society.
The film is flanked by two small works. Creature (2005-2011) reincarnates the solitary penguin as a small fiberglass bird with synthetic fur and sound, as a poetic complement to the lm. According to Huyghe, it is more than a sculpture, it has “a unique intuition, far away, in an unreachable land where he/she nearly disappears in the surroundings.” And Silence Score (1997) forms part of the unreal and musical atmosphere created in the lm and continues to disrupt our habits of perception. The four annotated scores were transcribed by Huyghe and, thanks to special software, include the imperceptible sounds of 4’33’’ (Silence) by John Cage, recorded in 1952. Cage’s concept was to have a musician play a few minutes of silence from a score without notes to focus only on the audible sounds of the surrounding space.
James Lee Byars’ The Golden Tower at Campo San Vio, Dorsoduro
This is not an exhibition, but a monumental twenty-meter golden totem towering over the Canal Grande for the duration of the Biennal. James Lee Byars envisioned The Golden Tower as a colossal beacon and oracle that would bridge heaven and earth and unify humanity – a contemporary monument surpassing the grandeur of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. The idea of The Golden Tower first began in 1976 and was developed with numerous conceptual studies throughout the artist’s career. The work was first exhibited in 1990 at the GegenwartEwigkeit exhibition at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, and later in 2004 at the posthumous retrospective Life, Love and Death at the Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt. Towering to a height of over 20 meters, The Golden Tower is the artist’s largest and most ambitious work. The Venice installation of The Golden Tower, organised by Michael Werner gallery in collabratotion with the Fondazione Giuliani, is the first to fully realize the artist’s intentions of presenting the sculpture in a public space.