Saturday, June 30, 2012

Venice Biennale
Art Exhibition

Marie-Therese Wisniowsk

In 2003 my husband was giving an address at an international conference and of course on most occasions I was too busy to accompany him. On this occasion he said to me - “Well, I thought while I'm at the conference you’d find something to do and so come along this time.”

I turned to him and said, “And forget about all those commitments of mine?”

“I thought", he said, "that fossicking around Venice might appeal to you, especially since its the 50th Biennale”.

Magically all my commitments just floated away into an abyss. Hence, whilst he would be locked away in a talkfest - Venice would be all mine!

This post is a reminder that 55th Venice Biennale will occur between June – November 2013 and if you have the resources, you have just one year to save all your pennies and put it on your Bucket’s list for 2013! Don't tell me I didn't warn you.

Artist And Title: Olafur Eliasson (Denmark) - Blind Pavilion (2003).
50th Venice Biennale.

A Brief History Of Venice
In most textbooks you will read that the tenth region of the Roman Empire – Venetia et Histria – was one of the most tortured districts due to barbarian invasions of the 5th and 6th century A.D. The population fled the tenth region and sought refuge in the marshy region, where islands were dotted throughout a lagoon.

Venice is built on 117 small islands and has some 150 canals and 400 bridges. The city was built over a long period of time on a raft of wooden posts driven into the sub-soil. The waters – that today threaten the city – was in the past its greatest protection.

One of the small canals that feeds into the Grand Canal.

Following centuries of Byzantine rule, in the eighth century Venice emerged as a republic ruled by a succession of doges (chief magistrates who were elected by its citizens). From the ninth to twelfth century Venice developed as a city-state. It became the point where “East-meets-West” and so the city grew into a powerful dominating force in trade. It dominated the Adriatic, half the Mediterranean and all of the trade routes to Levant. It is not surprising to note that it was from Venice that Marco Polo set out on his voyage to China.

Today Venice lives off tourism. Few Venetians actually live in the city due to the exorbitant property prices and moreover, because it frequently floods. Most Venetians live in Mestre (an industrial town) that is linked to Venice via a 4km long bridge, which spans across the lagoon.

Venice - The Place
On arriving in Venice, our hotel was a small place – Albergo Doge – in one of those back lanes, but quite near the Santa Lucia Railway station. It was in easy reach to all the main facilities, such as the co-operative grocery store etc. It is a family business and so offered a reasonable Venetian B & B.

Marie-Therese at the Hotel Albergo Doge.
The window above was our room.

There is so much to do in Venice that I could live there for a lifetime and in doing so, just scratch the surface of this place. Being a tourist you just see the visible side of Venice – but for the invisible side – you can get a wonderful insight into it from John Berendt’s wonderful read – “The City Of Falling Angels”. It is no wonder that art patrons like Peggy Guggenheim (USA) and poets like Ezra Pound (USA) made Venice their home.

Gondola’s near our hotel.

For me Venice will never be my home, but to visit - it is just magic! Yes, you can ferry yourself around using water taxi’s etc. However, the magic of Venice unravels by walking, walking and more walking. With each new corner you turn, something suddenly appears that is just breathtaking. Take for example the sad lion - everybody believes he is so so sad because he lost his wings. Where else can you feel so inspired in an instant!

I tried not to be too happy near this tortured soul!

Walk through the multitude of laneways and you will see artisans creating their art through shop windows. Once the doorbell chimes, they leave their work and come to the counter to sell you their art. Where in the world could you find an art supply shop that has such an entrance?

An Art Supply Shop.
Advertising its wares in one emphatic artistic statement. The sculpture is approximately 1.5 meters high.

Walk around a few more corners, stop at a few more shops, have a bite to eat here and there, and then you turn around and “wow!” fills every void in your body.

Ca’ del Sol.
Probably the best Venetian mask shop in the world.

You move on and then you find something out of your childhood staring right at you. How much can it cost – is it more than my budget?

Puss ’n Boots. I must have read it a dozen times. The tale was written at the close of the seventeenth century by Charles Perrault, a retired French civil servant.

Of course I visited the shops on the Rialto Bridge - with the sole aim to buy, buy buy!

Shops leading up to the Rialto Bridge.

I visited the island of Murano and their glass foundries and retail outlets, buying some wonderful glassware for home.

Isola del Vetro Foundary.

I bought lace, when I visited the fishing village on the island of Burano - with its strikingly colorful buildings on a beautiful clear day.

Burano – Via San Maura.

I visited the island Torcello, where they built a simple eleventh century cathedral of S. Maria Assunta and 11-12th century church of S. Fosca. I hope my husband is enjoying his conference!

Torcello, The Square.

I have spared you from a multitude of tourist’s photographs of every canal, church, square, artworks etc. that would undoubtedly fill several DVDs. However, I must leave this description of "Venice – The Place" with one last photograph of St. Mark’s Basilica.

From a pigeon’s point of view!

The Biennale – A Very Brief History
The biennale began in 1895 and was an important event for the decorative arts. From 1907 several countries used the venue to showcase their work in that area, thereby installing national pavilions at the exhibition. The music festival was added in 1930, the international film festival in 1932 and the theatre festival in 1934. Hence its international reputation as an arts festival gained considerable momentum in that decade. After a six-year break due to World War II it reopened its doors in 1948 and has never looked back. It is now considered the world’s best arts festival, embracing most areas of fine arts, film and theatre. In 2003, Kenya was the first East African country to exhibit in Venice.

The 50th edition was directed by Francesco Bonami and was considered one of its best. It had a record number of seven co-curators which included Hans Ulrich, Obrist Catherine David, Igor Zabel, Hou Hanru and Massimiliano Gioni. There were numerous exhibitions and country presentations showcasing their art. Only a few of the exhibitions can be given in this post - in other words, this post is at best a taster or teaser - take your pick! Those that I have selected are not readily seen or discussed in most other forums.

The Welcome Entrance To The Biennale.

The 50th Biennale di Venezia: Dreams and Conflicts - The Viewer's Dictatorship
Statement by Director Francesco Bonami

If the idea of the large international survey has always been conceived as a whole concept to be fragmented into the visions of the individual’s artists, "Dreams and Conflicts" wants art from the autonomy of the different projects to seek in this complexity of ideas the unity that defines the language of contemporary art today.

In the contemporary society the viewers with their presence and absence controls the success of every exhibition and cultural enterprise; in "Dreams and Conflicts" they appear as one of the subjects that contribute to define the structure of the show, the artist, the curator, the viewer.

Along with the artist, the beholder is one of the poles that, when connected produces the spark that activates the artwork successfully in the social and cultural context.

The dream and the conflict, the total world opposed to its political and geographical fragmentation, the national aspirations in contrast with the international achievements are all elements that will contribute to the making of the Visual Arts Biennale.

"Dreams and Conflicts" will be an exhibition focused at the same time on art as a personal tool of a personal experience and conviviality. A show through which is possible to have access to the complexity of a world made by groups of individuals defined by multiple and diverse necessities. An exhibition constructed with multiple projects to test the strength of that ideal community where the creative process of the contemporary artist is active. Dreams and Conflicts will not be a show about political art but a reflection on the politics of art. The experience of the viewer facing the unique vision of the artist. Two contemporary subjects divided simply by a different gaze.

Exhibition: Z.O.U. - Zone of Urgency

Curator: Hou Hanru 

The explosive expansion of urban spaces are the most dynamic and challenging aspects in our mutating world today due to the human population spiraling out of control. Cities have become a collage of zones, created out of urgent demands instead of regular planning. Urgent solutions have to be invented and put in practice in order to create conditions that will stimulate interactions and moreover, social growth.

Artists, intellectuals, activists, in groups or as individuals, along with architects and urban planners, are struggling to create projects, actions and works to negotiate with this reality. It’s out of this process, new ideas and works are generated and become essential elements of redefinition of contemporary art, culture, knowledge and modes of life while spaces for imagination and innovation are opened.

The project - Z.O.U: Zone of Urgency - under the general theme of Dreams and Conflicts proposed by Francesco Bonami, intends to articulate this urgency-response interactive tendency in today’s art experiments and works, notably by those acting in the Asia-Pacific regions.

About 40 artists were invited to participate in the project with multimedia works ranging from painting to installation, from video to performance, from internet website to architectural design. Only a few of their works can be show in this post.

Artist: Tsang Tsou-Cho. Lived in Hong Kong.
Statement: Tsang Tsou-Choi was (before he died) the oldest graffiti artist in the world. He wrote Chinese characters on public installations all over Hong Kong. He proclaimed himself - "King of Kowloon" - and was arrested many times. His works have become an identity of Hong Kong culture.

A Street Sign Of Tsang Tsou-Choi.
Medium: Black paint on tin.

Artists And Title: Young-Hae Chang (Seoul) & Marc Voge (USA) - Projection Of A Web Art Project.
Medium: Digital Slides.
Statement: "Web art tries to express the essence of the Internet: information. Strip away the interactivity, the graphics, the design, the photos, the banners, the colors, the fonts and the rest, and what's left? The text."

Artist And Title: Huang Yong Ping - Bat Project I & II (2001 – 2002).
Medium: Models, sketches, documents, photographs and video clips.
Statement: Both of Huang Yong Ping’s Bat Projects are original large replicas of segments from the US spy plane EP-3, a.k.a. the "bat“, which collided with a Chinese fighter plane on 1st April 2001 over the South China Sea. Only after lengthy negotiations was the crew, which had been forced to land on the island of Hainan, permitted to return to the US. The Chinese took the airplane apart and allowed it be taken back to the US in a freight carrier, but dismantled and packed into containers. This was a humiliation for the superpower.

Artist And Title: Shu Lea Cheang (Taiwan, lives in USA) – Burn (2003).
Installation: Networked computers with CD burners, silkscreen printed blank Cds, pirated Cds, digital photograph prints.

Artist And Title: Heri Dono (Indonesia) - Trojan Cow (2003).
Media: Mixed media, painting – size 300 x 350 cm; puppet: 400 cm x 420 cm.

Artists And Title: Sora Kim & Gimhongsoh (South Korea) - Chronic Historical Interpretation Syndrome (CHIS) (2003).
Installation: Size: 250 x 250 x 478 cm.

National Exhibition - Kenya
The official press release states proudly that Kenya's participation marks the first time in which an East African country was represented at the Venice Biennale. This may well be due, primarily, to the initiative of one of the two artists – Armando Tanzinin.

Armando Tanzini was born in Italy, where he also completed his artistic training. He has lived in Kenya for years, obtained Kenyan citizenship, and is active principally in the tourism field, but also as an architect and an artist in his own right. According to his biography, some of his works can be found in the collection of Kenya's president.

Since Tanzini placed himself and his Africanized works at the center of the exhibition, the second artist, Richard Onyango, was literally pushed into a corner. Nevertheless, Armando Tanzini’s wood sculptures were lively and stunning. He created them by collecting driftwood from the beaches of Kenya.

Artist And Title: A. Tanzini - Horse.
Medium: Wooden Sculpture.

Artist And Title: A. Tanzini - Horse (in situ).
Medium: Wooden Sculpture.

Artist And Title: A. Tanzini - Horus.
Medium: Wooden Sculpture.

Artist And Title: A. Tanzini – Elephant Head.
Medium: Wooden Sculpture.

Artist And Title: A. Tanzini – Elephant Head and Maiden.
Mixed Media: Mainly a wooden sculpture with aluminium foil.

Artist And Title: A. Tanzini – Mohammed Horse (Full View).
Medium: Wooden Sculpture.

Artist And Title: A. Tanzini – Mohammed Horse (Detailed View).
Medium: Wooden Sculpture.

Exhibition: The Twentieth Century in Algerian Art

Curator: Ramón Tio Bellido

The "Year of Algeria in France" was a fit occasion to stage an exhibition that retraced the tracks of the history of modern and contemporary fine arts in Algeria. The exhibition was aimed at acquainting the public with Algerian artists and their works produced since the 1920s in order to showcase the particularities, biases, and specificities connected to Algeria.

The origins of Algerian art history are associated with the rebirth of the miniature, which is embedded in the artworks of Azouaou Mammeri, Abdelhalim Hemche, and Mohamed Temmam. They confirmed attempts to appropriate elements of modern art, from Impressionism to Fauvism, and to develop a distinct Algerian iconographic language.

This generation of Algerian artists embraced other more personal or autodidact proposals of which the best-known representative is Haddad Fatma Baya Mahieddine (Baya), who exhibited at the Galerie Aimé Maeght as early as the 1940s.

Mohamed Louail, or Choukri Mesli imposed and pursued work that asserted its importance once Algeria became independent again. It seemed necessary to the curator to present Algerian artists who were members of the "diaspora". Samta Benyahia, who lives in France, and Houria Niati, based in London since 1977, were selected since they are the most representative of the younger self-exiled artists.

Finally, the exhibition introduced a generation born in France after 1962: here from the many artists represented in that group, the curator selected works by Zineb Sedira, who was born in Paris but lives in London, and whose work interrogates issues of feminine representation in Arab-Moslem and Western cultures.

Artist And Title: Houria Niati - No to torture (1982).
Media: Triptych, oil and acrylic on canvas.

Artist And Title: Choukri Mesli - Femme scorpion (1967
Media: Oil on canvas.

Artist And Title: Mohamed Louaïl - No Title (1958
Media: Oil on wood.

Artist And Title: Mohamed Khadda - Alphabet libre (1954).
Media: Oil on canvas.

Artist And Title: Baya - Femme et Oiseau en Cage (1945).
Media: Gouache on paper.

Artist And Title: Mohamed Temmam - L'Homme en Bleu (1968
Media: Oil on canvas.

Artist And Title: Abdelhalim Hemche - Reflets d'Afrique noire (1951)
Media: Oil on canvas.

Artist And Title: Samta Benyahialger – Marseille (2002/03
Mixed Media: Pearls, Nylon and Tulle.

Artist And Title: Zineb Sedira - Self-portrait Or The Trinity (2000
Media: Photographs.

Artist And Title: Ammar Bouras - Stridences, sang commentaires (2002/03
Media: Video, silk-screen prints.

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