As I have been there on many occasions, I'd decided that I would take an alternative mode of travel and have an adventure on the way. We planned our train route through Europe, first a stop in Paris for the day on the Eurostar. Our planned activity in the city was to visit the Pompidou.
Here I saw one of the best exhibitions I’ve seen over the past year. Mike Kelley’s first retrospective since his death last year was an exhilarating show comprised of more than a hundred pieces of his work made between 1974 and 2011. Although the show was cram packed the curation allowed for space between the works and for dialogue between each piece. Kelley’s disturbing video work, Devil's Door, 2004-2005, shows a young boy going to a barbers and being monstrously treated by camp, and vile barbers who tell the blonde angelic boy that he has a furry vagina beard. Behind this video installation was another film featuring the golden haired angel boy, titled Nativity Play 2004-2005, see’s the artist use a found photograph of a school nativity as a starting point for the film. He creates a fictional score, script and set for the absurd school play and the children seem very awkward and disturbed. For me, the mesmerising part of this video was a complete stage backdrop with fake lambs and the Star of Bethlehem that was installed behind the film work. His drawings feature heavily in the show, made in pencil and ink, they are particularly relevant to my current body of work and were very inspiring. The show climaxed with an installation of his city scape series that depict the fictional city of Kandor where Superman came from. Here he is exploring the notion of an idealised world, a magical place where everyone is good. This piece is approached with the typical black humour that can be found throughout this retrospective.
We travelled from Gare De Lyon station to Venice on the overnight sleeper, cutting through France, the Alps and into Italy through the dead of night. Our cabin slept four adults comfortably, and it was a romantic, old-fashioned way to travel. I was back in the jewelled city on the water, raring to sink my teeth into the international peacock pageant of contemporary artwork. This time however, I seemed time poor and missed an awful lot despite my best efforts to see as much as I could. Below are my Venice Biennale Highlights:
Berlinde De Bruyckere, Cripplewood, 2012-2013
As you walk into a dark space with peculiar sepia lighting the smell of wax hits you. This had a nostalgic quality for me and reminded me of making beeswax candles at Llanciach fawr in Wales. What is most striking about this pavilion is that the artist appointed a noted writer, J.M. Coetzee, winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature, to serve as curator and artistic collaborator. His text lines the walls of entrance to the show and are an exciting read.
Firstly you had to weave your way through a concrete maze at the rear of the pavilion, to then be greeted by a large and immersive film installation that follows three men through a replica city of Paris. The film work was exquisite, but what excited me the most was the use of pink lighting and concrete brick that supported the films setting and made the work a complete installation, rather than a film in a space.
Richard Mosse, The Enclave
A must see, the Irish artist presents a moving film and sound installation of life in war torn Congo. Filmed in the infrared that military use to spot camouflage creates a post apocalyptic scene of a chaotic place surrounded by death. The sound work is thrilling and is taken from field recordings and worked to make an eerie sound piece.
Bedwyr Williams, The Starry Eyed Messenger
The floor extends into a wall and you can see into it. It took a while for me to discover how I could get beyond the marble dashed gauze and into the next installation. A lone whimper comes from a loser in an observatory- maybe he missed the opportunity to see his favourite star. A coloured light from over yonder beckons you to leave his private observing behind and you enter a water cavern, beyond this is a big purple cave with stalactites that my tall companion had to dodge as he nearly got knocked out. I remembered trips to Dan Yr Ogof caves throughout my childhood where I was petrified of entering a dark, cold cavernous space with water trickling over me. Furthermore, the fake cavemen that the day trip site had hung from the roof of the cave and who appeared to be falling into a pool of water left me screaming as a girl.
William’s film, was equally disturbing- particularly the idea of turning into a smooth and bulbous pebble stuck in between a rock and a hard place. I was reminded of my joy at Mike Kelley’s work in Paris and his use of film, spectacle, black humour and lighting. I am a big theme park fan and love being guided by trickery through spaces and experience, much like when you cue for a ride at Alton Towers and they feed you a narrative. I can’t get enough of it, so this work was right up my street.
Jasmina Cibic, For Our Economy and Culture
The highlight of the Biennale for me was the work by Slovenian artist Jasmina Cibic. For Our Economy and Culture explores the concept of national representation through film and installation. At the end of a narrow calle you face a window, which you can see contemporary and historical paintings behind, emblazoned across the window in iron is the statement:
For Our Economy and Culture.
You walk through a curtain into a wallpapered space with a video projection. The walls and curtains are covered in black insects, each curve and fold in the wallpaper highlighting the architectural details of the space.
The video work seemed like a retro staging of official conversations by Slovenian officials about the artist chosen to represent the pavilion. The film work was much like the work of Gerard Byrne’s; in visuals and in that it represents a historical narrative.
We end our trip with a few days in Rome to stay with Irish artist Cian Donnelly who has settled into life in this ancient city after going to the British School in Rome five years ago. Cian will be making work in Wales next November for Experimentica, Wales leading performance art festival. One of the main reasons for this visit, apart from hanging out with Cian, was to see the famous Trevi Fountain. I am planning on making a body of work sometime in the near future about water features and their relationships to cities.
I am very grateful to Wales Arts International for making this trip a reality. It reminds me of the importance of sending people to see, experience and represent. It is vital FOR OUR ECONOMY AND CULTURE.