Monday, 15 June 2009

Losing it in Venice

What can I say about Venice Biennale 2009? Crazy, amazing, peculiar, debauched - but definitely not boring. Even if I did lose my mobile in one of the canals on my first night there I still had fantastic time. OK, I admit that losing ten years worth of telephone numbers (yes, I know - I should have backed them up) and the prospect of being without a mobile for a week might have put me in a bit of a bad mood for a while, but the circus that is Venice Biennale soon put pay to that.

I travelled over with fellow artist, James White, and in no time at all we bumped into several groups of people we knew or were about to know. It seemed that half of the London art scene was there. Our first night back at Camp Fusina, we popped over to the cabin opposite to borrow a corkscrew and found a room full of artists that we knew from back home. We also hooked up with the girls from WW Gallery and Pharos Gallery’s Sophie Wilson (who I partly blame for me losing my phone – things always get out of hand when she’s around) who curated the short lived ‘Travelling Light’ exhibition. The highlight of their opening night seemed to be when our Miss Wilson (who may or may not have been in a slightly intoxicated state) decided to clamber aboard a boat and then had to be helped off by a mysterious Russian who stripped naked and swam across the canal to her aid.

As for the artwork on show through out the Biennale – there were highs and lows (but mostly highs). Although there was the odd country that hadn’t quite grasped the concept of the whole event and just decided to stage a corporate-looking promotion of their home land, the vast majority really went for it. Of the collateral exhibitions I especially liked ‘Distortion’ from the UK, not just because it had work by some of my favourite artists but because they also had a very chilled out bar and nicely sheltered courtyard where we got to hang out with and meet lots of interesting people. And opposite from Distortion was the ‘Australia’ participation with one of the most impressive pieces I’d seen – a 30 ton monolith made out of video tapes, with the collective running time of all these tapes apparently lasting the current average life span. The most fun pieces that we came across had to be the interactive works by Miranda July (if you haven’t seen it, check out her film, ‘Me and You and Everyone We Know’). On the whole, there was just so much there that I could talk about - from the surprisingly moving Estonian entry about the Bronze Soldier Monument to the mesmerizing and roughly hewn, figurative wooden sculptures at the Italian pavilion - but the best plan would just be to go there for yourself and see as much as you can. And if you intend to go to the next one in two years time, my word of advice would be to go at the very beginning and crash as many of the opening parties as you can.
Several times I heard people mention that the Venice Biennale is like the art version of the Oscars. Well, I’ve never been to the Oscars but if they’re half as much fun as this was, they must be blood good.

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