Cymru yn Fenis / Wales in Venice, Ludoteca Santa Maria Ausiliatrice, Venice, Wednesday, 12 August 2015
with briefs by Simone Leigh and Mariam Ghani
Artist Ellie Harrison (self-)critically responds to the Biennale experience and the PRESS ROOM project.
I felt a little guilty about my trip to Venice as part of the EM15 project Doug Fishbone’s Leisure Land Golf. Competing in the art world’s original Olympics (albeit on behalf of the underdogs: team East Midlands), made me feel as though I was compromising my values somewhat. Over the past decade (since my last trip to Venice as a naïve and enthusiastic art-tourist in 2005), I’ve been attempting to live my values and actively address my concerns about climate change by “thinking globally and acting locally” as the old saying goes. Trying to cut my carbon footprint (and increase my sense of belonging) by observing the Biennale phenomenon from a critical distance and, instead, taking pride in being a ‘national artist’ (better still a ‘regional artist’). This means less about representing my region on a ‘world stage’ and more about building meaningful relationships with arts organisations, supportive curators and communities to create and present socially relevant work close to where we all live.
But in 2015 my ego got the better of me, when I gladly accepted the invitation to be part of Doug Fishbone’s quirky project. As my fellow EM15 artist Yara El-Sherbini and I acknowledged on arrival at our beautiful apartment in the fairytale city to find our artworks already fabricated and installed on our behalf: it’s clear the more “successful” you become as an artist, the less work you have to do for greater reward. This was the best paid gig I’d ever been offered: £2,000 fee, £3,000 production, travel and accommodation plus a daily stipend (part of what made it so irresistible). But it got me thinking about the total amount of money being spent – not just on the EM15 pavilion, but in the Biennale as a whole. Was this really the best way of investing regional / national arts budgets? Sucking money away from local communities by shipping slick artworks (and high profile artists) to another, fairly inaccessible part of the world. How much carbon was this exercise in ‘soft power’ producing?
Hmmm… how could I address these issues? Kinda tricky through the medium of a crazy golf hole! Instead I reverted to the perennial artist-activist tactics of attempting to ‘practice what I preach’ and then ‘biting the hand that feeds me’. I first tried to minimise the impact of my own participation by taking the 23 hour trip from Glasgow to Venice via train. But realising this to be a relatively tokenistic gesture in the grand scheme of things, I then chose to acknowledge my own stupidity by designing a t-shirt emblazoned with my new slogan for the artworld: Think Local, Act Global! – i.e. the absolute opposite of what we need to be doing to address climate change. My obnoxious Biennale character (always clad in shades, quaffing a Prosecco with a gorgeous gal on each arm) began as a critique, but after four days of absorbing the decadence – being plied with free alcohol and food – I realised how quickly I could turn to the dark side, (get fat and sick), and lose sight of my values in the process.
Venice is not the place for real ‘political art’. This is something Doug and I discussed over dinner on our final night: nearly all gestures become impotent in those very particular surroundings, far removed from the reality of most people’s everyday lives. The Guardian headline “Marx for the Millionaires” beautifully captures the contradictions inherent in Okwui Enwezor’s sincere centrepiece show. (From what I got to see, only Christoph Büchel’s intervention successfully addresses the context of the ‘historic city’ in a meaningful and provocative way). Where Doug Fishbone’s Leisure Land Golf succeeds however, is in its knowing decision to give the Venice audience exactly what it seeks / deserves: unashamed entertainment. The joke is on them, ultimately, for taking part (see Tim Marlow taking a shot here).
And so PRESS ROOM’s valiant attempt to inject some criticality into the coverage of the Biennale – to mobilise artists at Venice for some greater political cause (see Gaynor Flynn’s Artists For Nepal) – also seemed futile. What became painfully clear when discussing these issues with a group of UK artists at their ‘press briefing’ on Thursday 7 May – sitting eating croissants in a charming café in San Marco on the day of our General Election – was that the real ‘political artists’ had stayed at home.
Breakfast press briefings on the second morning of PRESS ROOM ranged from the UK General Election, questions on ‘the zeitgeist’ and originality and a shared concern to respond to the crisis in Nepal.
Peter Heslip (Director Visual Arts, Arts Council England), Candice Jacobs (Artist and Founder, One Thorsby Street), Stuart Cameron (Director Crescent Arts and Curator of Wales in Venice), Jane Lawson (Artist) and Christoperh Kulendran Thomas (Artist) presented the following briefs to the audience of artist-investigators and citizen journalists:
Who has voted today? @pheslip
Create the demands for #divestvenice2017 @pheslip
If the world of appearances are just a set of illusions then everything is smoke and mirrors. @Candice_Jacobs
Our subconscious mind is part of the crowd and releases a collective desire in conjunction with a desire for collectivity. @Candice_Jacobs
The ultimate human condition and its relationship to consumption, technology, power and control. @Candice_Jacobs
Collectivity as a state of hypnosis where conscious personality is lost. @Candice_Jacobs
Collectivity as a state of unconsciousness that relieves us of the fear of individuation. @Candice_Jacobs
Your existential climax is your attainment of divinity. @Candice_Jacobs
exiles from the garden explore the periphery – Stuart Cameron @crescent_arts
Christopher Kulendran Thomas
Who funds the Venice Biennale?
Break down (or estimate) the make-up of private vs public funding of the Biennalel. What is the budget of the Venice Biennale organisation itself for this year’s biennial as a proportion of the total costs of putting on the Biennale (which would include, for example, the costs borne by national pavilions through public funding as well as by commercial galleries and patrons specific to each presentation).
How does the inclusion of national pavilions over time relate to global balances of political power?
Stop playing around with art chat: pavilion, navigate, disbelieve @AkermanDaly
Write a proposal for a new kind of pavilion in 56 words @AkermanDaly
Venice is a living museum where art points at meanings @AkermanDaly
VB: vanity blossoms. Arty partays portray the indulgences of Those that Chose, How to Please, What Sells, and Vapid Betokenisms.
Event conflict: Opening week at the Venice Biennale where art and creativity are celebrated or the British General Election where the arts are not taken seriously? The creative industries bring over £76 billion per year to the UK economy. The Tory government have done all it can to undermine art education. Vote on the 7th of May to stop the systematic sidelining of the arts (do it by postal vote if you are in Venice)…. @jvoorsanger
In 2005 a controversial plan to replace the Bexhill-On-Sea crazy golf course with a Boutique Hotel led to me prudently installing my own crazy golf course into the adjacent, just refurbished, listed, modernist De La Warr Pavilion, thereby preserving the town’s cultural heritage. Here is a video and a review of the installation.
At the 2015 Venice Biennale artist Doug Fishbone is installing a crazy golf course.
My Press Room creative brief is to compare and contrast the rationales behind each work, look for clues, gather evidence, and decide if Doug’s piece is either a case of:
C) Asynchronous Co-Composition*
All reportage will be used to help contextualise my forthcoming commission – to install a Crazy Golf course in Rafael Vinoly’s landmark Firstsite building in Colchester (the town’s crazy golf course has just been demolished) which opens in June.
Thank you in advance for your help.
How can politically ambitious art escape the bounds of representation and move into real world effects? @MsJaneLawson
Mike Chavez Dawson
Venice Biennale donates to Nepalese Earth Quake disaster and encourage wealthy patrons to donate 20% of their annual netprofit! @MCD_Artist
PRESSROOM launched in Venice today with a series of briefings from Guest Editors. Follow @pressroomvenice to hear our artist-investigators responses!
Art party or party art? @kclSoriano
Belonging in the future occupies which @ARTISTROOMS?
Biennale announces hypnotists to be employed as invigilators. Deeper experience promised. @rhmparry
Documentary to begin filming at Venice today exploring what it describes as ‘honey without the bees’. Feature interview. @rhmparry
Critic mauled by rogue family of gerbils. Scenes of pandemonium. @rhmparry
Biennale to issue artists with canoes in bid for efficiency push. online exclusive. @rhmparry
Dealer and gallery director in selfie stick shame. We have the pictures. @rhmparry
Parallel underwater art fair announced to coincide with biennale. Titled floated as ‘Venlantis’. @rhmparry
Sparks fly over so-called ‘performative text incident’. @rhmparry
Royal couple announce baby as artwork and will form basis of next British pavilion show. @rhmparry
Colony of eagles reported nesting near giardini. Artists and public advised not to feed. @rhmparry
Large nebulous artwork accidentally seen by outsider tourist – quizzical looks observed. @rhmparry
Conclave of collectors spotted in bidding war over most hyped artwork using vongole shells for chips. What did you see? @rhmparry
Emerging artist reported stuck in plant pot. Send us your pictures. @rhmparry
Art writer seen scrawling illegible semi-anarchic graffiti on palazzo door at 4am slurring that going to art parties is the new situationism. Fresh reports. @rhmparry
Four walls, one artist, seven curators, five dealers, eight collectors with spouses, plus a pastry chef. What did you hear? @rhmparry
Mestre decides to sever all links to the lagoon declaring ‘the lion just got up and walked onto the mainland’. Full report to follow. @rhmparry
The Wunderkammer of Venice
The 2013 Venice Biennale had the Wunderkammer as its curatorial focus. Massimiliano Gionithe’s Encyclopedic Palace. This year the 56th year of the Bienale, Okwui Enwezor has created a show entitled All the Worlds Futures, a title that to me conjures a post-war ethos and the spirit of the United Nations.
First opened in 1895 and first International in 1907, overtaken in the
1930s as is evidenced by the majority of Fascist chic pavilions.
In 1974 the biennale was dedicated to Chile as a political statement to Pinochet and in 2013 Udo Kittelman the director of the Nationalgalerie, State Museums of Berlin included the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in the German pavilion.
For me the biennale will always be a Wunderkammer; an (often male) curator’s vision of a perfect world in miniature. Sometimes the Wunderkammer of the 1600s were completely invented in the mind and didn’t exist in reality at all. Often like Sloane’s they held a herbarium. Venice itself has the atmosphere of an overwhelming and supernatural island that deserves its own collection of curiosities. Your brief for Venice is to visit, read or collect as many of these as you can and create your own biennale Wunderkammer.
Ostaria al Marghelo
Caffè Florian (expensive looking can suffice!)
Swimming at the Lido
Peggy Guggenheim’s house
Arena Chapel at Padova
Natural History Museum
Prostitute spotting on the way in.
Pick some flowers and press them
Collect some water from the Grand Canal
Films and books to read and art to look at:
Venice, by Jan Morris
Casanova’s History of My Life,
Don’t Look Now, Death in Venice, The Comfort of Strangers, The Leopard, any Visconti, John Singer Sargent, Watteau in Venice by Phillippe Sollers, Anne Rice’s Cry to Heaven, Candide, Othello, Merchant of Venice, Fellini’s Casanova
Get exhausted. Traipse. Saturate yourself. See the whole biennale @JoanneMasding
Use stealth. Sneak. Make yourself invisible. See underneath the biennale @JoanneMasding
Rise above. Fly. Find yourself a bird’s eye view. See the biennale straight on @JoanneMasding
Calling all investigators to consider what could be socially relevant art in the context of Venice 2015? @PeckhamPlatform