So after way too long (a holiday and ill health, blog on that to follow) here is the third part of the Venice experience, apologies for those of you who have been waiting, the final part will follow shortly.
This morning I awoke groggy. I got up and enjoyed the delights of my bathroom, and was out and ready for some more art. At least, I was trying to persuade both body and brain I was!
There were a couple of the main pavilions that I had not seen on Wednesday, so I started out back at the Giardini. What a luxury early arrival was! The queue looked huge and I hate queues with a passion, but with 30 exhibitions inside the people just disappeared, and I saw the much talked about USA Pavilion alone.
Mark Bradford’s Tomorrow is Another Day explores the time of crisis in which we live. You enter the building, not through the grand neoclassical entrance, with its allusions to the White House, but through the side (workman’s) entrance and are immediately confronted by Spoiled Foot, the ceiling protruding down to the floor, leaving you on the periphery of the room (society?). The materials are all recycled and blasted with a pressure hose. This is effective work creating real impact on me.
The other rooms provoked equally strong emotions, and I particularly liked the video installation Niagara. Based on Marilyn Monroe’s famous (apparently) walk in the 1953 film of the same name, it features Melvin, an African American man who walks confidently and comfortable in his body, jovial in his ‘differences’ defying the threat of violence amid the world as it is.
I also felt a strong affinity with the Romanian artist Geta Brătescu’s exhibition Apparitions. Born in 1926, the exhibition was based around two subjects, The Studio and Reflection on Female Subjectivity. I loved her use of womanhood, motherhood, the female body and memory as subjects, and her use of collage and her fine, neat, exact work in Faust was beautiful and really inspiring.
The streets of Venice are complicated. The temptation to jump on a boat between venues was high. There are so many streets, and so many bridges, you do have to be in the right street with the right bridge in order to cross to the next section. My map was ok, but without the help of Google to ultimately locate myself, I would have been very lost on a number of occasions.
Having decided to walk, however, I thought it rude not to walk through the Piazza San Marco (I was wrong, it was, obviously, a tourist haven. Packed full of them, not looking where they are going, mostly stationary, oblivious to everyone around them. Ggrrr…) But for any of you who haven’t been there before, I quickly (so as not to stop the traffic) took this disappointingly mediocre photo for you!
My next destination was the Diaspora Pavilion. Having watched the BBC Documentary ‘Venice Biennale: Britains’s New Voices’, there was work I really wanted to see. What struck me very early on in the exhibition was the large and prominent signs saying:
‘In this exhibition we do not tolerate
any offensive behaviour
towards invigilators and visitors.
We have zero tolerance for all forms of
sexual, racial, harassment, religion, age
related or gender discrimination’.
I wonder if these were put up thinking they may have need for it, or have been put up after finding a need for it. Neither way is good.
The idea of the Diaspora Pavilion came from David A. Bailey and David Lammy (then Minister for Culture) in 2007, to combat the white western domination of art in general, but more specifically at the Venice Biennale, a so called world stage, where there has always been an absence of diversity. This year only 7 of the 54 African nations are represented and it was Nigeria’s debut Biennale.
The Diaspora Pavilion, as part of a project called Diaspora Platform, has bought together 12 British-based, emerging artists whose narratives explore key issues such as nationalism, identity and belonging. They were given support by established artists and, amongst other things, the chance to exhibit at the Venice Biennale 2017, alongside their mentors.
Having watched the documentary, there were a couple of artists I was particularly interested in, and there were a few whose work also caught my attention.
Babara Walker’s Transcended (2017) was not a disappointment. This site specific work is drawn in charcoal on the walls of the stairwell. Depicting neglected figures from black British history, Transcended is a tribute to the contribution of the West Indies Regiment who served in the First World War. At the end of the war the regiment was transferred to Italy, where they suffered racial discrimination, leading to violence, resentment, uprising and mutiny. Having volunteered their services, they were badly mistreated, and this work gives them a final parade they were denied.
Yinka Shonibare MBE is one of the mentors. His The British Library (2014) really caught my eye, probably not because of the library set up, complete with chairs, tables, iPads etc, but more for the aesthetic beauty of the books upon the shelves.
Those who know me well will know my bookshelves are all colour coded (fantastic unless you don’t know the spine colour of the book you want!), so these books, all covered in incredible coloured material, were right up my street. Thousands of books, each bearing a name on the spine belonging to a person of diverse heritage who has made significant contribution to British life and culture, or is a prominent figure who has opposed immigration.
Susan Pui San Lok’s art was fun. The entrance to the pavilion was through gold floor to ceiling streamers, creating a real sense of joviality and mystery, kitsch glamour contrasting the grandeur of the venetian building. Her installation of a 70’s style pink bathroom (this time the entire room filled with the gold shimmering curtain, reacting both in light and movement to the bodies passing through them) was similarly thrilling, and although I admit I didn’t have the brain space to take in the deeper meaning of this work, I had been moved in a fun way, and for me, right then, this was enough.
Issac Julien’s film The Leopard (Western Union: small boats) caught my attention too. A film made back in 2007 about African and Asian asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean Sea, possibly even more relevant now than when the film was made. The section of the film I saw was set in a magnificent and grand house and I was drawn in by a scene of a man on a tiled floor. The tiles depicted scenes of a storm at sea, and the film cut between the man writhing around on the tiles, as if drowning in the water and him actually under water struggling to stay alive. The film was powerful and beautiful, while also dark and harrowing.
Khadija Saye was the youngest of the emerging artists, at just 24. Dwelling: in this space we breathe is a series of six photographs of the artist herself, each with a traditional Gambian object, blessed in ritual tradition by a faith healer. The work was made as a need to find spiritual grounding in her life as the descendent of both a Muslim and a Christian, and the images were made using wet plate collodion tintypes, producing a unique image, the final version of which is even out of control of the creator. The images contain a transcendent sense of peace and beauty.
Khadije died, alongside her mother Mary Mendy, in the Grenfell Tower fire. As a result of this exhibition her work was sold and she was in talks with prominent galleries. By all accounts she had a bright and successful future ahead of her, and in her own words: ‘It’s been a real journey, tears shed, highs and lows, but mama, I’m an artist exhibiting at the Venice Biennale and the blessings are abundant!’
RIP Khadije x