Laura Ford - Glory Glory - seen here
I went to a symposium called On Venice/Ar Fenis at the Taliesin Arts Centre in Swansea today. It was an opportunity for artists and arts professionals to review and reconsider Wales' contributions to the Venice Biennale over the last four events. Wales was first represented in Venice in 2003. In the spirit created by the referendum for political devolution in Wales in 1997, and the creation of the Welsh Assembly Government, it seemed at that time to be a ripe nexus of opportunity for the visual arts. Wales had found a voice, critical debates were fermenting, polemics had been issued.
In the aftermath of the 2010 General Election and the sobering financial cuts heading down the line for the Arts Council of Wales, it felt particularly relevant to spend the day considering the successes and disappointments of Wales' Venice participation and the relevance of a continuing presence. The presentations and discussions were forthright and open, and it was good to have issues voiced and debated. Culture Colony have filmed the event and it is now available to view in six parts.
There was a nostalgic consensus that the most successful year was 2005, when Karen MacKinnon from the Glynn Vivian Gallery in Swansea was the curator. That year saw Peter Finnemore, Laura Ford and Paul Granjon participating with Bedwyr Williams in residence during the months of the biennale show. I saw the show at Oriel Davies Gallery when it toured in Wales and really enjoyed it.
Venice has been important for Wales; for the artists working here and the visual arts institutions. It creates a benchmark, raises expectations, stimulates excellence and allows the country to think expansively and optimistically in an international context. It has also revealed some of the things the sector needs to address to consolidate that momentum - issues of infrastructure, focus and critical debate.
I wrote about my visit to the Welsh event at the 2009 Venice Biennale here. The show was generally badly received internally and in the arts press, it was arguably quite damaging to Wales' international reputation. In light of this and in the spirit of optimism for the future - clarity of thought and purpose seem an imperative in such straightened times.