Thursday, 30 June 2011

Chiharu Shiota - Memory of Books

Chiharu Shiota - Memory of Books

On the opposite side of the canal from the Wales Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in Castello, Haunch of Venison has commissioned Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota to install a site specific work in the Gervasuti Foundation building. A dense web of suspended threads envelope the books which the artist found on site. I've seen Shiota's work many times online so I was delighted to get an opportunity to see a piece in person, especially in such an evocative space. 

Memory of Books: a short film with Chiharu Shiota from Haunch of Venison on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Mike Nelson in Venice

One of the things I was really looking forward to at The Venice Biennale was the opportunity to see the work made for The British Pavilion by installation artist, Mike Nelson,  I, Impostor. I queued for an hour and a half as only a few people are allowed in at a time, luckily it was well worth the wait. Nelson has gone to work on the classic interior of the pavilion with incredible attention to detail to alter the building beyond recognition. 

Nelson has taken as his starting point a piece of work he undertook in 2003 for the Istanbul Biennale, The current work re-imagines the former piece and reconstructs it using salvaged materials from the original site and from Venice. He makes parallels between the history and trade function of the two locations. 

It took him and a small team three months to construct the installation. He has created a dark and sleazy interior, a backstreet workshop in a Turkish city. He sets up the space with claustrophobic rooms, stairs and corridors. The first room suggests a workshop perhaps repairing crystal chandeliers...this could just be a front though; as you venture further it starts to feel less legitimate. Dingy, dirty...someone lives here or at least sleeps here. Upstairs there is a workshop strewn with tools, a portable TV hisses white noise, detuned. Corners are stacked with junk machinery and salvaged scrap. 

A darkroom glows red, a forest of developed photographs hang on washing lines drying in the roof. You can smell the chemicals -it feels obsessive...why all these images, why so many? What is being sought or being recorded? Who is the imposter ofthe work's title? This is at the core of Nelson's work - he sets us up with a living, breathing space and invites us to imagine what has happened or what might happen there, we create our own story. His meticulous attention to detail right down to the fixtures and fittings helps us suspend our disbelief. He makes copious reference to films and books to help us recognise the language of suspense and the building narrative.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Karla Black - Scotland + Venice

The Venice Biennale is a lot like the most fantastic sweet shop, one is horribly spoiled for choice. It takes some while to digest the fayre and come to a sensible conclusion about what one has seen and experienced.  Possibly my favourite confection was sculptor, Karla Black at the Scottish Pavilion. I'm using that analogy for good purpose, because the work itself actually does have the feeling of confectionary or 'Lush' cosmetics.

I had trouble finding the Scottish Pavilion, it is placed in a confusing little maze of streets and on my first attempt I found it just as the door was locked for the evening. Undeterred, I headed back the next morning and it STILL took me ages to find it...and then climb the endless stairs. I wasn't feeling terribly well disposed for a positive experience, but even before I reached the door I could smell the artwork - fizzy, fruity, soapy cosmetics. Walking in to the show I was confronted with an absurd and lovely landscape of pastel colours, towers and bulbous paper forms, powdery sugar like pigments, oversized cellophane wrapping and drapes of plastic. The network of little rooms either side of the main gallery space housed paper works suspended in space and fields of brown soil populated with big sculptural blocks of soap.

Karla Black calls these works 'almost objects' and considers them to be '...caught between thoughtless gestures and seriously obsessive attempts at beauty.' They are unashamedly about material, physical stuff - they are thoroughly sensual and tactile. The main space at the 15th Century Palazzo Pisani which houses the show is decorated in unusual ice-cream colours, I asked the attendant if Karla Black had responded to this with the work, but she assured me that the connection was purely serendipitous. If so, it's a lovely, playful exchange.

The show made me that ok??  Playful, honest joyfulness is relatively thin on the ground in the artworld - it feels almost wrong. I was delighted with the femininity of the work - feminine not feminist, it manages to transcend the angst of feminism and the issues of being a female artist, it is effortlessly confident and assertive. On a deeper level Black is using ideas about psychology and quantum science, and these concepts are perfectly realised in the work but cleverly balanced with its pure materiality.

Tim Davies @ Venice Biennale

The Welsh Pavilion has found a new home for the 54th Venice Biennale. Having been slightly off the beaten track on Guidecca for previous manifestations it now nestles between the two main exhibition spaces, Arsenale and Giardini at The Ludoteca Santa Maria AusiliatriceCastello. It's a fantastic location and a great space, a 16th Century ex-convent now run as a community centre.

The first artist to occupy this new location for Wales is Swansea based, Tim Davies. Davies was  a popular choice from the proposals submitted for representation and he has produced a solid and cohesive body of work including two new video pieces made especially for the show which directly reference his experience in Venice. Other works are from his portfolio including two video works along with his Bridges series of altered postcards. Davies has worked alongside his long time colleague as curator for this show, Tom Rowland. The curation of the show is subtly evident as remarked on by Dai Smith, Chairman of The Arts Council of Wales, in his opening speech, it has a symphonic quality which gives the work a building rhythm within the architecture.

I have always enjoyed the materiality of Davies work and the meticulous processes he uses in bringing it into being, so I was pleased that the show was not solely focused on video works. Bridges (2009 - 2011) is a series of 60 framed postcards of bridges in different locations, the artist has, by meticulous scratching, isolated each bridge from its landscape in so doing, drawing attention to its function and significance. The collection sits particularly well in Venice with its endless canals and little bridges, something one is only too well aware of when negotiating the labyrinthine streets.

The older works showing are films, Cadet (Running and Parade at Cardiff) 2010 and Cadet (Standing at Aberystwyth) 2006 both of which take the War Memorial and young cadets at Remembrance Day services as their subject in a reflection on the senselessness of losing young lives to war.

Tim Davies - Drift (2010)

The most iconic of the new works is arguably a new piece of work called Drift (2011) the film focuses on Davies hand as he travels along one of Venice's canals gently touching the surface of the water, we can see the reflection of the Venetian buildings, and the intervention of his hand touching the water constantly disturbs the image. It is beautiful, tender and meditative. I was quite enchanted on first viewing, however on subsequent viewings something unsettling began to emerge for me. Partly a little ripple of feminist disquiet - something about the nuances of the action, but also something about dilettantism - especially in the context of Venice as a destination on the Grand Tour. Maybe there is also a comment on the Biennale itself as an event with which visitors interact often quite superficially, seduced by its prestige, pedigree and the romanticism of its location.

The final work in the show is Frari (2011), a film made from collaged stills taken in the bell tower of the Campanile Santa Maria dei Frari. It has a painterly quality as the film builds through semi abstracted images. The soundtrack provides a tension and reminds us of the performative element involved in making the work. Of all the works it is the least didactic, it feels to be more about pure experience.

Tim Davies deserves this opportunity to represent his country and he has made a solid show for this new space which talks about place without tipping into the dangerous territory of sentimentality.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Rhodio - An intervention

Kathryn Campbell Dodd - A spoon is a spoon is a spoon... 

Last week I spent five days at the Venice Biennale during the opening week. I went partly to see my own work in situ at Rhodio, an artist-led group show in a restaurant, Pane Vino e San Daniele in Dorsoduro. The show ran from 30 May to 4 June and involved the work of 13 installation artists from Wales making an intervention into the space. 

Kathryn Campbell Dodd - A spoon is a spoon is a spoon (detail)

At first sight the restaurant space looked fairly untouched, other than the white cloths that Roger Lougher (the curator) had draped across the ornaments and objects belonging to the owners that had been left in situ, a subtle way of directing the visitor's attention to the works that were operating as 'art' in the space. The show was not invigilated, and visitors were left to find their own way around the work with the help of 'table talkers' - a small information sheet for each artist standing near the work.

I liked that quietness, the minimal impact on the environment. So much of the Venice Biennale shouts and jostles for attention, there was something rather subversive about the subtlety of the intervention. The Rhôd group of artists from whom those showing were selected, have been very much exploring ideas about 'place' - the urban rural dialogue; the centre and the periphery - and this was an interesting extension of that conversation. How does a loosely formed group of artists from urban Cardiff and rural west Wales take their discussion to a cultural hotspot like the biennale? What can we say about Wales in this unique place? How can we occupy a little corner of this exceptional art fair?

The show included work by: Michael Cousin, Ann Jordan, Kathryn Campbell Dodd,  Mike Murray, good cop bad cop, Jason Pinder, Kim Fielding, David Shepherd, Richard Higlett, Elizabeth Waterhouse, Penny Jones, Jacob Whittaker. It was curated by Roger Lougher and presented by Mari Beynon Owen.

Jacob Whittaker - A Welsh Stream

Jacob Whittaker, Cardigan based sound and video artist, installed three vinyl records in the show each tagged with a smart phone app that took you to his dedicated live webcasting site A Welsh Stream,  where you could access video from three locations in rural Wales including Melin Glonc where the Rhôd series of shows have been held.

Richard Higlett 

Cardiff based artist Richard Higlett used one of the sketches already in situ in the restaurant, a pencil sketch view of the Grand Canal, and created an inverted version of it as though a frogman's eye view of the scene and a comment on the popularity/folly of the biennale and the sinking of the city.

Penny Jones

Penny Jones took a pair of 16th Century poems - one in Welsh, one in Italian - and created a menu for the restaurant which contained the two. Bawdy and sexually explicit, they are written by women in a man's world. She also redesigned the restaurant logo to depict three pregnant women - one pushing a buggy. During the exhibition Penny made a short performance piece in which she played with the androgyny of a composite character, part woman, part Gondolier. 

Penny Jones

Curator, Roger Lougher showed pieces from his series of altered health and safety signs.

Roger Lougher