Sunday, 26 June 2011

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.

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