Friday, 1 July 2011

Venice Biennale 2011 - Roundup

Three weeks after my trip to The Venice Biennale all the little thoughts and the sensory delights are beginning to settle into place. Here is a fragmentary summary of a few of my favourite shows and works.

America's offering Gloria, features work by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. Every now and again a deep, ominous rumbling and squealing can be heard across the Giardini, in fact it is a piece of performance that takes place at set intervals outside the American Pavilion. An upturned desert tank sits with its massive caterpillar tracks in the air; affixed to them is a running machine on which an olympic athlete, in American colours begins to run. As he does so the tank tracks begin to turn and grind. It's an uneasy sight - surprising and funny, but then the clean-cut perfection of the athlete is uncomfortable - in a Leni Riefenstahl way. The tank makes blunt reference to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it is rendered impotent, animated only by this American fantasy of the strong, healthy, clean-living winner running to go nowhere.

Inside the show two further performances take place. Sculptures of aircraft seating, made by cutting-edge rapid prototyping techniques, stand in the gallery spaces, at regular intervals highly trained gymnasts perform meticulously controlled set pieces using the sculptures. These references to  9-11, these fragments of aeroplane - is this an act of reclamation? Or is it an act of futility? A film in another room shows a series of vertical poles in open landscapes against which more of these superb athletes hoist themselves horizontally like human flags. It is a seriously thought provoking exhibition and has stayed with me nagging at notions of national pride and atrocity.

Hew Locke - Starchitect

Artsway's New Forest Pavilion in Dusoduro showed some memorable work. The venue partners with other galleries in the UK to create residencies and the works on show are the results of these projects. The artists represented this year are: Gayle Chong Kwan, Dave Lewis, Hew Locke, Mike Marshall, Christopher Orr and Sophy Rickett. 

I particularly liked Hew Locke's Starchitect installation which transforms the space into a fantastical grotto of kitsch sculptures constructed from all kinds of cheap treasure and objects. Mike Marshall's beautiful and poetic film piece A Prism Splits Light shows Vietnamese migrant workers picking olives in Cyprus. Christopher Orr's works explore the Romantic and the Sublime in painting utilising a deliberately anachronistic style. Sophy Rickett's The River shows an installation of documentary style film and sound pieces which record an evening spent with people who are waiting to see of the 'Severn Bore' - a little tidal wave that sweeps the Severn River each year, a surprisingly warm and distinctly British gathering.

David Casini

Upstairs from Artsway in the stunning Palazzo Zenobio there a series of five works by artist David Casini, installed in one of the superbly elegant rooms. Casini's delicately constructed sculptures sit underneath glass domes like Victorian specimens, spindly architectural forms grow out of and yet set up a contrast with natural materials such as coral. These delicate little structures have quietly impressed themselves on me and I keep conjuring them in my mind's eye in their exquisite setting.

Hans Op de Beeck - Location 7

One of a Thousand Ways to beat Entropy, supported by the Courtauld Institute shows the work of four artists. I particularly liked the work of Hans Op de Beeck, Location 7 a suburban home has been reconstructed in full detail as an installation, but every object, including the garden which can be seen through the window is made of dark grey concrete, even the rumpled bedsheets are solid. An evocatively sad piece of music plays and a stultifying pathos imbues the scene. It is a remarkable piece of work.

Grayson Perry - The Walthamstow Tapestry

Penelope's Labour:  Weaving words and images is a must-see for anyone at all interested in textiles and especially weave. This beautifully curated show is in the San Giorgio Maggiore Exhibition CentreAlongside the finest historical tapestries and carpets new work, often made on high-tech state of the art looms is on show. You can see Grayson Perry's stunning The Walthamstow Tapestry and Mark Quinn's ultra contemporary weaving which reference flowers and flora. I was utterly fascinated by a delicate yellow silk wrap which had been entirely woven from the spider silk of the Golden Orb spider. This is a sophisticated and beautiful show. There is a lovely catalogue to accompany the show - I'm kicking myself that I didn't invest!

Venice Biennale 2011 - Penelope’s Labour: Weaving Words and Images from ikono tv on Vimeo.

Here is a link to my Flickr set of images from The Biennale.


  1. I love this top photo... I haven't made the time yet to read through your Venice adventure but looking forward to when I do (been popping in for the pics only)... I remember last time I was visiting The Biennale thinking it something like a Disneyland for artists - and saw for the first time my fav Kiki Smith's work.
    hope Wales is giving you sunny days.. sx

  2. Hiya! I've got the Hipstamatic app on my phone which takes these lovely retro type photos - addictive! Disneyland is bang on the nail i think - insane really. Wales is trying it's best to be sunny - and it's beautiful when it is. How are you? Good I hope? kxx

  3. gee -Body in Flight was amazing and also loved Location 7 which was so still and almost magical. hope you got loads of ideas!!! nice to read about it all. thanks for sharing for us- who were not there but would have loved to...see ya again.

  4. Hi,
    I write on behalf of a luxury lifestyle magazine from India. Loved your blog on the Biennale. Would you be interested in writing for a mag? If you are, please email me at


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