After a reviving lunch, I set out to explore the island filled with established country pavillions, just across from Arsenale.
The buildings forming the country pavilions on Giardini range from the cool to the obscure. The cool includes Finland’s awesome 1954 wooden pavilion designed by Alvar Aalto was further enhanced by the interesting installation, Forest Square, by Antti Laitenen, featuring cut up and transported Finnish trees.
Obscure pavilions include, of course Australia’s. It is hidden away, but helpful signage is provided. More on this later.
France and Germany switched pavilions this year in honour of the 50th anniversary of the Elysee treaty. This confused me no end when attempting to navigate to the backwaters of the Australian pavilion, while, as ever, being directionally challenged. This grand switching gesture was less interesting in person than it probably sounded in concept. I give the Germans the win though, as they had an amazing installation of 886 three-legged stools strung up by the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, strongly bringing to mind Ionesco’s play, The Chairs.
The UK pavilion and Jeremy Deller’s exhibition English Magic won a lot of praise this year, particularly from the self-congratulatory British press. The reason for the praise and popularity can I think, best be explained by the fact that those canny Brits were handing out free cups of tea to all those who stumbled past the swooping owl grasping a car, the cartoonish William Morris, and got to the end. Was it all that? It wasn’t. Never underestimate the value of a freebie.
As patriotic as I am, there was not much of interest in the pavilion representing my homeland. Some pictures of big diggers around a mine, a reflective bowl… Is this the heart of our art? In two years time, I am sure we could increase foot traffic by at minimum handing out some free billy tea and damper to tired, price-gouged tourists. And maybe put some better pictures, sculptures and installations on show…
The highlight of the Egyptian pavilion was Mohamed Banewy’s clever mosaic The River, an abstract, circuit-board type representation of water formed of stone, glass, ceramic, metal and cement, streaming down the wall to floor in quirky symmetry.
The Venice pavilion drew together artists from five nations to pay homage to the Silk Road, and there were some wonderful pieces. Yiqing Yin had a stunning weaving of delicate strands of silk forming a beautiful woman. She seemed to flow from, or into, the ground. It was magical.
Likewise, Marialuisa Tadei’s Il Castelo del Sole – The Castle of the Sun – is a little jewel box referencing Venice’s place in history along the legendary Silk Road. Only one person at a time could enter the mirrored, golden mosaic igloo pleasure dome, which was encased in a rich silk mosaic-inspired tapestry. Luckily the queue was not too long and I had time to pop in, before catching my ferry for the flight back to London…
I felt so privileged to wander through the pieces showcased at the Biennale. Some robbed me of breath, some made me wonder if anyone ever paid to buy this type of thing (and if they did why, why!?) but overall the experience made me feel rich. I didn’t have as much time to give as many pieces probably deserved, but I sure did my darndest!