Art: Venice and the Biennale

DSCN2859’s Carol Bowditch checked out the 55th incarnation of the Biennale in Italy’s watery city:

The romance of a city drowned in water, with neat winding lanes, no cars and chocolate shops in excess had initially enticed me into taking a trip to Venice, the Biennale being in town was the clincher. In my first few hours in the city, however, I found myself a little flustered as I lugged around my heavy luggage, a sweaty mess in the late Summer humidity/pissing rain combination. The city is notoriously difficult to navigate and had me looking a fool with fully extended map to locate myself in the endless identical streets, bridges and, yes, chocolate shops.

After a day of getting my bearings in the watery city, I hit the 55th incarnation of the Biennale, located just out of the main hub of the city, nestled on the fringe of the Grand Canal. The bi-annual (Biennale) event is now held internationally and is a pretty big deal in the art world and I’m sure it does wonders for tourism too. I had built my Italian holiday around the event and had pretty high expectations.

DSC_0175The Biennale in Venice is absolutely massive comparatively to others that I had attended, the main exhibition sites were at Giradini and Arsenale, that took a day each to look around. Giardini was gaudy and pretty run down with igloo type structures that housed commissioned works by artists from different countries. One of the most appealing igloo’s was the futuristic Korean pavilion, conceived by artist Kimsooja, titled To Breathe. The space was filled with mirrors, rainbows and orgasmic breathing pumping through the soundsystem. There was an anechoic (echo-free) chamber that, when locked inside for a minute, you experienced a sensation of being deaf and blind which was surreal and was amazingly nauseating.

Another noteworthy inclusion was American artist, Sarah Sze, and her creation, Triple Point (pictured right).  The structure initially caught my attention with an external work that, if seen in passing, could be passed off as construction work to the site. The external scaffolding-like artwork had pulleys and ropes, stones and strange materials all meticulously placed. Sze’s organised chaos was continued inside, with mandalas of stationary items and pigment piles, with things that you would commonly find in your ‘man drawer‘ placed in a fastidious manner throughout the large space.

The site at Giardini had me worn out after three or four hours of wandering, so I packed it in early and set aside time for the second site at nearby Arsenale for the following day.

Arsenale was a grand disused shipping yard that lined the shore of the canal. The old industrial buildings worked with the art, making the large site exciting to negotiate. There was a treehouse and all! This year’s collection at the Arsenale site was titled The Encyclopedic Palace, which was fitting due to the eclectic mix of art that ingeniously was put together in strange harmony on site. The most memorable elements to the 55th collection were the video installations that lined walls of open spaces with several unrelated films playing at once. It was noisy and overwhelming, especially the videos of the musclemen flexing and dripping with sweat, paired with the video of woman being contorted with knotted rope and hoisted in the air, unfazed by her perpetrator’s actions. Generally the works on offer at Arsenale were more interactive, easier to take in, and with myself now feeling a bit ‘art fatigued’  it was quite enjoyable to take time viewing works or just staring simply out over the water on the fantastic site.

After meeting a couple of real Venetians on a particularly frightening hour-long night ferry ride, as well as having visited the Biennale, I found Venice charming, and kind of bonkers that a major city could function without any cars, buses or trains and had a massive tourist income based around men wearing stripey tee-shirts moving people throughout the city in pointy boats. It’s worth visiting for its canals and definitely for the Biennale, or if, unlike myself, you have dosh to blow on lovely little things and fancy treating yourself to a spot of luxury, swan about the boutiques that surround Saint Marcs Square.


The Biennale runs until November 24. You can find out more information here


Words by Carol Bowditch.