Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Venice Biennale - Arsenale curated exhibition

I had bought a 2-day/2 venue ticket in advance of going to Venice, and the first day was spent at the Giardini venue (see here and here for my blog reactions to this!) and the second day was allocated to the Arsenale. As with the Giardini, there was a mix of national pavilions and individual artists as part of Ralph Rugoff's curated exhibition, May You Live in Interesting Times. According to Rugoff's fascinating catalogue essay, the exhibition was divided into two "propositions" - A & B - in the two main venues in order to present different aspects of the artists' work and method of working. Thus, even within two very large group shows (80 artists!) I recognised the names of creators at the Arsenale, whose work I had seen the day before at the Giardini.

Though I did not recall seeing Yin Xiuzhen's work the day before, I was drawn to the huge figure in an airplane crash position. The figure and airplane seat made from dyed clothing was compelling.

One could examine the sculpture from all sides and get a full, claustrophobic sense by entering it from a small opening at the back. The interior was most alarming as sleeves and pant legs from the clothing hung above and around one at a touchable distance. I had the feeling that these clothes were metonymic, representing actual people, possible victims of air incidents. And further, this could be taken to have the larger meaning, which Laurie Anderson expressed in "From the Air" nearly 40 years ago -- "we're all going down together". Certainly Rugoff, and many artists he has chosen to exhibit, express a great concern for the current state of the world.

Wandering into the room housing Shilpa Gupta's installation, For, in your tongue, I cannot fit, I was taken by the crowd of viewers/listeners examining each individual section; I quickly joined them. Above each spiked, text page was a microphone speaker. There was something chilling about the voices, the spiked pages and the overall imagery.

I found out later (I read the didactic before leaving the room) that the pages and the speakers represented the individual voices and words of 100 poets, from the 7th century to the present day, who have been imprisoned for their work or political thought.

Along with Gupta, as an artist whose work resonated with me and stood out in my memory, as I had remembered her work from the Giardini (the destructive gate), I was also delighted to see more work by Christine & Margaret Wertheim.

The craft of their crochet work was given a mathematical/philosophical explanation. Through the use of the old-fashioned teaching tool of chalk and blackboard, one started to have a learning experience (and to me this echoed the work of the likes of German avant-garde artist, philosopher, and political thinker, Joseph Beuys and American poetic physicist, Richard Feynman). The Wertheims are in venerable company with their working methods

and their work. The ropey spiral of crochet reaches up and up, to great heights of contemplation.

While some work seems to reach to the stars, other work has plumbed the depths. Quite literally. And emotionally. And controversially. Christoph Bȕchel's Barca Nostra is the actual migrant ship that sunk in the Mediterranean, after a botched rescue attempt, causing the deaths of possibly over a thousand people who were locked in the hold. The ghost ship is both a monument and memorial to the victims of human trafficking. It is a deadly reminder that in our world there is no freedom of movement for most.

While Barca Nostra most definitely is what it is, Alexandra Bircken's post-apocalyptic installation implies it's appearance: what appears to be hanging bodies or skins of hanging bodies, are latex dippings of cloth. Although the catalogue refers to an upward movement of the figures, their suspension from ladders indicates to me that the movement is downward. Birken's Eskalation provides an image of the end of humanity from a nightmare; Bȕchel's Barca Nostra, perhaps lacking the poetry of  Bircken, provides a fully awake image of the end of humanity.

There was so much amazing work in this exhibition, it is quite impossible to discuss in a short blog. This brief glimpse, however, serves to touch on the tip of iceberg and make one realise that there is much to discover at the Venice Biennale. I, for one, plan to return and see future exhibitions. The Biennale is an amazing showcase where one does not have to travel far to be amazed, exhilarated and challenged by current art and ideas.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Venice Biennale - Giardini curated exhibition

In addition to viewing nearly every national pavilion at the Giardini (one was closed and another had queues, so we didn't hang around!) the central pavilion contained Proposition B of the huge group exhibition May You Live in Interesting Times, curated by Ralph Rugoff. Before going to Venice, I had read a number of articles and reviews of the Biennale and one of them gave the information that there was an equal number of female artists included in the exhibition as male artists, and that "unusually" all 80 artists are still living. I kept this little nugget of information in a happy place, and wow! was I impressed by the work! 

As I have been very focused on printmaking of late, I took an especial interest in the giant manga-esque woodblocks by Christian Marclay. Marclay is an American living and working in the UK.

This large gallery also contained Mexican artist Teresa Margolles' wall, Ciudad Juarez, which is part of a real border wall containing bullet holes and its memory as a site for execution. It is a reminder of the reality of a wall amid absurd demands of the current American president to build a complete border wall between Mexico and the US.

The exhibition contained works in any and all media and within the spacious pavilion, divided into a multitude of galleries, each artwork held its own. There were a number of artists who were painters and it was great to see large and different approaches to painting. I was taken with Julia Mehretu's abstractions. Mehretu was born in Ethiopa but lives in the US.

Wandering into a semi-darkened gallery was like walking into a display in an aquarium. Indeed, the individually lit display cases had an aquatic feel about them until, taking a closer look, the "corals", sections of "reef"  revealed themselves as finely crafted, crocheted and beaded soft sculptures by Christine & Margaret Wertheim. In fact the Wertheims have spearheaded an international collaborative project to recreate the beauty of the reefs and highlight the fact of their destruction by pollution and global warming. They are from Australia but live and work in the US.

The popularity of destruction was very obvious, as I, along with a small crowd of adults and children alike, were mesmerised by Indian artist Shilpa Gupta's heavy gate slowly swinging back and forth and hitting the wall (fulcrum to the swing) with a noisy clang. The gallery wall shows the havoc caused by the gate and there is a measure of suspense as the viewers await further deterioration.

The exhibition was huge, varied, thoughtful and provocative. Rugoff curated an exciting and inclusive exhibition (and this was only half of it - Proposition A was at the Arsenale, which I would have the chance to view the next day and will take a peek at in next week's blog). There were many more artists whose works I found fascinating, but at some point I knew I could not keep taking pictures, rather, I examined and enjoyed without documentation in mind.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Venice Biennale - Giardini Pavilions

While I want to write about the Venice Biennale while it is still fresh in mind, there is so much about it to unpack that I can only skim the surface. My first day at the Biennale was spent at the Giardini viewing most of the national pavilions and the second part of the curated exhibition "May You Live in Interesting Times". I will discuss the curated exhibition next week, but for now I will post a few things about the national pavilions.

I had read a few derogatory anti-feminist readings of the work by Renate Bertlmann in the Austrian pavilion, so was not expecting to be disarmed by the sheer beauty of her site-specific installation of glass roses. The rigidity of the formation and the spikes penetrating each fragile flower underline a reading beyond a "pretty" surface providing a thoughtful and balanced aesthetic. Other works in the pavilion give a context for this installation within Bertlmann's previous work.

I couldn't help being impressed by first sight of the Egyptian pavilion, though was quickly underwhelmed by the feeling of being on a pseudo-Egyptian stage set (Stargate anyone?) and then full disappointment that only one (of at least 4, but likely more) video monitors were either out of order or just not turned on.

There were three different artists represented in the Greek pavilion, Panos Charalambous, Eva Stefani, and Zafos  Xagoraris and their installations present a layering of meaning within the concepts of Greek architecture, history and participation in the Biennale itself. I was especially interested in the installation of  Charalambous's glass jar floor, with it's potential for staging a dance (apparent by the placement of music equipment but I was also taken with the historic implications of Xagoris's archival letters and photographic installation, especially as I was also planning a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim collection while in Venice.

The Nordic Countries pavilion provided a reminder of the earth and human relation to it. The pavilion was both airy and bright. The trees within the pavilion did not seem stifled; they were neither threatened or threatening. So it was a breath of fresh air. It was not the only pavilion to take a stance on the climate change crisis, but it did not hit the converted over the head with preaching.

Outside the Romanian pavilion, at both front and back, were what seem to be memorial walls accompanied by buckets of  roses. I was surprised that the artist, Belu-Simion Fainaru has titled this piece "Monument for Nothingness" as I am struck by this as a harshly cynical approach to the concept of a memorial. I, along with others, took a special, quiet moment to interact with the wall, "tak[ing] a rose petal, mak[ing] a wish, and insert[ing] it in the hole in the wall..." I am unfamiliar with Fainaru's practice so perhaps am misinterpreting what point he is making, but I am glad that I did not see this title while in Venice.

The Russian pavilion was fantastic! The theme of Rembrandt as "Prodigal Son" and the heaviness of a Biblical judgment brought to life by sculpture (including moving sculptural works) and video within a darkened space that one moved around, even encountering a "Death" figure, provided an immersive and cohesive sensory experience courtesy of Alexander Sokurov and Alexander Shiskin-Hokusai.

The USA impressed as could be expected and hoped: Martin Puryear's large scale  sculptures owned the spaces both within and outside the pavilion.

I was in the Giardini for six hours, wandering from pavilion to pavilion on a beautiful, warm Venetian day. There were only a few pavilions that did not interest me much, yet I was also acutely aware that I could not give my full attention to any, when there was so much to see. I did not expect to be able to withstand such an art overload, but it was a fabulous experience that I can look forward to having again.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019


I felt like I was stepping straight into a Canaletto painting with this view of the Grand Canal from the Rialto on my first day in Venice! I hadn't slept at all the night before, so I was truly in a dream, but the photos prove my dream was very close to reality.

We had run to the back of the vaporetto so got a lovely view of the Rialto as the boat pulled away from the dock.

It was a beautiful day: sunny and warm and clear-skied. Public transport on a canal is so pleasant!

On the Grand Canal there are many gondola docks

and it is so lovely to compare all the styles of old architecture, various types of arch...

and excited tourists on their first ride in a gondola (I went on a night gondola ride, which was magical!).

I passed St Mark's Square and the Doge's Palace, as I was in for the longer haul trip to the Giardini, one of the main venues of the Biennale.

The Giardini is a large public park with most of the national pavilions of the Biennale and there are, of course, lovely canals and bridges along the way.

 It was a perfect day for being outside, walking between the pavilions and taking in the sunshine.

The next morning I experienced the Venice fog, but this too was atmospheric. It burned off by the time I got to the Arsenale anyway - the other main venue for the Biennale.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

raku event!

In preparation for this year's October raku event I created two simple pinch pots and left large areas on both pots unglazed with the "smoker" in mind. I have found, at other raku events, that bright colours produced a pleasing outcome, so I decided to glaze my little pots with the apple green.

The raku day really is an event: interested participants are from four different workshops and come together for a day of fun, chat, and food as we have a pot luck lunch which we casually nibble on once the pots are in the raku kiln. There were two firings planned, so there was lots of time for great company and conversation among the participants.

Once the firing was complete, workshop facilitator James Hayes turned off the gas, opened the kiln lid and pulled individual pots out of the kiln

and transferred them to the smoker. At previous raku events people experimented with patterning techniques, such as applying hair and/or feathers, spritzing with water and/or sprinkling sugar on their pots, but at this event mostly everyone just wanted pots to go directly to the "smoker" (a lidded bin full of sawdust) for carbonising.

One of the participants was especially brave taking responsibility for quickly removing and replacing the "smoker" lid (NB all safety measures were adhered to, it just looks daunting!).

After about 20 mins in the "smoker" the pots were removed and individually dunked in a bucket of cold water.

The pots could not be just left in the water or there could be a risk of a hole being burned into the bucket or the water getting too hot to cool following pots. The yard is pebbled so the pots could be placed on the ground to continue their cooling.

Everyone was quite pleased with how things went on the day. These are the pots from the first firing.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Inktober 2019 first time, first week!

The past few years my offspring has been trying to get me to commit to participating in Inktober - where, following prompts, one creates an ink drawing every day in October and posts it on instagram. While I have good reasons not to participate (too busy on other projects!) I decided that this year I would commit to participation. As I have started the residency in the studio at Signal Arts Centre, I have made doing the Inktober sketch part of my daily studio routine: inktober sketch, instagram/facebook post, self-portrait, bookbinding work, printmaking work. The bookbinding and printmaking work at this point is mostly preparation, so the first month of my residency can afford the extra item in my routine.

The prompt for Day 1 was "ring" and I did a fairly quickish sketch of my wedding ring on my hand, using a Staedtler green pen and some yellow ink. The ring was designed and created by an artist friend, after the theft of my original band (which was simple and cheap).

The prompt for Day 3 was "bait" and I simply took off my earrings because they made me think of fishing flies, though if I had have thought about it before I left the house, I may have chosen something more feathery.

The prompt for Day 6 was "husky" and I chose to interpret this as vocal rather than the dog or a person. I thought of the beautiful, sexy, soulful, magnificent voice of Billie Holiday and then thought of her singing the amazing song "Strange Fruit". This song has been covered by many artists but Holiday's is the quintessential version that gives me goosebumps.

My residency morning routine has been (and no doubt will continue to be, for the month of October anyway) to follow the official Inktober prompt and create a sketch accordingly. After I have finished the sketch it is posted to my instagram account, which is linked to my facebook page. The point of the exercise for me is to actually SAY something, tell a story, reveal a thought or memory. This is most obvious perhaps in Day 7 where the prompt was "enchanted". Here is my sketch:

 and this is what I said about it: Day 7. Enchanted. By the cosmos mostly. Natural phenomena. And deep time. In 1981 I was nearly blinded watching 2 suns rise, an atmospheric illusion, above Lake Ontario. In 1990 I picked out Jupiter and 4 of its moons for the first time from a rooftop in Dublin. In the winter of 1992 the Aurora undulated like a huge red curtain over the Ottawa River. From a field outside Port Magee, in Southwest Kerry, in 1995, I saw Comet Hyakutake hanging like a sword in a spectacularly clear, star studded sky.

I am enjoying following this routine and will continue to do it this year. I won't commit to next October till I see what's happening with my other work.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Signal studio residency begins!

I made the decision awhile ago that during my studio residency at Signal Arts Centre this year  I would concentrate on printmaking and bookbinding. I am happy with my painting set-up in my home studio now, but had to pull my pasta-press from storage under the studio couch! I gathered my materials at the top of the stairs leading to my studio in order to start  For my progress information about last year's residency, look here, here, here, here, and here!

The first job for me was to do a good sweep of the place! I was asked if I wanted any of the large tables removed (there was one that wasn't there last year), but since I was planning on working differently than I did last year, I decided to wait till I moved things around before making decisions to remove furniture.

In the end I decided to keep all the furniture that was in the studio, I just had to move things around a bit.

I covered all the surfaces with kraft paper so I would have a fresh clean surface to start work on. I moved specific tables to specific spots to form my work stations for drawing, printing, bookbinding, paper cutting

 and of course a place to set my tea cup.