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.