I begin my day reading the essay by the curator of this year’s Biennale, Ralph Rugoff, which is in the extra-large exhibition catalog. May You Live in Interesting Times is the title he has chosen. It’s a fake Chinese curse cited throughout recent history and sounds, he says, uncannily familiar today. ‘Fake news and alternative facts are corroding public discourse and the trust on which it depends. For an exhibition that, in part at least, considers how art functions in an era of lies, it struck me as an apt title.’ I ponder his words as I go about my day.
Today we finally have sunshine so I open the gallery for a couple of hours and then take the 20-minute walk to the Giardini. The Venezuela pavilion still hasn’t opened but has a new sign outside that reads: IN RESTORATION. I see brooms and the outside patio looks cleaner. I reflect on the person who was standing outside the pavilion a few days ago with a sign: STOP LYING and my mind goes back to Rugoff’s essay.
The British pavilion, which had a long queue last week, is quiet today so I walk straight in. The artist chosen by the British Council to officially represent Great Britain is Cathy Wilkes, an artist from Northern Ireland who lives in Glasgow. It is an exhibition that requires quiet contemplation, reflection and is subtly poetic – probably not to everybody’s taste. The sight lines have been very carefully composed, space is as sparse as the delicate, muted and minimal paintings, which sit alongside found objects such as crystal nick-nacks, dried flowers, and figures composed of plastic and concrete. It feels like a huge, immersive shrine. There are no lighting tracks – she has brought in as much Venetian light as possible from the open skylights and windows. The space changes in atmosphere as the sun moves or disappears. There is very little information about the show available and the works are all untitled. One of the interns was at my performance last night and she explains that some visitors have asked whether Banksy was representing Great Britain this year. His new graffiti works that appeared around the city during the opening last week have gained a lot of media attention.
I have bought a multiple entry ticket for the Biennale, which I can use until the end of the exhibition in November. This gives me the luxury of being able to do brief visits to the main sites but to come back frequently, giving me a chance to reflect. I sit on the grass in the sunshine and watch the art crowds. It is far quieter than the opening week, which I can barely believe was just one week ago. I expect the weekend will be busier, although it is forecast to rain all day on both Saturday and Sunday. Many of the pavilions show films, some of which take up to an hour to watch so the rain might hold audiences inside. I want to spend more time outside today so I walk back to the gallery to set up the video in the window, which plays all night.
Back home I read the other essay in the catalog by the Biennale president Paolo Baratta. He writes, ‘Our exhibition must be open and without any boundaries. The word ‘open’, more than any other, resounded in us… open, in order to represent art as a phenomenon of humanity. (the title of our first Biennale was “APERTO overALL,” the second was entitled “Plateau of Humankind,” these two titles became the motto for all the following editions of the exhibition.’
Without knowing this about the Biennale, over the past year I produced a book titled OPEN, which is on display alongside my exhibition. It was produced in collaboration with poet, Dannie-Lu Carr, who performed with me last week for the preview of my exhibition. The book and performance were an exchange between the spoken word and the physical act of drawing. I sent words and drawings, connected to my research in the aesthetics of failure, to Dannie-Lu, a leading specialist in Meisner, an acting technique, which focuses on the principles of ‘truthfulness.’ Dannie-Lu responded with personal recordings of raw, intimate and brutally honest spoken poetic verse. One of these poems, titled Fake Realism resounds powerfully at the end of today.
Photo: Gian Carlo Rossi