VENICE BIENNALE DIARY MAY 17-18

I discover that the audience had been packed full of brilliant artists, some of whom are exhibiting in the exhibition and across Venice during the Biennale. There are many professors from the arts and sciences and we talk until the early hours.

May 17
It is much busier around the gallery today than it has been all week and many people are coming inside to look around. Today it would have been good to have an extra person here to welcome people.

I am in an introverted mood, however, and I feel like reading and writing. For the past two years, I have been writing a 2000 word essay for a book soon to be published on the philosophy of improvisation. The Biennale works and catalogue have prompted new thoughts and I realise I can make some of the points in the essay a little more eloquently. Encouraged also by the Biennale curator Ralph Rugoff, who writes, ‘while the verbal statements of artists should never be confused with the discoveries made through their work – which offer us a scaffolding around which we might build very different ideas and theories of our own… In catalogue essays such as this, one typically finds quotes from philosophers, political theorists, historians, art historians, and only very occasionally from an artist. I have chosen to reverse that order of priority by quoting a number of the participating artists, and so to underscore the importance of their thinking to the process of formulating this Biennale Arte.’

I was commissioned to write the essay by a professor of philosophy at Durham University – Andy Hamilton for a collection of essays by artists across disciplines. The deadline was mid-may (now) but I have been given another two weeks to work on it. I originally met Andy in 2013 at the Borealis Festival in Bergen, Norway – a festival for experimental music in Norway. During that time I was doing frequent performances there with my ensemble Fig. Andy Hamilton was there to write a review for The Wire magazine and we spent some time talking about the connections between our areas of research – spontaneity, risk-taking, and methods of improvisation. Andy gave me his essay – The Aesthetics of Imperfection, which I read and then took with me to New York, where I have been mostly living since then. Years later, in 2017, I was tidying up my storage unit in New York and I came across the essay again. I thought how it was still very relevant in my work so I took it back to my studio. By a stroke of amazing serendipity, Andy Hamilton contacted me less than one week later – completely out of the blue. He said that he was working on a book as a continuation of his essay and wondered whether I would like to contribute a chapter. Since then I have had numerous conversations with Andy about the nature of improvisation in drawing and I gave a talk about my work at the Newcastle Jazz Festival for an event he arranged with other contributors. The title of my exhibition this year – Imprecision: The Aesthetics of Failure is in homage to this collaboration with Andy and will probably be the title for the essay – although I still have two weeks to change my mind.

In case you are interested, a draft of the essay was published at http://www.hypocritereader.com/94/control-variations-improvised-drawing in February 2019.

I don’t have many days alone here in Venice so I make the most of this quiet time by myself. I write until 3 am but I struggle to sleep. The experience from Wednesday night is still haunting me and I am tempted to go out into the silent Venetian night.

I post my ghost story on a social media site and realise a few of my friends who live in Venice are still awake as they respond to the story. I look at the rain outside and the sky, which is becoming lighter I decide to stay home but I purchase an audiobook on the history of Venice and fall asleep while listening to the improbable story of 5th century refugees, who through exceptional ingenuity and necessity built a city on the unstable marshland and the incredible rise of the Republic of Venice. I listen to how the body of Saint Mark was stolen from Egypt and rests close to where I lie. I look over across the ancient rooftops and imagine what these buildings have witnessed and the secrets they hold.

Inside the exhibition Imprecision: The Aesthetics of Failure
Inside the exhibition Imprecision: The Aesthetics of Failure

Photo: Mark Edward

4 am Venice
4am Venice

May 18

Today I go to the symposium on TIME at Alive in the Universe. The curators, Caroline Wiseman, and David Baldry have chosen 28 themes, one for each day, which artists have responded to through film, performance, and sculpture. Themes and artists include ‘Egg’, by Sarah Lucas and Julian Simmons, ‘War/Peace’, by Maggi Hambling and ‘Self/Other’, by Eileen Haring Woods. In the main entrance, there are 3 monitors where 6 of my video works are being screened every day for the duration of the exhibition from 10 am – 6 pm, alongside other films by artists such as Hector Canonge, Scotto Mycklebust, and Marcus Cummins.

Today’s symposium features a two-screen video work by Andrew Hewish titled Omphalos and a set of tripod-shaped sculptures holding, what looks like grey and white rocks that have a navel-shaped orifice at the top. I need to open my own gallery so I miss Caroline’s morning reading of ‘A Timeless Moment’ but I arrive for the 3 pm symposium on TIME with Prof. of theoretical physics David Berman, Caroline Wiseman, and Andrew Hewish. Berman gives a fascinating explanation of why we experience time as moving in one direction due to our slow speed in relation to the speed of light. His charismatic presentation is followed by a passionate talk by Wiseman on her theory of creativity in relation to the first and second laws of thermodynamics. The audience is engaged and there is a lively question and answer session followed by drinks and mingling.

Caroline is writing a fascinating book titled Creativity Life and Soul of the Universe. I read her draft when I first met her at the High Line open studios in New York. It’s beautifully written, giving an insight into her life and thoughts on creativity, as she runs the artist residency and arts club, Alderburgh Beach Lookout, by the sea in Suffolk, England.

The rain has been persistent all day and there is no sign of it stopping any time soon. With the full moon yesterday and Venice’s tidal lagoon, the gallery floods before the end of the day and we wade to higher ground. Floods are common throughout the winter but are rare in May, it feels like a very British weekend.

After the symposium, Caroline hosts a dinner and the discussion becomes increasingly lively. I discover that the audience had been packed full of brilliant artists, some of whom are exhibiting in the exhibition and across Venice during the Biennale. There are many professors from the arts and sciences and we talk until the early hours. Finally, I wade back to my apartment barefoot, with my jeans rolled up to my knees, through beautiful flooded Venice.

Alive in the Universe continues until June 4 at Palazzo Pesaro Papafava, Calle de la Racheta, 3764, 30121 Venezia, Italia and is open to the public 10am – 6pm daily.

The rain persists
Symposium on TIME with Prof. David Berman, Caroline Wiseman and Andrew Hewish
Flooded San Marco
Flooded San Marco
Flooded San Marco

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