Venice Biennale Diary May 2019

This year, my project titled IMPRECISION: The Aesthetics of Failure draws upon work I have produced alongside an essay written for British philosopher Andy Hamilton’s forthcoming publication The Aesthetics of Imperfection. The show will run during the opening month of the 58th Venice Biennale. I will be writing a daily diary of the exhibits, experiences during my time here.


The first time I went to Venice was for the contemporary art biennale in 2009. It felt like an overdose of culture and I wondered whether it would kill my love for art but after a short recovery an addition grew and I have been back to Venice more than twenty times since then. Let me be clear. There are many things I don’t like about Venice: it’s a playground for the mega-rich, most of the permanent ‘galleries’ are beyond kitsch – and not in a good way – yet somehow the Venice Biennale consistently manages to present an exemplar of works that give a tremendous sense of what is going on within the practices of some of the most interesting, poetic and profound artists around the world. Every two years it provides a historic account of what is capturing humanity’s imagination at a particular time. The Venice Contemporary Art Biennale is a unique art event that began in 1895. Artists are represented within National Pavilions at the Giardini and Arsenale – huge sites that take at least 2 days each if you aim to see every artwork. There are also off-site exhibitions and projects, such as my own – by independent artists, curators and gallery owners.

Three years ago I asked a friend who lived in Venice whether he knew of any studios I could rent for the summer – so that I could live and make work during the Contemporary Art Biennale. He did better than that – he set me up with a few Venetian gallerists, one of whom was Anita Cerpelloni. My first exhibition in her space, titled Out of the Mothership happened in July 2017 and I went back in September 2018 with my performance ensemble Assembly for the exhibition: Perspectives In Motion. 

This year, my project titled IMPRECISION: The Aesthetics of Failure draws upon work I have produced alongside an essay written for British philosopher Andy Hamilton’s forthcoming publication The Aesthetics of Imperfection. The show will run during the opening month of the 58th Venice Biennale. I will be writing a daily diary of the exhibits, experiences during my time here. I also have 6 video pieces screened daily at the exhibition Alive in The Universe curated by Caroline Wiseman at Palazzo Pesaro Papafava.

Performing with members of Assembly during Perspectives In Motion, 2018. Siw Laurent (Norway), Mariana Alvierez (Venezuela), Laura Colomban (Italy) and Claire Zakiewicz (UK)

May 7
Today I started setting up my exhibition with the gallery owner Anita Cerpelloni. This year Anita will be giving workingshops every Sunday in the gallery for the duration of the exhibition. The first will be a Japanese Calligraphy workshop.

I put up the window lettering and come back later in the night when it’s quiet and I can meditate on the works to be hung and the videos to be projected. Today is my only day and night alone. Tomorrow my friend – curator at ArtFare, Daniela Holban will be joining me for 7 nights. On Thursday my friend and collaborator Dannie-Lu Carr will arrive and we will perform together on Friday. Over the weekend and next week other friends and collaborators will arrive for further performances.

There are openings already happening. I passed through Victoria Miro’s opening of Njideka Akunyili Crosby “The Beautyful Ones” and noticed many others throughout the city that I wasn’t able to stop at. 

While I have been working in New York over the past five years there has been an increasing lean towards female artists and artists of cultural minorities (in the usually Westernised contemporary art scene). Selecting Crosby as the artist showing during the opening of the Venice Biennale seems a contemporary statement, ticking multiple trend boxes. Fun fact: there will be 43 female and 38 male artists exhibiting their works at the Giardini and Arsenale for the main exhibit titled May You Live in Interesting Times curated by Ralph Ruggof. This statistic is important taking into consideration the completely male dominated world of Art since the beginning of Art History. I’m not sure this statistic has ever tipped in favor of women before. Is it a fad or is a lasting change? And I wonder which national pavilions will be following suit. 

Victoria Miro Gallery Opening: Njideka Akunyili Crosby “The Beautyful Ones”

May 8
I woke up today feeling very nervous. I had a horrible dream about my teeth falling out! I also feel if I’m not careful I’ll come down with a cold. It’s raining.

I worked on administrative tasks then I had a video call with my curator friend Melissa, who advised me on promotional strategies and writing the invitation to be sent out tomorrow for the performances and opening event. After that, I had to rush to meet Anita, the gallery owner to talk about the hanging of the space. Pumped with caffeine at this point it was a productive meeting from my perspective. We decided to run workshops every Sunday: Japanese calligraphy, book-binding, and experimental printmaking. I suggested performance workshops but Anita thought that would be difficult for people. I’m going to consider putting a performative spin on the workshops in any case. Perhaps addressing ideas of improvisation within the techniques.

It’s raining, the art world is pouring into Venice but looking a just a little fed up with the weather today, standing somewhat soggy under umbrellas and canopies. There are many openings tonight but I decide to go back to my apartment for one last quiet evening working on my stop-motion animation and preparing for Daniela, who is arriving from New York late tonight and I’ll be meeting her at the top of Rialto Bridge. Tomorrow morning my friend and collaborator Dannie-Lu Carr will be arriving from London to perform with me on Friday. It is also the Biennale preview over the next two days. There are two main Biennale sites – tomorrow I’ll be going to the Giardini, which houses the British and USA Pavilions, which have to be my first call, although that sounds so embarrassingly nationalistic. I expect nationalism to be a theme in many artist’s works this year with politics being what it is in Britian, America and elsewhere. I’m happy that my performance ensemble Assembly is very multi-national and sad that Venezuelan dancer Mariana Alvierez, who performed with me every single day for 3 weeks here last September can’t make it. At some point in the day tomorrow I’ll be rehearsing with Dannie-Lu for the performance on Friday lunchtime. I have so many ideas for this performance… in many ways, I am beside myself with excitement. I’m not sure what is more exciting, seeing the works in the Biennale or doing my own project here.

Rialto Bridge, Venice

May 9
With the pressure and excitement about my forthcoming exhibition and events, it is no surprise that I have woken up with a cold. It’s much earlier than I usually get up and I could give myself a little more time in bed but I am excited. It’s the preview of the Venice Biennale today and I have just organized a ticket for my friend Daniela and am meeting the gallery owner Anita there at lunchtime. 

At the Giardini I thought the main show in the central pavilion was fantastic. A light mist falls gently from the roof as we enter. A favourite work is by Ryoji Ikeda – a corridor of intensely bright fluorescent tubes – so bright that it is difficult to see. There are works by so many artists who are main influences for me – Julie Mheretu, Christian Marclay, George Condo and many others that are new to me that I’m happy to now know. I will review these works in more detail over the next few weeks. I managed to see less than half of the National Pavilions and the queue for the British Pavilion was too long for my patience so I will need to come back many more times to write up some detailed reveiws.

After the Giardini closed I had to race over to Palazzo Pesaro Papafava on the other side of the island the opening of Alive in The Universe, which is screening 5 of my video works and some works by friends such as Hector Canonge and Scotto Mycklebust. The videos looked great, I stopped by my own gallery en route home and made some adjustments ready for my rehearsal with Dannie-Lu Carr first thing tomorrow morning. 

Giardini Preview
Alive in the Universe: Palazzo Pesaro Papafava
Caroline Wiseman and Claire Zakiewicz

May 10
I wake up and realize that I had turned off my alarm in my sleep. It’s 3 hours later than I had planned, I have a fever and I need to meet Anita at the gallery in one hour. Last night I talked with Dannie about hanging the show and I was convinced that it would be a very good idea to ask Anita to take down some of her beautiful ink drawings. They are confusing to have in the space when it’s advertised and presented as a solo show. I emailed Anita last night and I read her reply as I woke up – ‘sure, no problem. See you at 10’.

I draw a tarot card – the Chariot. It’s time for action. 

I carry a pack of tarot cards with me that was made by my friend, the artist and quantum physicist Dr. Libby Heaney. They are from her performance piece Phoxel Tarot and use symbols from the Internet. I usually carry them around with me and pick a card in the morning.

Today has to be one of the most stressful days I can remember. After my morning coffee I crush my sunglasses in my hands for no apparent reason. I have to slash things off my to-do list and prioritize. 

When I get to the gallery Anita is fantastic and helps me to arrange things so the gallery looks great. Dannie-Lu arrives at 11am to rehearse the performance but I haven’t finished re-hanging work so she helps me with that while we discuss. Daniela arrives in time to give some suggestions on the hang and then we go shopping for wine and pastels. 

We start the performance roughly on time and we have a small but good audience. The head of Art from the university I attended is there and a handful of others. It’s a lunchtime performance and most of the art people are at the preview of the Biennale so I wasn’t expecting crowds. It was intimate and I managed to have a good conversation with the professor. I introduce Dannie-Lu and the performance. I wanted to highlight the importance of our collaboration in relation to my work. The relationshp between the acting technique Meisner and I method of drawing. I also introduce the book OPEN we produced together.

After the performance we have time to spend a few hours at the part of the Biennale housed in the Arsenale. It was just a glance – we only managed to see a fraction of what is on display there but I saw that the artists I particularly liked at the central pavilion had work here as well. It was a very clever show and I’m looking forward to reviewing it in more detail. The evening continued to be packed with friends arriving from London, setting up my video piece in the gallery window, which runs all night and going to openings and after parties. The mega-rich are out, outfits are opulent and everywhere is a spectacle.

Dannie-Lu Carr and Claire Zakiewicz performance

May 11
This morning I need to collect my laptop from the gallery, which has been playing my films in the window all night. I wear my running gear and lightly run through the morning crowds. En-route walking home I pick up groceries and plan brunch around a fresh plump burrata from the deli near the gallery that constantly plays rock anthems. Burratas in Italy are so much better prepared at home than from any restaurant. 

I have a restful few hours ahead to catch up with computer-based work. It’s the last few hours before my official exhibition opening and I’d like to make sure I have everything printed and displayed and that I rest my voice before hosting a small party.

Claire Zakiewicz outside ARTI3601, Salizzada Malipiero, San Marco, 3209/A – 3160, Venice, Italy

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