By Claire Zakiewicz
I saw an exhibition called The Spark Is You, at the Music Conservatory, (Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello di Venezia) in Campo San Stefano.
The Conservatorio di Musica is buzzing with music students and always seems to present an exhibition during the Biennale that I consider one of my favourites. As well as this, they have an outdoor courtyard that is perfect for contemporary art performances. I recall the fantastic exhibition of sound paintings by Beezy Baily and Brian Eno titled The Sound of Creation in 2015, whereby Baily had responded to musical pieces by Eno. Visitors could put on headphones and gaze at the works while listening to each musical piece. The paintings were vibrant, abstract and gestural and placed up the stairwell and in little rooms like a treasure hunt.
This year contemporary classical music fills the outside and inside spaces. It is an exhibition that presents work by nine contemporary Iranian artists. The artists were selected for the affinity with openness, respect and human interconnectedness that is evinced in their work and this theme is in line with the zeitgeist running through the Biennale this year. The show, curated by Ziba Ardalan, who is the founder, artistic and executive director of the foundation for contemporary art, Parasol unit, and the exhibition is one of the Biennale’s Collateral events.
There are many fantastic works that are installed in the outdoor courtyards and also in numerous rooms on the second floor of the stunning 17th Century building. The works that appeal most to me – because of their immediate connection between sound and drawing, improvisation and composition, the hand-made and the manufactured and the clever dialogue with the space, are a triptych of huge large-scale paintings by David Nuur (born in 1976 in Tehran and now living in The Hague, Holland) titled The Tuners. The works lean against the courtyard walls presented as objects, rather than pictures. Music fills the space and I wonder whether the piano and horns are being played by live musicians or are recorded and so the same music is always heard. There are open windows high up in the square courtyard and I wonder which it is coming from. The acoustics make the source difficult to determine.
Gestures connect multiple time-based disciplines such as drawing, music, and dance. They are forms of vitality – spontaneous, intuitive but they are also shaped by conceptual metaphors, presenting a figurative comparison in which one idea or object is understood in terms of another. Action paintings were described in 1952 in an essay by art critic Harold Rosenberg: “The gesture on the canvas was a gesture of liberation, from value – political, aesthetic, moral.’ This essay was instrumental in helping audiences and collectors, in particular, embrace this new process-led approach of the Abstract Expressionists. Gestural drawing still seems increasingly present in contemporary art and this year at the Biennale artists such as Julie Mehretu, Frank Auerbach, David Nuur, and others explore conscious, unconscious and automated mark-making by machines or animals. I would argue that this is due to an increasing interest in the nature of consciousness, cognitive processes and our emotional relationship with art – which perhaps is due to technical developments fueling our understanding of these topics in the arts, humanities as well as in the sciences.
Nuur’s paintings depict what the exhibition describes as randomly painted doodles, informed by the unconscious or consciously made marks that people leave behind on the counters of stationery shops after trying out various pens. Nuur collected these test papers in various countries around the world and was struck by a similarity – usually no words, symbols or pictures but similar squiggly strokes. Nuur transferred these pen marks to the canvas by a marker. The title The Tuners makes reference to the test marking. There is something primal about the marks and a universality that unites us. Nuur asks, I read, why national boundaries separate us – no matter where we were born or now reside, we are all the same.
Parasol unit sits beside Victoria Miro gallery in Shoreditch, London (who opened their Venice gallery two years ago in 2017). I can’t help wondering whether the two galleries conspired in their presence in Venice during a friendly coffee break as there are very few international art galleries with permanent spaces in Venice. Unlike Victoria Miro, which is a private commercial gallery, The Spark is You is a collateral exhibition – these run alongside the main curated exhibition and international pavilions whose proposal to the Biennale Arte was submitted (by October the previous year) and accepted. The Biennale then helps with advertising and grants permission for the organisers to use their red lion logo. There are many other events, exhibitions, and projects that are not officially supported by the Biennale but are often just as high standard. In fact, some of the best exhibitions that I have seen in Venice were not part of the official Biennale nor collateral events but were privately organized and funded, such as Intuition, at Palazzo Fortuny in 2017.
The Spark is You runs from May 9 – November 23, 2019, and is open every day except today – Sunday.