VENICE BIENNALE DIARY MAY 31

The Swiss pavilion presents a video-art dance protest. The piece draws from queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz statement “the now is a prison house. Backward is the new forward or the other way around”. The work which is titled Moving Backwards is by Pauline Voundry and Renate Lorenz with 5 choreographers/performers: Julie Cunningham, Werner Hirsch, Latifa Laâbissi, Marbles Jumbo Radio, and Nach.

By Claire Zakiewicz

May 31

I wake at 5:30 and I watch the sunrise. I think about the closing reception that happened last night and I feel great that it is all over. Months of preparation, anticipation, anxiety, overspending has almost come to an end. I enjoyed the evening, and there is much to reflect on. I cannot go back to sleep again. Music on, I dance and enjoy some tea. I have left everything useful at the gallery – laptop, sunglasses. I have arranged to meet Hector to visit the Bienalle at 9:30 which gets moved back to 10:30 so I decide to run over to the gallery, which needs to be cleared today. I take the 15-minute walk back with heavy bags full of books and my smaller paintings back to my apartment and by the time Hector and I meet under the astrological clock in Saint Marks’s square I am sweating. Hector has a bus to catch in 3 hours so we walk/run to the Biennale site of the Giardini.

The crowds are thick today but Hector is determined and sees most of the pavilions. I join him for most but take a few breaks on the grass.

There are two video installations featuring dance in the Brazilian and Swiss pavilions.

The Swiss pavilion presents a video-art dance protest. The floor, walls, and ceiling are black and there is a glittery curtain that moves back revealing the screen – the scene is somewhat like a nightclub or studio for theatre or musical rehearsals. The music is trap and techno and the dancers respond in very different styles to the notion of moving backwards. The idea behind the choreography is political. A letter is displayed outside the pavilion reading like a manifesto that addresses issues of migration and closed borders. The piece draws from queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz statement “the now is a prison house. Backward is the new forward or the other way around”. The work which is titled Moving Backwards is by Pauline Voundry and Renate Lorenz with 5 choreographers/performers: Julie Cunningham, Werner Hirsch, Latifa Laâbissi, Marbles Jumbo Radio, and Nach.

The Brazillian Pavilion shows a two-screen work titled Swinguerra by video artists Barbara Wagner and Benjamic de Vurca. Swinguerra is a dance phenomenon in the city of Recife, where underground youth groups battle in dance-offs. Fusing hip-hop and samba, it’s an inclusive community of mostly non-binary dancers. The art crowd taps their feet at the infections rhythms as they watch the dancers grind and thrust.  

I think of the materiality, universality, and politics of movement. Using the movement of the body as a means of expression is so primal – and light.

Today I am particularly vexed by the weight of my paintings and materials which I first need to move out of the gallery and then back to London. I don’t have any help. It’s fortunate that I am still fairly strong. I will not be able to work in the same way forever. I admire performance artists whose resource is their body and I would like to explore that more in my own practice.

Questions have been arising for me in my conversations with friends about performance and video art. When can a dance performance be presented as contemporary art rather than contemporary dance? How about drag acts? And the process of making a product – when and how can that legitimately be performance art?

For now, I say bye to Hector, who goes on his way across Europe and I go to an exhibition opening of a local artist, Peggy Milleville whose studio is located in the same neighbourhood that I have been exhibiting in, close to Salizzada San Samuele, underneath Mark Edward Smith’s photography studio. I see many of the locals, who have become friends and other characters who live in Venice or support her work around Europe. Milleville’s sculptures and paintings are between figuration and abstract gesture. It’s a beautiful, atmospheric installation that fits in her 14th Century studio building. The atmosphere is particularly special and in contrast to the tourist art crowds of the Giardini.

More to do today – there is a gathering of artists from the exhibition where I have been exhibiting some of my films – Alive in the Universe. We eat and drink at Paradiso Perduto until midnight and then it is time to finally go to my own gallery, to pack my things and carry my very heavy suitcase back to my apartment. I don’t wish to complain or get negative but this is the most difficult part of putting on the kind of exhibitions and projects I do. They are heavy with physical objects. The ultra-marathons I used to run a few years ago and the stamina I built up from doing them have been very helpful since I started making large drawings and paintings. It is that stamina that gets me home, over 5 bridges, up the last flight of stairs up to the 3rd floor by 2:30 am. I remember that the last stretch of a 50km run that I didn’t think I could manage – my mum ran with me and I only just managed to do it. That memory got me up those last few flights with my enormous case packed with framed paintings and panels.

Moving Backwards, Swiss Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019
Swinguerra, Brazilian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019
Peggy Milleville, open studio

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