Include The Biennial Project in the 2021 Venice Biennale by Anna Salmeron

We the undersigned entreat the Justly Venerated Authority of the Venice Biennale to acknowledge that a Grave Miscarriage of Justice has resulted from the failure of said body to include The Biennial Project in any of it's previous biennial exhibits.

This despite the demonstrable fact that the work of The Biennial Project and it's legally incorporated subsidiaries do so clearly merit inclusion in such exhibits.

We do hereby propose as remedy to this calamitous state of affairs that the Venice Biennale issue a formal invitation post haste to The Biennial Project to participate in an official and recognized capacity in the 59th Venice Biennale to be held in the city of Venice in the year 2021.


Include The Biennial Project in the 2021 Venice Biennale

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Mongolian Thoughts on Chinese Economic and Environmental Policies

Mongolian Pavilion

at the 2017 Venice Biennale

by Victor Salvo for The Biennial Project


photo by Victor Salvo

Lost in Tngri

Fire. The Sun is Heaven sent. The Sunfire makes the pastures grow the pasture grass. The sun droughts up the land or runs away for too long. Cattle sheep ram lamb burn to black. Fire lovemaking sperm seek along the skulls.

Fire droughts up the land. Circling us. Cooking us. Sits down on a lone fire red fish still alive, Sun, still swimming above the scorched economic lines.

Fire. Fire your weapon straight and true. The scope tells you where to aim. Fire molds the bronze. Fire curves the barrel. Water remembers and walks the rifle after rifle, a flock of the ungainly.

Water flows in a ribbon, flows the trees, rivers come from Tngri, the gods, down from the sky, up to the sky.


photo by Paul K. Weiner


The Irish Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale 2017

by Anne Murray, for The Biennial Project

[Editor’s note: profoundly strong review of one of the most powerful exhibitions at the 2017 Venice Biennale, written by another member of The Biennial Project Gang in Venice, Anne Murray - whose own art is also a must see!]

“My broken bones shall be a weapon,

chaos is the bread I eat!”

clip_image002Photo of Jesse Jones’ installation by Anne Murray

With an impressive sense of dignity, profound understanding of the human condition, and in full knowledge of the challenge that women face in a rapidly morphing set of boundaries created through elusive and divisive judiciary systems in Ireland and abroad, Jesse Jones has created a meta world which challenges the legal system, where what we think and see implores us to react and evolve or suffer the vile subsistence living that will ensue in the storm of chaos unleashed in the form of women forced to take justice into their own hands.

Tremble, Tremble, curated by Tessa Giblin, is more than a pavilion, it is a space between, a space possessed by magic and where fears take shape in an unearthly form, as a human buried under the bog, preserved in flesh, but morphed, shape shifted into something beyond comprehension.

Here, women have an enormous tempest of power controlled only by the force of the black hole of the body of Olwen Fouéré, as a photon encircling and drawn into it only when encountered by the the Higgs boson particle, a weight that gives our thoughts as light mass, and thus, slows us down; we are trapped in this hole with her, as if time would stop or else become eternal, both one in the same.

clip_image004       Photo of Jesse Jones’ installation by Anne Murray

The performer, a witch pulling the strings of the legal system as if she could change all at the wave of a finger or by towing a cart filled with fallen furniture, is a challenge by her sheer size and demeanor alone, but her words haunt us. As the work unfolds, two gigantic curtains are heard moving along tracks and encircling us, portraits of the artist Jones’ mother’s arms photo-printed upon diaphanous black fabric curtains, they stop with the two hands cupped over an invisible orb, the implication is the Earth, our world in her hands. The arms as giant as Ozymandias disembodied, strong and alive with light. Later, when the curtains move again, each arm encircles a sculpture of a bone, perhaps the bones of the witch herself pulled from the preserving womb of the bog and wiped clean for this display - they suggest the power of potions, a talisman, and reliquaries.

The artist Jesse Jones worked with the performer Olwen Fouéré and composer Susan Stenger, forming a triangulation akin to the Morrigan or the infamous witches in Macbeth, who could see the future passing one eye to share with another. The sound is perfectly aligned, mysterious, startling and eerily haunting.

We see performance artist, Olwen Fouéré, a collaborator in Jones’ production, who taunts us from her position of power on a twenty or so foot projection screen, “Are you ready for chaos?” her voice challenges us. At first her shoulders thrust back, in a power stance, as advertised by those advising us on television and the internet to take this position to equal our stance in the presence of those who would oppress us in the work place, Fouéré floats down from the upper left hand corner of the screen, growing larger and filling the space as she emerges, a tall witch clothed in homespun clothes of some earlier epic. Her sheer height with her exaggerated perspective looking down on us, brings to mind the powerful dragon shapes of the Northern lights as seen hundreds of years ago and their mysterious movement across the night sky without explanation or constancy. She appears then across the room, another screen holds a close-up of her face, her wrinkled and ashen skin warns us of our own mortality. We see lips and hair and teeth.

I am reminded of a remark made by a board member of Chapter in Cardiff, about how a woman becomes invisible as she reaches middle age; in the work of Jesse Jones, the woman as witch, is not only visible, she is a deity standing over us casting spells with her defiant words.

clip_image006                                                       Photo of Jesse Jones’ installation by Anne Murray

Fouéré turns a podium in her hands in a toy-like fashion, her huge form emerging again on the screen, she picks it up and twists counter-clockwise around and around as to turn justice upside down and time backwards. She chants:

All that is has its other as above shall be below. Drink your wine and spoil the barrels. Your house in ruins at my feet. My broken bones shall be a weapon, chaos is the bread I eat. My broken bones shall be a weapon, chaos is the bread I eat.

Have you had enough yet, or do you still have time for chaos? Huh, more? I’ll be watching you. You won’t forget us, even if you try and sweeps us away.

In an archaic text projected on the wall one reads:

Whoever believes that any creature can be changed for the better or worse? And bring it to utter confusion. They could destroy the world for if it were so.

One remembers the works of the artist Annette Messager comparing the different roles of women in history - as the temptress and the trickster, but here the witch is somehow more than just a symbol - something visceral, dangerous and possibly more wise than one would like to know; it is as if all the projected fears of 800 hundred years of women’s history have given birth to the vile woman that each of us is secretly perceived to be, the monster that apparently many cultures think exists inside of us.

But, is she a monster, or a witch, or just old and wise and eating chaos in the same way a mother follows in the wake of a family and all its chaotic existence in daily life, picking up toys and clothes, and cleaning up? What exactly is Jones trying to tell us here, what does she want us to realize?

Tremble, Tremble, conjures up images of witches in a subliminal way, somehow the repetition immediately drawing out one’s memories of Macbeth and the three witches chanting. The title comes from a chant made by Italian women fighting for wages as housewives in the 1970’s, “Tremate, tremate, le streghe sono tornate! (Tremble, tremble, the witches have returned!)”.

This exhibition lives up to this immediate reference of our collective unconscious, connecting the Italian historic words of women protesting for their right to wages and women all over the world fighting for their rights in historic Women’s Marches that began in Washington, DC this past January 2017, and have spread in solidarity across the planet.

If you can, go see it and stay for all 27 minutes, it is worth every second and will stay with you until you decide what you are going to do to change the world, the legal system, and to fight for women’s rights, because women’s rights are everyone’s rights, we are your mothers, sisters, daughters, students, and we need you to stand up for us and eat the chaos before it eats you.

Article by Anne Murray

INTUITION at Palazzo Fortuny bv Coral Woodbury

[part of an ongoing series of reviews by Biennial Project Artists on their favorite things at the Venice Biennale 2017]

by Coral Woodbury, for The Biennial Project

“When you reach the end of what you should know, you will be at the beginning of what you should sense.”

- Kahlil Gibran

“When the body functions spontaneously, that is called instinct. When the soul functions spontaneously, that is called intuition.”

- Shree Rajneesh

Peter Greenaway's installation at Palazzo Fortuny during the 1993 Venice Biennale left such an impression on me that the one thing I knew heading to Venice was that I would return to the Palazzo. Even in Venice this is a unique space, embodying faded and decaying grandeur while preserving the home and collections of Mariano Fortuny, an early twentieth-century stage, fashion, and lighting designer. So the house is a stage set of sorts, and one an artist like Greenaway knew how to animate eerily.

As it turned out, I was in time for the sixth and last collaboration of Axel Vervoordt, Belgian antiquarian, art dealer, interior designer and curator, and Daniela Ferretti, Director of Palazzo Fortuny. Intuition was absolutely worth the 25 year wait.


The exhibition explores “how intuition has, in some form, shaped art across geographies, cultures and generations. It [brings] together historic, modern and contemporary works related to the concept of intuition, dreams, telepathy, paranormal fantasy, meditation, creative power, hypnosis and inspiration.” It showcases work by anonymous ancient artists to iconic surrealists and modernists to El Anatsui and Marina Abromovich. The resulting show probes questions about the creative impulse, the subconscious origin of art making. You come to sense that the four floors of art are brought together as a devotional study, a deep research into an inexplicable yet ultimately knowable mystery. Within the palace walls are volumes of thought about this thing that is beyond thought. This thing that cannot be expressed in words.

Beyond words, but Vervoordt fully articulates it in vision and experience. Entering on the ground floor, most raw of the spaces, you are first confronted with Neolithic menhirs, powerful in their monumental quiet. Then you turn, and you see they are paired with a large Basquiat. In a flash of comprehension you sense the connections between these disparate works before you could ever start to formulate words about them. The entire show is like this: a dynamic dialogue of works speaking to each other, and you enter into this dialogue. Seemingly unrelated works create a humming


energy. If you are quiet you can attune yourself to this vibration. Juxtapositions and connections unfold across time, across geography, across culture, but unite in exploring this one overarching theme that connects humanity across all of its separations.

As you move up to the piano nobile, a violin sound installation resonates through the historic interior, creating an enchanting environment. It is a dim space, almost too dim to read the labels, but illuminated by irregular pulses of soft light from great domed fixtures overhead. These lights brighten in response to lightning hitting anywhere in Italy, connecting this interior space to the outside world, and your experience to others’. From the darkness of this floor you move up into light, the blacks give way to whites where airy rooms are filled with the light of Venice and work enlivened by light. Soft shades of damaged frescoes meld with the colors of paper, felt, and


canvas. Up another floor the walls are the color of terra cotta and the work there has an earthiness to its form and materials. A participatory installation invites visitors to roll balls from lumps of clay, leaving behind an embodied meditative moment, amassing collectively on a giant oval table. Each level of the show contains and is an example of exquisitely sensitive creation.

The sheer beauty of the works, independently and in harmony, set this show apart. There is a lot of brute and ugly art during the biennial, as there is brutality and ugliness in the world, but not here. The beauty is soothing and embracing; the silent conversations between the works, inspiring and exciting; the wholeness of the show is ethereal. Vervoordt’s final exhibition here cannot explain intuition, but it does engender a deep understanding of it, and a sparking of it in one’s own spirit.

Fortuny Palace info and tickets

Check out Coral’s beautiful work here:

The Taiwanese Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

by Barbara Jo Revelle

Ok, I’ll admit this up front. I’m wildly attracted to durational performance art. I do it myself sometimes. Not so long ago, as part of an art installation scrutinizing my father’s big game hunting practice, I walked continuously - eight hours a day, seven days a week, for two weeks - on a treadmill set up in a gallery. I stopped only to take pees. While I moved I edited 100+ hours of my father’s old hunting films and videos - mostly shots of him watching game from blinds, hanging cut up animal parts baits in trees, or posing with dead animals and the African natives who helped him track and kill them. This footage was projected onto the gallery walls in front of me as I walked and worked.

I was trained as a photographer and filmmaker but there has often been at least a nod to durational performance in my own art projects. In the late 1970’s, more than half a lifetime ago, when I was just getting serious about art making and was traveling from San Francisco to Belize, I did a 91-day durational performance called Reading. The rules I gave myself included traveling only at night, reading the local newspaper from whatever town I woke in each day, and then spending whatever was left of the morning reading art theory. At noon I stopped reading and used the rest of the daylight hours trying to track down and photograph whatever was referenced in the news, using whatever strategy the theory readings had inspired. My “tracking” activities got me into all kinds of trouble, legal and otherwise. The resulting exhibition at the San Francisco Art Institute consisted of 91 columns of my daily photographs, a diaries, maps, the front pages of each newspaper and xeroxes of the art theory hung so that viewers could take each text off the wall and read it.

So, yeah. No big surprise that the artist I loved the most in all the dizzying array of projects and spectacles at the 2017 Venice Biennale was Tehching Hsieh in the Taiwanese pavilion. Hsieh is the quintessential endurance artist. In this exhibition “Doing Time” various documents, maps, charts, films, photos and artifacts evidenced two of his monumental ‘One Year Performances’. In one (Time Clock Piece, 1980-81) he clocked onto a worker’s time clock on the hour, EVERY hour, for the entire year. Talk about extreme measures, abjection, suffering, and survival through adversity? Wow! Each time he punched the time clock a movie camera shot a single frame. The film went by in about 6 minutes. You could see his hair grow and the effects of extreme sleep deprivation worsen, but mostly you just had to imagine what it might be like to do something that insane to your own body. Hsieh makes other endurance artists look like pleasure seekers by comparison.  Was this piece intended as a metaphor about labor? How selling your time cuts into one’s sense of self as a sentient being? Was this a politically inflected critique of routinized labor practices? Capitalism? Over the top masochism? WTF was this event? What did it mean to do something like this? By comparison, all this year’s other Venice sights paled (even Damien Hirst’s mind-boggling, two-museum embarrassment, even Roberto Cuoghi’s crazy Jesus-statue-factory in the Italian Pavilion.)



“Endurance art” AKA “durational performance art” arguably started in about 1971 with Chris Burden (who taught at UCLA and who had an office right next door to mine… who also famously had his hands nailed to the roof of a Volkswagen Beetle in an artwork he called “Transfixed”). Before any of this he did his MFA thesis by locking himself into a small school locker for five days and nights. In the locker above his he placed a five-gallon bottle of water to drink, attached to his locker with a hose. In the locker below him was another five-gallon bottle, initially empty. That’s all.

A bit later others did similar strange things in the name of art. In 1974 the German artist Joseph Beuys, wrapped in his signature felt, had himself delivered by ambulance to a NYC gallery and subsequently caged in with a wild coyote for seven days and nights.

Today there are many venues, shows, journals and whole conferences devoted to durational performances. Scores of artists have become famous and infamous doing them. In The House with the Ocean View (2003), Marina Abramović lived for 12 days without food or entertainment, in total silence, on a stage entirely open to the audience. Since that time she has done all kinds of similar pieces culminating in the Artist is Present, 2010, Museum of Modern Art, NY, where she sat opposite museum visitors for eight hours a day, without speaking, for a total of 750 hours. She and her one-time lover Ulay, after they decided their relationship had run its course, each walked the Great Wall of China starting from opposite ends. They met in the middle and hugged goodbye. Poetic way to end a relationship, right?

Sometimes this kind of duration performance activity is called “time based art” or “endurance art” but whatever you call it, I’m in love with it. Lately I’ve been trying to figure out WHY. I swim laps daily, do some open-water, charity, distance swims, and have always been interested in discipline, stoicism and the like, but I think it’s more than that. What I really love about this kind of work is the impulse to do art that is not about making money, artwork that comes from some instinct that is the opposite of the intent to make art for the market. So much of the art world these days (art fairs, auctions, galleries, etc.) has become the playground of status seeking new millionaires and billionaires. So when I encounter artists who define art as experience, something by which one might be transformed, opened up, changed … well, I get excited. I remember why I wanted to be an artist in the first place. Now that I’m old (I’ll be 71 in four days) and retired from teaching, I do a lot of wandering and drifting around galleries, art fairs and biennales. I notice what most attracts me is work that raises questions about time, life, being … work that has conceptual purity and maybe even physical extremity.

For me, no other artist, not Abramović or Burden or even Emma Sulkowicz, the controversial student-artist who dragged a fifty pound mattress all over Columbia’s campus to make a point about rape, has made work with anything like the power, poetic reach or disturbing resonance of Tehching Hsieh’s high-stakes performances.


In the second one-year performance (“Outdoor Piece”) featured at the Taiwanese pavilion, work made in 1981/82, Hsieh took deprivation and resourcefulness to a whole new level.  In that project he remained outside for a year without taking shelter of any kind (no cars, no trains, no tents). He did this in the streets of NYC in a year that was one of the coldest winters in history. The documents of his performance, photos of him crouching against a wall or sleeping near a fire in a trashcan, just show him surviving. You get to see only what he wore, what he carried, his sleeping bag, his backpack, how dirty and ‘unkempt’ he became. All the ingenuity, stoicism, and empty time on his hands is just implied, and there are only traces, haunting indexes, to answer the questions that arise in the viewer’s mind when contemplating the work. How did he feed himself? What did he think about? What did he DO all day? See? Was he afraid? In pain? How did he manage not to freeze to death? Did cops harass him? Was this event a Zen Buddhist influenced meditation? A metaphor?  For what? Was he happy? Radically forlorn? Was the work about homelessness in a political sense? About fear of being incarcerated?  Since Hsieh was an illegal immigrant at the time he did the project, and was not granted amnesty until 1988, his act of living by his wits in a big city, with only what he could carry on his back, resonates even more strongly in these heartless post-Brexit/Trump times, given the crisis faced by an estimated 65 million refugees in the world at this moment.


Hsieh did three other yearlong performances, five in all.  His first, in 1978, consisted of him locking himself in a cage and not speaking, reading, watching TV or writing for a year. Later he and Linda Montano performed a collaboration whereby an eight-foot length of rope bound the two artists to each other 24 hours a day for another whole year (from July 4, 1983 to July 3, 1984). One of the rules was that they could not touch each other.

Lastly, in 1985-86, Hsieh did a yearlong performance with the single rule that he would stop making, seeing, reading about, talking about, or listening to anything about art. Now on the surface of it, a gesture like this might seem anticlimactic, but if you think about how intense had been his other four “one year performances”, doesn’t this art-free year just amplify the questions raised by all his prior practices and experiments? How is ‘art’ like -  and unlike -  ‘life’? What should one do with one’s time on earth?  What IS time? How is freedom related to entrapment? What IS freedom?

Additionally, since Hsieh, by the time he did this art-free year performance, had become “a well-known name” (read famous!) in the New York art scene, his fifth yearlong performance seems to be about becoming invisible again. I can’t think of a more radical way to challenge the commodification of art then to stop not only buying it, but to stop seeing it, talking about it, reading about it and making it. Keep in mind that the definition of commodification is the transformation of goods, services, ideas (and not least people) into objects of trade. Are artists - are people - turned into objects by selling their labor to the marketplace? For me Hsieh’s last one-year performance “No Art Piece” is about these root questions.

(Barbara Jo Revelle is an artist and educator living in Gainesville Florida. She is Professor Emeritus and former Director of the School of Art and Art History at the University of Florida.)

[EDITOR’S NOTE – She is also just the coolest, smartest, most  insanely fun and talented individual imaginable, and we are so damned lucky that she’s willing to run with us.]

What We Saw, What We Liked–Part One by Anna Salmeron

The gang of Exceptionally Cool Biennial Project Artists that have just returned from our exhilarating trip to Venice for the press preview week of the Venice Biennale have each agreed to write for you about one exhibit that they really liked - proving that we artists can use our words too (sometimes anyway!). Here's What We Saw, What We Liked - Part One.

RUSSIAN PAVILION, by Charlene Liska

"No two people see the same Biennale, given the several thousand exhibits. Venice is momentary, fragmentary, a hope of chance sights that will hold fast in memory," says Laura Cumming of The Observer. So, stuck in my memory along with a handful of other exhibits (notably several wonderful uses of water and sound) is the Russian pavilion's ‘Theatrum Orbis,’ which references the first modern atlas. With the ambitious aim of spanning the world, the show features three separate pieces on 3 levels, by Grisha Bruskin, Recycle Group, and Sasha Pirogova. Of the three, I was particularly blown away by 'Scene Change' by Grisha Bruskin. It's a marvel of what you can do with black and white, what worlds it can span, how much more expressive and emotionally challenging it can be than ordinary color. In a darkened, domed space, white statues, some archaic, some surreal and futuristic, ring the walls, alternately harshly illuminated in raking light and plunged into darkness. Projected over and above the statues is a richly black and white animation of marching automatons, beginning with one individual, increasing to a horde, ultimately swarmed by fanciful airborne devices.  Sound builds from a low murmur  to shouts, roars, engine noises, finally to an hypnotic din. Are these multitudes contemporary freedom-fighters? Fascist brigades? Futuristic automatons? It is a deafening, mysterious, and sinister tour de force. In 'Scene Change', per Bruskin, "there is no movement whatsoever, be it from old to new, from primitive to complex, or from worse to better". What I love about this piece, with its great beauty and visceral allure that simultaneously attract and repel, is that it is also a sly reminder that such aesthetic thrills can cut both ways between sublime swoon, innocent enthusiasm ("Go team!"), and Riefenstahl-like enchantment. It's very old, but it's all still in there.


FINNISH PAVILION by Wayne Chisnall

photo by Satu Nurmio / Yle

Re-imagining Finish society, and its stereotypes, through the eyes of two terraforming higher beings (Gen and Atum), Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen provide the comedic highlight of this year's Venice Biennale. Unlike many a video installation, where three minutes can feel like three hours, their almost an hour-long piece, The Aalto Natives, leaves you wanting more. Much of this is down to the fact that the video element of the installation (there's also a delightful animatronics element) follows a traditional, if somewhat odd ball, narrative. Occupying a space somewhere between The Mighty Boosh, The Hitch Hikers Guide to The Galaxy, and a demented version of The Muppet Show, Mellors' and Nissinen's satirical sci-fi fairy tale will leave you smiling long after you've forgotten the majority of what's on offer at Venice Biennale 2017.





Rebounding from the political tone of recent Biennals, curator Christine Macel titled the 57th iteration "Viva Arte Viva," remarking, "It’s about art by artists for artists." But the show has always been about what artists want to say to each other and to the world. Jana Želibská’s installation at the Czech/Slovak Pavilion in Giardini speaks plainly about reflection and hope in the face of imminent political and ecological cataclysm.

Entering her pavilion one detours around a container jammed with flotsam. Inside, an array of luminous swans rests placidly on neat islets of coiled rope, backed by a projection of restless waves.

Like so many other voices here celebrating the art that makes us human, Želibská defines apocalypse as "a revealing of mysteries that brings a radical change in the ordering of the world," as she puts it. But her title, Swan Song Now, amid the continuing exodus of Venetian locals from their sinking ship, speaks more loudly, less hopefully.




Can the old and the new live together? Should tradition or the familiar have to make way for progress and the uncertainty that comes with it? Addressing current global sociopolitical issues (with a backdrop of ongoing refugee crises, rising nationalistic and partisan politics, and the economic issues of Greece and the EU at large) the work deals with the anguish and confusion of individuals and social groups when called upon to address similar dilemmas. Presenting viewers with the arguments, the onus is on action. With a classic yet efficient plan, artist George Rivas turns the Greek pavilion into an allegory of today’s scientific, geopolitic and demographic issues with a clear allusion to migratory flows.

Part of a collection of interactive pieces presented at the Biennale, George Drivas’ Laboratory of Dilemmas draws on the structure of ancient Greek drama and is presented on screens and as audio through an installation divided into three parts: the Upper Level, the Lower Level/Labyrinth and the Screening Room. The narrative and installation are based on Aeschylus’ theatre play Iketides (Suppliant Women), written between 463 and 464 BC and the first known literary text to reflect on the issues of a persecuted group of people seeking asylum.

The Suppliants, having left Egypt to avoid marrying their first cousins, arrive in city of Argos and seek asylum from its King. The King’s dilemma is central to the play: CONTINUE READING HERE



photo by Paul Weiner

photo by Paul Weiner

Living Dog Among Dead Lions "While someone is among the living, hope remains, such it is better to be a living dog than to be a dead lion." Ecclesiastes 9:4.

I have one rule about looking at art, and that is to always look at it first. Only if I like something about it I will then proceed to the artist's statement. Of course I know that art can be deepened by words of explanation, but call me old-fashioned in insisting that no amount of grad-school parlance can conjure something into being from work that is not compelling on it's own.

This rule has served me especially well at the fire hose of art that is the Venice Biennale, where one must have some kind of system to have any hope of progressing through such a bewildering amount of work.  Artistic projects large and small  (mostly large) come flying by so furiously that one can be forgiven for wondering if the resurrection itself might pass by unnoticed in such an environment. But then again, any kind of resurrection worth seeing would be able to get your attention anywhere, wouldn't it?

Of course it would. Faith, ye pilgrim.

And so it was that while winding my way through the seemingly unending procession of art installations that is exhibited in the Venice Arsenale during the Biennale, I suddenly came upon this house. This sad old rundown broken-hearted hill house, someplace where all your sad old rundown brokenhearted ancestors toiled and dreamed and then, well, died.  A house that is is pitch perfect in it's melancholy evocation of life and loss. And in a masterful inversion of all the adolescent let's-play-with-water-because-it's Venice-after-all-and we-are-so-you-know-site-specific (here's looking at you Canadian Pavilion), it is raining inside the house. Nice and sunny and prosecco-laden outside, but raining forever inside the little house. Forever, or for at least for the six months that the Venice Biennale runs. You can smell the rich earthy decay already, and this was just the first week. What's more, whoever brought us this delightfully doleful house of perpetual rain clearly welcomes us here, because they have provided wonderful little step ladders around the house so that we can climb up and peep in the windows, and look and smell and hear in the rain that sacred elegiac music that is always playing just outside the reach of our conscious minds. l love this doomed and sweetly mournful little house, which speaks such volumes on the wounds we live with deep inside. I will gladly read whatever words this artist has for us.

More sweet surprises! The words are wonderful. Almost as lovely as the house itself, which is the work of Georgian artist Vajiko Chachkhiani, and is Georgia's official contribution to this Venice Biennale. The brochure which accompanies the installation is dedicated to an interview with the artist, and in it one learns that he had the idea for such a house and went searching in the Georgian countryside until he found the perfect abandoned property up in the mountains. He brought the entire house to Venice where he re-assembled it along with all it's original furnishings. The interview is as direct and wise and unpretentious as the work - extraordinary for an artist who is only 32 years old. He must be an old soul. I am happy he is young in this life though, because that means that with luck we can follow his work for years to come. In the meantime, I'm out to walk my beloved live dogs in a nourishing spring-time rain.


AUSTRIAN PAVILION by Holly Howe (OK, we're cheating a little here - she's an actual journalist - but a really arty one.)

While you may not initially "see" the link between Erwin Wurm and Brigtite Kowanz, the two artists that curator Christa Steinle paired for this year's Austrian Pavilion, upon visiting the pavilion you literally see it.

While Wurm’s contribution to the pavilion is predominantly in the form of his “One Minute Sculptures” (which are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year), Kowanz’s “Infinity and Beyond” series comes in the form of neon writing placed on infinity mirrors. The link between the two? Temporality and viewer interaction.

Kowanz has said before in interviews that she’s happy for people to take selfies in her work (the bane of all art with a reflective surface), but even if they don’t, the act of looking at the work places the viewer within it while they look at it.

Wurm is more prescriptive with his sculptures, and the viewer is given instructions on how to pose with each piece, and which posture to adopt. The results are often amusing – on the opening morning, some visitors thought the models were wax dummies as opposed to living people – but in an interview with The Collectors Chronicle, Wurm stated “the assumption that my work is predominantly humorous is wrong.” Instead, he is more interested in the relationships between the objects in the gallery and how the viewers interact with them to create new objects.

Personally, I din't find Kowanz's work particularly new or engaging. Whereas Wurn's I loved, despite it being the continuation of an existing series. And what capped it off was the opportunity to climb to the top of an inverted truck outside the pavilion, and gaze at Venice. Even though Wurm's cheeky guidance was to "stand quiet and look out over the Mediterranean Sea". Which obviously isn't on view...



The Luxembourg Pavilion is famous with The Biennial Project and the rest of the throngs of hungry art-lovers that mob Venice during the opening week of the Biennale as being absolutely the most generous with their receptions – predictably providing an opulent opening night spread for a huge crowd that includes with not only the de rigueur endless supply of procecco, but full dinner and desserts as well.

This Biennale I was fortunate enough not only to eat and drink on their dime but to also speak at some length with the artist and with the curator of the exhibit.

The curator explained that the artists under consideration were first pruned down to a list of twenty five, then three, and that then the top three were invited to give an hour and a half presentation of their ideas to the judges. They wanted not only innovative ideas that represented Luxembourg but also a new youthful vision with a global perspective. The artist they chose, Mike Bourscheid, is 35 years old and currently lives in Vancouver Canada.

His installation consists of 5 rooms. Each room displays costumes the that artist wears during his performance pieces. One room feels much like a mash up of a sport teams locker room and a ballet studio. In it you will find many outfits consisting of heavy-looking leather aprons and large metal cage-like shoes.

Each of these “uniforms” has a number on it. These costumes represent personal connections for the artist. One had the number of his old soccer uniform as a kid. One was that of a former roommate. One was that of Wayne Gretzky the famous hockey player (99). Mike explained that this uniform also represented another hockey legend (whose name, symbolically enough, I can’t remember) who wore the number 9 and who spent his live accumulating enough goals to finally break the goal for the most goals in a career, only to have Sir Gretzky beat his record in only a few years.  During his performance piece for this uniform the artist uses a pony tail to cover one of the 9’s to transform from one of the hockey players to the other.

In another room viewers are required to put protective covers on their feet before walking on the carpet although the carpet is not in any way special. The act of putting covers on one's feet involves the viewer in the experience of putting on a costume and contributes to an overall vibe of viewer-friendly and playful performance that makes the Luxenbourg Pavilion a Biennial Project favorite (and not only for the quality of the vittles!).

OK, that should do it for What We Saw, What We Liked - Part One. Part Two up next!  Check out our blog, website and facebook page for more on Venice!

Some of the Biennial Project Gang in Venice photo by Paul Weiner

The Biennial Project Brings You the Venice Biennale 2017 One Pavilion at a Time – Russian Pavilion by Charlene Liska


"No two people see the same Biennale, given the several thousand exhibits. Venice is momentary, fragmentary, a hope of chance sights that will hold fast in memory," says Laura Cumming of The Observer. So, stuck in my memory along with a handful of other exhibits (notably several wonderful uses of water and sound) is the Russian pavilion's ‘Theatrum Orbis,’ which references the first modern atlas. With the ambitious aim of spanning the world, the show features three separate pieces on 3 levels, by Grisha Bruskin, Recycle Group, and Sasha Pirogova. Of the three, I was particularly blown away by 'Scene Change' by Grisha Bruskin. It's a marvel of what you can do with black and white, what worlds it can span, how much more expressive and emotionally challenging it can be than ordinary color. In a darkened, domed space, white statues, some archaic, some surreal and futuristic, ring the walls, alternately harshly illuminated in raking light and plunged into darkness. Projected over and above the statues is a richly black and white animation of marching automatons, beginning with one individual, increasing to a horde, ultimately swarmed by fanciful airborne devices.  Sound builds from a low murmur  to shouts, roars, engine noises, finally to an hypnotic din. Are these multitudes contemporary freedom-fighters? Fascist brigades? Futuristic automatons? It is a deafening, mysterious, and sinister tour de force. In 'Scene Change', per Bruskin, "there is no movement whatsoever, be it from old to new, from primitive to complex, or from worse to better". What I love about this piece, with its great beauty and visceral allure that simultaneously attract and repel, is that it is also a sly reminder that such aesthetic thrills can cut both ways between sublime swoon, innocent enthusiasm ("Go team!"), and Riefenstahl-like enchantment. It's very old, but it's all still in there.

Charlene Liska, for The Biennial Project