Asian Biennale Fantasy

so, here’s my latest lust – a trip to:

Gwangju Biennale, Korea with a side trip to Seoul to hang out with my favourite ex and fab printmaker Chris McC

Shanghai Biennale, China with a side trip to see Puff Charlie F, punk planner doing amazing things in Beijing

Singapore Biennale, Singapore with a side trip to see Rob C and the rest of the nutty Singapore crew rockin’ the equator.

All of which would come after a field trip in September to the Venice Architecture Biennale with my course (and a hop, skip and jump to London, München and Hamburg [‘türlich] to visit my NthHem peeps).

well, a girl’s gotta dream, doesn’t she??!!

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Well, Lyon Biennale was the last one I’ll be going to for a while, and to be honest, I can’t say I mind. I’m coming to the end of my travels in Europe/UK, and I’ve seen so much art that I think my brain is exhausted – time to sit back, take stock, process it and make some work of my own.

And perhaps I’ve been to too many biennales, exhibitions, art festivals and museums in the last 4 weeks, but the pervading feeling for me about the Lyon Biennial is frustration. To be fair, it’s not all the Biennale’s fault – I had a really frustrating time in general in Lyon – it was my first port of call for France, for French culture, French language, so I was having a major culture shock, and it rained for 3 days straight.

day 1: fondation bullukian and the musee d’art contemporain
I started off my lyon biennale experience getting the good deal of a 2-day pass for €29, which included entry into all the places (which were about 5-10 each anyway), plus transport for all those places. good deal. my first stop was the fondation bullukian, which technically had only 2 works in it, but one work was the art video rental library containing over 100 video works. In Australia, phat space started something like this a few years ago, so it wasn’t a completely new concept to me, per se, but it was done with way more rigour, funding and organisation than phat space ever did (nothing against Danielle and Jen at all). As I was going through the collection alphabetically, I came across, yes, you guessed it, Magical World by Joanna Billing – the third time in as many weeks. I got so excited and was telling the attendant about it, so she put it on the big screen (that was playing works from the library), so I got to hear it again! yay!

after that great experience, I wandered around rain-soaked lyon looking for replacement moleskine (wishing I’d them in italy when I’d seen them) and then headed out to the musee d’art contemporain to see the works there.

I made my way slowly up the three floors of the gallery and as I went up each floor, my level of frustration rose. the lower floor was a collection of artworks that had originally featured in a publication called zoo and was a really wide range of works, materials and feeling, all under the essence of only their ‘channel’ being the common idea. some of the work was pretty lame and I felt that a lot of it was crammed in, or misplaced (ie, you made narrative assumptions between work when there was none). the best work was actually three little architectural models for foodstuffs by Sammy Engramer– a pavilion for a kilo of noodles, looking like a Bauhaus block, a house for salami and something else – they were sharp and witty, why can’t the storage of our food reflect the way we shelter ourselves.

there was also quite an interesting sculpture made of mirror and draped in zhuzy purple feather boa, which, if it is a representation of a stockmarket graph (in 3d form) and a reflection of the superficial nature of market-driven focus, then I like it. But I also have a habit of intellectualizing and overanalyzing, so I’m just not sure if that’s what the work was actually about that.

On the second floor I was really quite looking forward to seeing the Ranjani Shettar “a little bit more’ work that I raved about at the Sydney Biennale earlier this year. In the chapel at NAS (which just happens to be my old uni), it looked fantastic, mystical and transcendental. In the huge white room with the blonde floorboards at the MAC, it looked like a shaggy piece of netting hung up in a high-school indoor basketball arena. It was completely lost and the lighting was just lame – it was either too bright or not bright enough.

The final icing on the frustrating cake for me was the work by 3 artists which was preceded by a security guard checking ID, as the work was ‘unsuitable for children’. I went in there, steeling myself for a range of offensive works, and all I saw was a glass structure, 3 coloured neon lights and a set-up which seemed to be about the idea of reflection (which, by the way I’m sick of in work and think it’s just bloody laziness). I asked the attendant what the work was about and whether it was this work that had the ‘offensive material’ and she didn’t speak English, and I couldn’t ask it in French and so I left, feeling duped and like I’d just walked in on the biggest fucking artwank in the history of the universe. I asked the ID-checking guard at the beginning of the room why, and she just answered ‘comme-sa’… fuckers. I was bloody ropable by this stage and none of the other work in the museum really did anything to restore my faith in contemporary art. I felt like I was part of an industry or whatever, that was the biggest load of bullshit I’d ever scene – and I have a degree in the shit and can cope with stretching the boundaries of art theory wank!) – I couldn’t imagine what someone without all the prior knowledge felt. in fact the whole show seemed to be about having prior knowledge and conserving the idea of exclusivity.

What wasn’t clear to me instantly, which became slowly clearer as the day went on was the ‘rules’ of the game. The accessible information about the show was all in French, which is fine, seeing as it’s in France, but fuck-all in English, which was very frustrating. A lot of the information about the biennale in English referred to the game and the players, but didn’t really elaborate and it wasn’t until I read the English catalogue at the end that any of it made sense to me at all, which was really, really unfortunate, as the premise of the exhibition was interesting. Similar to Selekta at West Space in Melbourne, this biennale had 2 ‘rounds’ of selection – firstly, a bunch of curators, writers and directors were asked to choose an artist who was doing some interesting stuff and who had been around since the beginning of the decade. Then a bunch of artists were asked to create works that best described the decade and some of the key ideas. The whole concept of having multiple ‘curators’ interested me to no end. where the idea falls down is that the theme or the focus of those selections is on something actually reasonable facile and is not all that enlightening about that much. in terms of a decade, 7 years in (well, actually 6, with the works/artists having to be chosen well before this biennale) is quite a silly place to be making statements about a decade, either in looking backwards or forwards. And, in the whole grand scheme of history of humanity and the breadth of ideas, what is the purpose of looking at a decade anyway? It just reminded me a little of Herald-Sun type news-grabbing themes to me.

There were still some great works to be seen and some selections by some fantastic people, but as a whole concept, I’m not so convinced about the Lyon Biennale.

day 2: institut d’art contemporain and le sucriere
I decided to give the other venues the benefit of the doubt and not judge all the works by a select few. L’institut d’art contemporain is so different from the le musee d’art contemporain that it’s quite astounding and I wonder if this is what classifies an ‘institute’ [my only experience with such things being the Australian institute of sport and of course the Ponds Institute.]

The work here was far more ‘mature’ and considered and site-specific. The work was able to actually say some important things about human nature, habit, power and creation. The highlights for me were the works by Dave Hullfish Bailey and especially his 3D ‘map’ of history, Pull Me From the Wreckage. It was a tableau of occurrences, with pieces of wood being the linear links between ‘events’ and those being signposted with small wooden stakes and handmade signs. It was at once powerful and adorable.

Simon Starling’s Work In Progress:Particle Projection was a beautiful piece about process and transformation. The image projection, from 16mm film (a beautiful format), was of a particle of Silver Gelation, a sample taken from a film still which was documenting the archiving of a film work (if I remember rightly). The rotating image itself was so peaceful and the documentary work gave it a context.

The other great work at the Institute (although I did get a bit depressed by it, because she was a year older than me and in an international Bienniale), was the work by Mai-Thu Perret, a swiss artist who created a ‘blue room’ from chroma key and project images from London streets and then a sound narrative which took you through the process of looking at a work and reflected to you the questions, fears and assupmtions you might have when experiencing that particular work. It was a little unnerving at times, but in a good way.

Later in the evening, after a well-earned disco nap, I went out to la sucriere, the artspace on the docs, which was reminiscent of Wharf 4/5 in Sydney. This venue was easily the best of the lot and I got a lot of out loads of the works. The ubiquitous Charles Avery and his island mythology was there, which was nice to revisit and Urs Fischer’s sculptures, well chosen by Massimilano Gioni (a favourite curator of mine) were great – a broom held upright by a balloon and an office chair tied with a floating cannon, all defying gravity.

The absolute hightlight for this venue and in fact the whole biennale for me was Cao Fei’s Nu River project. Apparrently part of a wider project to trek to the Yunnan province of China and to document the process, this video installation was all that resulted after untold ‘catastrophes’. This video, however, was hilarious [although, strangely, I was the only one laughing because I think the French either didn’t quite get the nuances of the English subtitles, or they just didn’t find it funny]. The work was about journey and travel, with little reminders about Kerouac’s On The Road, Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a little bit of Stand By Me and of course an unavoidable relationship to Mao’s Long March. There was the right amount of solemnity and poignant illustration of Chinese provincial life/poverty, sprinkled liberally with warped humour and stupidity. There is a scene where they replicate old school Chinese film (and a whole lot of monkey magic), with the ‘special effects’ of panning across two people and when the camera pans back, one person has ‘disappeared’ (ie, ducked out of view) and then on the pan back, ‘reappears’ (ie, stood up). That explanation doesn’t sound hilarious at all, but believe me, it was great! I also realised, as an Australian, how much of an influence the Asian warped sense of humour and cultural influence I have and how much I had been missing it here.

I’m in Paris now, having run out of money, and checking out what I can on the cheap/free, and on the way home. I’ll probably spend a bit of time taking stock, so there may be a few sentimental posts on here in the coming weeks, sorry about that J

UPDATE: i’ve got a really shit net-connection, so the bad pics will have to come later 🙂

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destroying athens

The main reason I came to Athens was to check out their first international Biennale. I also wish I had made more time to go to the islands and to check out other stuff, but unfortunately, that’s part of the traveling experience.

Part of my own, povvo version of the art festival Grand Tour 07 [The main ‘Grand Tour’ this year has been Munster, Basel, Dokumenta and Venice, but mine has been Sydney, Sharjah, Ars Electronica, Venice, Athens and probably Lyon next week.], the Athens Biennale has actually been quite a highlight.

Unlike the themes of other Biennials (Ars doesn’t quite count), this one, Destroy Athens, was an incredibly strong concept, looking at the overpowering weight of the classics and the archaeology on Greece and Athens in particular. And it is site-specific, which, rather than being limiting, served to bring together a really powerful group of artworks and also managed to convey much more of a universal message than, the broader themes of, say, ‘Zones of Contact’. The curators, XYZ, can be proud of their effort.

The works went through several stages of thematic grouping, which were signified by Days 1-6, a little weird, but the actual grouping of them was great:

Day 1
After the first video work Destination Deutschland, showing the destruction of 5 German bridges, the first ‘day’ was work by a range of culture jammers/activist groups including voidnetwork, the erasers and adbusters. While this area could have been mind-blowingly powerful, it lacked incredibly on execution that the message was just lost in a sense of half-arsed mess, which I was really disappointed about (especially because this is an area of art that I’m particularly interested in). The adbusters fly-posting was falling off walls, and if it was intentional, wasn’t done with enough precision to make that understandable. The posters should really have been 12-bill overpowering images to really get the message home about the force of advertising’s contribution to the destruction of culture. Same with The Erasers work – if they intended to erase work, like the ‘removed poster’ on the wall, they needed to make that a hell of a lot clearer AND to also make work outside the grounds of the compound to add to the effect (if they in fact did that somewhere and I missed it, apologies). The voidnetwork video work relating to the overload of information and the strain that the earth and cities are under from mass consumption was actually quite good (and Athens should know about mass consumption, especially of cultural product), but a little let down by the rest of it.

Day 2
This ‘stage’ featured a group of artists whose work spoke specifically on the weight of Athens architectural/sculptural history and the myth of that architecture/sculpture and history.

It featured video works and wall text by the Obolith Group and wall text which included great quotes like “For 200 years of more, the Greeks have been turned by us into a kind of angelic race” by John Winkler.

Greek artist, Ioannis Savvidis showed architectural/planning technical drawings reflecting the intense sprawl of Athens over 50 years, plus plans to alter public [fascist] monuments, plans to develop new kinds of tourism centered around an F1 track and what that really means for Athens and whether it has the true capabilities to handle the flux of a transient population.

Olaf Breunig’s video Rodakis was a documentary about an historical greek man, Rodakis, and the details of his life and the building of this house. The poignant twist at the end of the film is that, in fact, there are no details about Rodakis, or his life, that all the information was from a ‘reading’ done in 2001 from the abandoned house, which begs the question about ‘history’ and what aspects are truth and what is just supposition, conjecture and cirumstance from bits and pieces – an educated guess?

And, at the end of this large stage of over 20 artists, was a small crayon drawing by Pablo Picasso of the Parthenon, reducing it to yet another image of the greek ruins.

Day 3
The artists in this section of the Techonopolis mostly had work regarding the body which was introduced by another brilliantly hilarious video by Olaf Breuning of a tourist looking for an ‘authentic’ tourist experience, tracking the ‘locals’ in their native environment and then drugging them and stealing their costumes – given my recent experience of being a tourist and hanging out with fellow tourists on a daily basis, this was bang-on.
Robert Gober’s well-known ‘bodybag’ – a half male/half female wax sculpture- was part of the this stage, along with video works by Kajsa Dalhberg and Lotte Konow Lund, as well as a great ‘tunnel’ by Georgia Sagri, featuring nothing except people supposing about the meaning of the work and then leading the view pretty much straight back out again – again playing on the desire to having a culturally ‘rich’ experience even in an empty tunnel.

Day 4
This section was what I termed the ‘mashed’ section – starting with a real mash-up work of fluoro, collage, busy, intense paper and material covering a manufactured playground type area – and then proceeding into..

Day 5
This section was within a heavily industrial area of the venue and contained the sinister and obvious ‘destruction’ works, starting with works by Aidas Bareikis and Kimberly Clark – replicating dead bodies and rubbish dumps, with an intense heavy metal soundtrack in the background somewhere, and also included drawings of genocide and massacre, and the remnants of a performance where ceramics were dropped and broken in piles (looking similar to Pol Pot’s Killing Fields), both by by Terence Koh.

Day 6
Perhaps as a reflection or salve after the intensity of the previous stage’s destruction works, the final section of the main Biennale pavilion had work that dealt with salvation./religion – including a fantastic series of 588 paintings of a glass half full/empty. The highlight of this section, and in fact of the whole pavilion, was the prisoner’s inventions, collated by Angelo and Temporary Services. Perhaps because I had been thinking about the resourcefulness of those in captivity or with limited resources (like when you’re living out of a backpack), but this really appealed to my sense of ‘innovation’. There were artist brushes, cigarette lighters, radios and pencil cases (made from colgate toothpaste boxes) – brilliant.

And then, to put an absolute dampener on the whole amazingly uplifting and thought-provoking show, the final image of the show was a video of a dead/dying lamb, floating in a river – the lamb of god. I wanted to fucking vomit.

However, the work and curation of the show was amazing. Being the inaugural festival, there are a few things, of course, that should be improved for next time – signage really, really needs to be improved. They had some quite prominent bills near the venue, but once you got nearer, there was no indication about where to buy tickets and the staff were putting up ad-hoc arrows to lead you around the exhibition on the day I was there – a full 10 days after it opened [am I always whinging about signage?! Perhaps I should become a signwriter or ‘signage consultant’! ha!].

Chatting with Ioda (I hope I’ve spelt her name correctly) from the container bookstore was one of the highlights of the exhibition and having a nice place to sit and chat with others about the work afterwards could be improved, especially because there’s a lot to process. The catalogue was pretty good (although the black&white images, I’m hoping, will be upscaled to colour next time), and perhaps more free information about the artists – even the title of the works and where they’re from – would be helpful.

That may sound like a big long whinge, but really, I was greatly impressed with the exhibition – the theme and the responses to it were fucking brilliant and I’ll try to see what Athenians and other Greeks think of it in the next little while. It will be interesting to see what happens to Athens in the next little while and where it positions itself on the European and world cultural/metropolitan stage as a result of this festival.

My time in Athens itself, outside of the the Biennale was the least immersed in the culture, which felt a little weird and almost hypocritical. I didn’t learn any of the language (apart from please and thankyou), I went to Starbucks everyday, I hung out with Australians, Kiwis and Brits and ended up staying around the tourist area, which felt so, so wrong. And the whole time, I could feel the weight of the mountains and the temples peering over us in the valley.

I did go to the Acropolis, but only at night, when it was lit up so majestically and I had my first intense feeling of being just a speck of dust. I got a real sense of what it must have felt like hundreds/thousands of years ago, looking up at that temple and truly believing that it was the realm of the gods.

The other main thing i got while in Athens was bloody homesickness – the weather was so lovely and warm and the terrain reminded me so, so much of parts of Australia (especially around Perth and Adelaide), that my body just developed a craving for the pacific ocean and to be honest I’m kind of glad to be home in less that 6 weeks. If any Australians are still reading, could you organise for Summer to be in full swing around the 1st of November? That would be super!

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venice biennale days 2 and 3

Day 2 and 3 ofVenice were spent checking out bits and pieces in the city and then the Arsenale section of the Biennale, respectively.

Sunday I took the opportunity to do the city wandering bit because most of them were closed on Mondays. But my second day in the city was full of fuck-ups, false starts and frustrations. The main reason for that was the fact that Venice is THE most disorganized and frustrating city in the whole universe! [edit: scrap that, I’m in Athens now and it’s worse]And packed with Sunday tourists, it’s worse than I ever imagined, especially because I had no idea! I had to queue for everything, there are no toilets in the place and no pubs/cafes let you use them. And trying to find your way around is worse than food poisoning – it’s a case of back’n’forth, back’n’forth, trying to figure out exactly which bit on the map is where you’re at – and only half of the streets have street signs, the numbers are even more erratic than central London and the crowds are full-on.

After having no luck at the lost property office (I left both my hoodie and scarf on the fucking train from Vienna and they weren’t handed into the Venice office), It took me ages to find the second Australian pavilion in the Palazzo Zenobio – around and around I walked, finally running into a couple of friendly and equally lost midlanders who shared their slightly better map and we figured it out together.

Once I made it there I was pleasantly surprised to also find that Charles Avery, the great Scottish artist, based in London, was representing them in this year’s pavilion with some great drawings based on his story of a mythical island.

The first of the Australians I went to see was Callum Morton and his work Valhalla, a site-specific installation/sculpture of a derelict building, based on the dereliction of a building his father designed, but also reflecting images of destroyed buildings we see daily from Baghdad and the WestBank. The exterior is graffitied, with overgrown lawn and holes everywhere, but the inside is like the lobby of some faceless corporate headquarters, complete with bad musak and lifts, although with a weird ghoul-like infernal soundtrack, which is at once hilarious and slightly odd.

After chatting with Anna, a super-helpful member of the Italian Oz Pavilion staff, I headed into town to check out the Susan Norrie and Bill Viola video works.

Susan Norrie is an amazing video artists and her work HAVOC tracks the destruction, political action and clean-up surrounding a volcanic mudflow in West Java. In typical Norrie style, she manages to combine intense images with a slow-moving beauty, only rivaled by Mr Bill Viola. His work, in the rear of a church behind Piazza San Marco, is a 3-screen video work of people being saturated in water, going from black’n’white to colour and their physical reactions to it. It’s all about restoration and re-birth, as usual, and very beautiful.

The only down side to the Viola work was that it was so near Piazza San Marco. Which meant that, in going to see it, I had to follow the crowd (and we all know how much I love doing that) to the square, cross the nightmare that was the square and on the way back to the vaporetto station, cross back through the plague of pigeons, which people persisted on chasing – it was gross – the whole thing! I can’t imagine why people would want to go there and not want to vomit.

The rest of that night I spent just wondering around Venice, getting something to eat and getting a feel for the city after the tourists had jumped on the Intercity home.

Monday was a lot better – I slept in (just because I wanted to) and despite the rain, headed towards the Arsenale. The rain quickly cleared and it was a glorious day to walk around the ex-wharf/warehouse area. It’s a little bit like a combination of the Everleigh Rail Yards and Wharves 4&5 in Sydney – industrial, on the water and absolutely stunning. One image I took there reminded me so much of a De Chirico painting.

A lot of the work in this version of Robert Storr’s curated exhibition actually reminded me a lot of the works I had seen in the Sydney Biennale’s Zones of Contact. There was a lot of work about war zones (Emily Prince’s images of All the American Soldiers Killed in the War on Iraq and Afghanistan, Not Including those Wounded, or the Iraquis or the Afghanis, was quite amazing, as was Israeli artist Tomer Ganiha’s Hospital Party), about zones of restriction and of tourist areas – including a great work about [Tijuana] tourist junk by Jason Rhoades.

The best works included Prince’s, a great work by American in Germany, Christine Hill called Minutes, as part of the Volksboutique projects – a series of portable ‘trunks’ which contain everything you need for the home office – folders, telephone, stationery, desk, change of clothes, mirror, suitcase.. all in a trunk the size of a bass amp ‘fridge’ roadcase! It had an accompanying catalogue, another converted moleskine diary, but they had sold out, which is probably good for me, considering the amount of stuff I’m lugging around; and Marine Hugounier’s Homage to Ellsworth Kelly, well, needless to say, I tipped my hat in mutual appreciation.

The other great work was by Ignasi Aballi (the guy who did the list of languages in the Grande Padaglione Italia)– lists of criminals, nationalities, deaths, drugs, money, etc, cut from the headlines of spanish newspapers.

Apart from the group show, other pavilions I was able to check out were the Turkish pavilion, which featured a really lovely installation called ‘don’t complain’; one from People’s Republic of China, video and sound work in a fantastic industrial block plus oversized baby’s dummies and bottles; and the Italian pavilion – the first one in almost 20 years since the one in the Giardini was turned onto an international survey pavilion. This year the Italians got a lot of press interest, not just on their return to being a part of the festival, but also about Francesco Vezzoli’s Democrazy, featuring slebs Sharon Stone and Bernard-Henri Lévy as US Presidential candidates. All the hype was actually deserving as it was a fantastic video and scary how much Shazza reminded me of Hilary. Things that make you go hmmmm

Of course I didn’t get to see absolutely everything at the Biennale – I never do – but I do wish that I’d been able to stay a little longer. Venice takes a while to get your head around and it took me the first 2 days to realise that it works on a completely different ethos – that wandering around and letting things surprise you is a bit part of the experience.

*i’m calling these images ‘paintings of venice’ because my camera is busted. don’t give me too much grief about it. other ‘paintings’ are on my flickr site, as ususal.

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venezia, baby

Venice Biennale: Day 1, I Giardini

So from Vienna, I caught an overnight train to Venice, which was quite a strange experience for me. I scored a whole sleeping bunk room on my own, so I made myself some dinner, turned the lights off to watch the scenery, jumped into my Pjs, put some music on and promptly fell asleep at about 9pm! In fact getting changed into my boxers on a train carriage was one of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had – all I could think about was Samuel L Jackson: “motherfucking naked on a motherfucking train!” Ha!

I woke up at almost 7am in Italy, near the Czech border, and watching a fantastic landscape go by. over breakfast and chillin’ into the day I could see amazing fields and lighter trees, the water was a different colour and it was warm! Yay!

My first day of Venice was focused on getting to the Biennale. After checking into my hostel and having to switch languages (I was just getting used to communicating in German!) I headed to the Giardini to see most of the International Pavillions. Given my time over, I’d give the Giardini a full day, but today I only had 4 hours, so I was ruthless. I planned an attack strategy and I think it turned out OK. I started with the Australian pavilion, because I was looking for something familiar, then to France, Great Britain, Korea, Russia, US, Italian Grand Pavilion and Israel. It sounded like a great travel itinerary and I’m kind of surprised that with your ticket you don’t get a ‘passport’ and stamps at each of the pavilions, where you can keep track of where you’ve been, but also to have a fun kind of element to it.

In the Australian Pavilion, Daniel Von Sturmer is one of my ‘you’re so awesome, it hurts’ artists (which regular readers of this blog will know), so I knew I would love the work. And I did. He created this wooden pathway, which wound its way across, up and around the pavilion, leading the viewer to a series of screens and sculptural works. Daniel’s work is all Art Geek and perhaps that’s why I love it – his work references ‘the plane’, drawing, perspective, scale, colour – everything you need to think about when drawing or creating works. Also the kinds of things which are vital to changing your perception of an object and/or environment.
I could understand that some wouldn’t like it because there wasn’t a lot of accompanying information, but on a very personal level, that didn’t matter to me so much.

The French have been ruing their lack of international contemporary art clout for a while, but if they can follow in her footsteps, Sophie Calle is going to lead French artists out of such despair. Her work Prenez Soin De Vous is my favourite of the whole Biennale, so far. It’s a deconstruction of a ‘Dear John’ letter written to her, in terms of the variety of ways in which we all deconstruct anything meaningful: text, language, love, drama, perspective, personality, comprehension, context, emotion and memory. She got a variety of people to process the letter in a variety of ways, the list of which included: judge, historian, advocate, criminologist, romance novelist, ethno-methodologist, CONSULTANT EN MATIERE DE SAVOIR VIVRE, psychiatrist, INSTITUTRICE EN MATERNELLE, diplomat, public ECRIVAIN, graphic artist, mother, stylist, ADO, commissioner of police, COMPTABLE, translator into SMS, proof reader, English translator, crossword developer, latin writer, ECRIVAIN, NORMALIENNE, sexologist, journalist, cockatoo (who ate the letter and then said hello!), meditator, designer, composer, philosopher, psychoanalyst and clairvoyant.
and then made 36 separate movies of performances about the letter, with actors, musicians, singers, dancers and other performers, including big names that I knew such as Peaches, Miranda Richardson and Yolande Moreux. It might not sound like a very interesting or engaging piece the way I’ve described it, but it was bloody brilliant and had something for everyone – even if you couldn’t speak/read/understand French– on an intellectual and emotional level. I could have sat and watched the movies for ages, but needed to get going.

*those in caps italics are descriptions i couldn’t translate myself and didn’t have time to find a translation for

“Trace” – Tracey Emin(who I have a particular soft spot for, and about whom I wrote an essay during my studies) – represented Great Britain in the Giardini (although Scotland, Ireland and Wales have their own pavilions in the city). And it was fucking excellent. It featured a range of drawings, sculptures, prints and paintings (she’s a good painter) about the pain of sex (wanted and unwanted) and the constancy of having an abusive upbringing. While some may roll their eyes and say ‘not again’, or, as overheard, “people pay for this?” “no, people pay to buy this”., I think she does it in a way that’s strong enough to keep reminding and subtle enough to be adorable. I loved the show and I even picked up a little souvenir for myself and a surprise present for Claire – I’ll show you once I’ve give it to her. Interestingly, the Sophie Calle exhibition about emotional pain was packed and well-loved, but Emin’s show about sexual pain is “too difficult” and uncomfortable.

I was really pleased to see Korean artist Hungkeo Lee representing Korea and feel that it’s inidicative of the progressive nature of Korean art at the moment that an artist using cartoons/animation figures in an anthropological manner (and featured in ‘low-brow’ mag, Juxtapos) is selected as their representative, rather than someone showing more‘serious” work). The show included the skeletal remains of two characters in their natural environment – the cat chasing the mouse – with two separate lab-type rooms: one with a bunch of containment and testing devices, the other replicating a museum display, but with the tools and processes in making of the creature as the subject. I found it poignant that making a cartoon creature a “vertebrate” gave it validity of sorts.

Felix Gonzales-Torres is a dead artist representing his country at the Biennale and is showing some fantastic works: word based images of Americas ability to create death and destruction – equating their fighterplane production with their ability to produce movies about death, liquorice bullets for the taking (endless supply) and a beautiful lightglobe work in the middle of the entrance.

The last major pavilion I managed to see for the day was the fantastic Padaglione Italia – the group show curated by Robert Storr: Pensa con I sensi, senti con la mente: l’arte al presente [Thinking with the senses, feeling with the mind: art in the present tense].
By this time it was about 5:15 and I had 45 minutes to check out work by about 50 artists, so, again, I had to be selective. I ended up checking out Shaun Gladwell and his well-known Storm Sequence plus a new work Broken Hill Linework. Projected onto the floor, you could see the ground moving underneath your feet, and if you stood in the right place, could feel like a skater. I was impressed with Waltercio Caldas’ Half Mirror Sharp – a great 3D installation manifestation of a modernist painting (shown above, not so sharp, thank to my shit camera) ; Sol LeWitt(RIP)’s black and grey scribble works, Ellsworth Kelly’s relief works – (the man is still alive! I had no idea!), Kara Walker’s silhouette animation, Louise Bourgeouis’ grid of drawings, Raymond Pettibon painted on the walls of the room and had such gems such as ‘professionalism is a hate crime’, plus a great work filling the walls of a room with an alphabetical listing all the languages of the world (by Ignasi Aballi), and then old mate Fred Sandback again creating a sculptural diagram in 3 dimensions with yarn.

Then the ‘go home you bastards’ announcement came over the PA. I spent some time wandering around near the Giardini, soaking up some of the sunset and then went back to the hotel to recharge.

Phew! What a day!

*sorry for the lack of titles in the Padaglione, you didn’t get a room sheet and I ran out of time to write them down.

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i don’t know why you say dubai, when i say hello

that’s the second pun i’ve made that makes me groan. i really should stop that, i’ve got a lot of blog post titles to write and i don’t want to a) alienate too many of you and b) run out of material.

so, as you may have guessed, I’m in dubai. it is an amazing place,a bloody anomaly and I think unless you’ve been here, I can’t even really explain it. I’m grateful that I have a sense of wonderment and that I’m willing to accept Dubai on Dubai’s terms. That I’m not expecting Melbourne in the desert (or something similar).

Firstly, I’m glad I came here knowing someone (well). One of my best friends lives here and as a result of that, I was met at the airport this morning by a wonderful lady in a bright yellow jacket who was part of the marhaba service. Dianne from Marhaba took me on a golf-cart ride through the very large airport, whisked me through passport control without a drama (and thanks to my tattoos, piercings and slightly odd hair colour, that’s a huge deal) and organised for a porter to carry my bags. all of this was organised (and paid for)by my friend and I’m so grateful for it. If you are ever coming here, take note. The ladies in the golden jackets are saviours.

My first day here was kind of about managing jetlag and saying a quick ‘toodle pip’ to the place. I was introduced to the heat, the mad traffic and the joy of 5-star hotel lobby bars(including fantastic waffles were great!)as a place to wait for a taxi after trying for 45 mintues in 38C heat on the street. We also went to the Dubai museum, which needs a serious kick up the backside in terms of really cataloguing their exhibits, and a couple of galleries, saw a fantastic exhibition by an Iranian Parisienne and ate some amazing food. Yes, I may have almost passed out from jetlag, but that didn’t stop me. I’ll talk more about the art later.

jumeira beach, not the one we paid for.

After another nap, we had some tea (dahl) and then trotted off to the beach park. Coming from Australia and especially Sydney/Wollongong, having to pay to get into the park so you can go to the beach was very strange for me. The beaches and parks are packed at night here, especially in Summer because the heat is fucking unbearable. Mostly Indian,Pakistani and Filipino families hang out in the park (there is a huge Indian/Filipino population which make up most of the labour force), squeezing in some time together before heading back to one of their 2 jobs.

Day 2 in Dubai was definitely tourist day. Otherwise known as art and architecture day. And by the end of it, I was beat. So tired that I didn’t even get the chance to do the one thing that I had wanted to do hear for ages, which was go dancing at the Palm, an Ethiopian club in Dubai. Dammit!

madinat jumeira souk, the canal system and al burj al arab.
otherwise known as the postcard shot

Anyway, I digress. In one day, I got to see the breadth of Emirati architecture here and for me it highlighted the breadth (and confusion) of heritage and experience here. Not that I’ve been around the world to compare, but it feels like the Emiratis have attached status to architecture more than anywhere else in the world. Dubai, especially, is an architect’s wet dream. There are new buildings going up every goddamn second. And I don’t mean the 20 storey monstrosities that we complain about in our whitebread suburbs in Australia (and maybe in other cities too), but I mean some serious buildings going up. Huge 70, 80, 100 storey things with the most amazing and contemporary designs you’ve ever seen. Sydney and Melbourne have some pretty spiffy buildings, designed by some amazing architects, but the architects working in Dubai shit all over them.

a small section of the architecture – in a city smaller than melbourne

There are bowed buttresses, split buildings, wind-tower inspired works, circular buildings, spires, wings, you name it, the new buildings here have got them. I’m sure they’ve been designed with some kind of function in mind, but it sure feels like the kids have been given a massive budget and told to design the coolest looking building they can. And it seems they’ve also been told not to worry about context, landscape, practicality or ventilation, no need. There is no context because Dubai has only been around as a modern city for about 2 seconds; The landscape is the equivalent of a white canvas (read: desert and a bunch of other new buildings) and ventilation? Allah invented air conditioning, so don’t worry about it.

dubai marina

I really know fuck-all about architecture, but I’m super-interested in it as a manifestation of a society’s identity and its relationship with itself and others. And in this context, Dubai is fucking amazing! and I could spend a lot of time burrowing into the complexities of the place. I’ve bought an architecture magazine to try and get some enlightenment and hope to find a book on the Emirates and its relationship to architecture. If anyone out knows some more or can point me in the right direction, tell me more!

The diversity of environments that I had the pleasure of visiting yesterday included Jumeira – which is s.wank.y, the infamous Burj Al Arab – which I only found out was in Dubai on the plane, Madinat Souk, which is in an amazing resort and based on old mud-brick wind-tower style buildings, the new Dubai Marina -biggest building site in the world, man, Sharjah University City – based on a mash-up of the Champs Élyseès and the entranceway to the Taj Mahal, Sharjah desert, Sharjah Art Museum – an amazing classic building which also houses the Sheik’s [gauche] art collection and the Blue Souk. Then my head exploded and I had to go home and go to bed.

sharjah mosque on the corniche

I think it’s going to take me a good couple of months to really process the intensity of experience I had yesterday, so I’m glad I took photos. I usually hate being one of those touristy types that spends half the time looking through the lens, but with the barrage of amazing sites, I really needed to record it in some way so that I can go back to it.
I’ll do a separate post about the art in the Emirates to include XVA/XVB and Sharjah Biennale 07.

I’m heading to London tomorrow morning so today we’re just going to chill out, check out the Emirates Mall and Ski Dubai. And if you think that sounds lame, hanging out in the mall is what is done here. It’s nothing like Mall Boy or Mall Rats. Malls here are iunder cover, air-conditioned and the main place where people can interact – families and young ones alike. It’s like Cooper Pedy above ground, kinda. And yes, full of western stores and companies. (BTW, Age, i’m going to post about Nike in the UAE, just for you!)

One or two post about the UAE is not enough to convey anything worthwhile about the place, but i’m not going to spend all my time writing, so you’ll just have to come here and see it for yourself.

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