Living in Rome
Once every two years from June to November, Venice becomes the centre of the contemporary art world, when it is hosting one of the most prestigious international art gathering: the Biennale. Initially a competition between Nation States, it has developed into a multi-cultural event dedicated to contemporary art, ie visual arts from the 1960s/70s to today, including official presentations as well as more alternative shows throughout the city. As part of the event, the participating countries select one of their artists to represent them in their national pavilion located in the Giardini district of Venice, while at the same time a cross-border international exhibition is organised by the chosen curator for each Biennale. The countries who joined more recently have an exhibition space in the nearby Arsenale, which developed as a space as the Biennale needed to expand from its original setting in the Giardini. This year, the Biennale Golden Lion for best national participation was awarded to Germany with the work of Christof Schlingensief, A church of fear vs the Alien Within. In the pavilion, the artist recreated the church where he served as an altar boy, which he used as a setting for a number of simultaneous film projections, visual art displays and music. Schlingensief had just enough time to design the pavilion but never saw his complete work as he died from lung cancer in 2010, almost a year before the opening. I entered the pavilion without knowing anything about him and his personal story, and was immediately pulled in. The church setting was impressive and the artistic content powerful. Of course, it seems even more meaningful now that I know that it was about his personal struggle with cancer.
The Golden Lion for the Best artist of ILLUMinations, the separate exhibition organised independently from the national shows by this year’s curator, was awarded to American artist Christian Marclay for his masterpiece, The clock. This is the most AMAZING work of contemporary art I have seen in recent time, and for me it alone justified a trip to the Biennale! The work is made of a series of short film clips taken from recent and older movies, so the viewer starts by trying to remember which movies they are taken from. The clips, which smoothly run over an uninterrupted 24-hour period, are all about time and clocks. After a little while, one realizes that it is not about a set time, but the clock is moving forward in the film. A little later (it took me about 40 minutes) it becomes clear that the time on the screen is syncronized with real time. So when it’s 4.30 pm in the film, it is 4.30 pm on the viewer’s own watch. It left me with the very strange feeling of time subrepticely passing by or ticking forward, without me noticing, just like in real life. Very powerful:
Living in Rome, we are quite isolated from the contemporary art scene in spite of the new MAXXI museum, and would therefore not be as exposed to it as in London, New York, Berlin or even Paris. So visiting the Venice Biennale is a good way to catch up with what’s going on in the 21st century art world. It is also a nice opportunity to enjoy Venice and see new art in prestigious settings such as old palaces and other landmarks of the city. I’m planning to make it a regular trip every two years!