Venice Biennale, Hew Locke – photo: Richard Christensen
BA(Hons) Fine Art and BA(Hons) Drawing students recently returned from a study visit to the Venice Biennale.
The visit gave students from the two courses an opportunity to spend time with those on a different course at Falmouth, and the group fit much into their time. 2017 graduate Abbie Hunt, who was supported by Falmouth School of Art and the British Council to undertake a British Council Venice Fellowship, had been in touch with the students to make recommendations based on her experience of working at the Biennale for a month. And exhibiting in this year’s Diaspora Pavilion were Falmouth Visiting Professor of Fine Art, Hew Locke and fellow Falmouth alumna Libita Clayton.
BA(Hons) Fine Art student Richard Christensen provided his response to some of the highlights, and some great images of the visit:
Venice Arsenale, photo: Richard Christensen
‘Our arrival in Venice was inauspicious, late on Monday evening with a biting wind which made for an uncomfortable ride in the vaporetto to San Marco. The wind continued into Tuesday, together with plenty of rain, and found its way into the exhibition spaces of the Arsenale, where there were few warm spots for retreat. But by Wednesday the wind had gone, and for the rest of our stay the city was pleasantly autumnal.
Much of the Arsenale site consists of a long series of halls which must once have been the dockyard workshops. The exhibitions here were organised into loosely defined themes (‘the Common’, ‘the Earth’, etc)…the openness of the themed pavilions created both variety and dynamism, with a multitude of thought-provoking and visually arresting works in all media.
Venice, British Pavilion, Phyllida Barlow – photo: Richard Christensen
The British pavilion had a painting-sculptural installation by Phyllida Barlow called ‘folly’. Energetic, exuberant, more than filling its space and spilling outside the building, it was certainly not lacking in ambition.
An area of undoubted strength at the Biennale was the consistently high standard of video art. Video is now clearly in an age of maturity, with professional production values and themes which speak to their audiences with clarity. Several works at Venice are operating at the boundary with cinema in terms of the scope of their ambition and their technical standards.
Although there was little live performance art at the Biennale, the one piece which I saw was remarkable for its power and intensity. The German pavilion was an almost empty space apart from a raised glass floor and glass panels separating some of the rooms. The audience, on entering the building, hardly knew what to expect. The four performers, initially positioned around the main exhibition hall, moved together and then separated in successive bursts of energy and slow deliberation, in a loosely structured narrative of encounters and separations.
Venice, German Pavilion, photo: Richard Christensen
At times there was intimacy, at others the threat of violence. Even though much of the performance took place in and among the audience, at no time was there any interaction with it. And despite the intensity of the piece the expressions of the performers were impassive throughout – indeed, this impassivity was what gave it much of its power. And at the end, when the four performers disappeared, their wordless drama, maintained over an hour and a quarter, left the audience exhausted by what they had seen and experienced.
Two and a half days in Venice could never provide much more than a taster of what the Biennale had to offer. I could easily have spent a whole week or more there taking in the art. And as for the city… I’m sure I could devote a whole year there just to exploring its endless maze of alleyways and canals.’
The Venice study visit is one of a number of optional overseas trips offered to undergraduate students of Falmouth School of Art during their studies. BA(Hons) Drawing have also in recent years visited Amsterdam, and BA(Hons) Fine Art have previously visited Berlin.