My visit to the Venice Biennale 2017
So (or allora as they say here in Venice) there is barely a pavilion in the Giardini which isn’t showing a video of some description. Some are explanatory and accompany the art, which is fine, but so much of it is the art and that’s when I start getting twitchy. Sorry to all my artist friends who make video installations but they do not engage me in any way, clearly I am missing something and may indeed be a Philistine but you probably shouldn’t read any further. I have no problem watching television or going to the cinema so I am not sure why I find this medium so devoid of interest and I have been spending some time trying to puzzle it out.
I was thinking that when a film is made of a book it always becomes one (or maybe several) person’s vision of that book. You as the viewer are saved the trouble of taking in the words and imagining the world that is being conjured up. In this way is video art an easy option? Is it art for the masses, the bored, the lazy? Is it doing all the work for you? I’m not sure it is because they are so often difficult, repetitious and confounding.
One pavilion, I have not bothered to remember which, has changing faces of people reciting the word apologise, apologise in different pitches – I don’t find this clever or even interesting and if it is significant and meaningful then it passed me by. Is it that I am too clever and resent having the work of thinking done for me or am I not clever enough to get it? I know that films can be moving and inspirational but perhaps that is because of the story and art videos are maybe not about story in that explicit way.
This afternoon over an alarmingly orange and slightly bitter Aperol spritz I conjectured that it might be about place. I have flown thousands of miles to walk into a space to experience an artist’s creative vision and a video immediately takes me elsewhere. A film, unless it is filming me interacting with the work in the space is absolutely not present – it is aggressively elsewhere and maybe the point of art should be to be present, to have the viewer experience it in a very real way. I could watch any of these videos at home in my lounge room with my Aperol spritz made just how I like it to pretty much the same effect.
France’s pavilion has been transformed into a music studio, all wood and sound deadening panels with instruments strewn about (and, while I was there, no performers) The walls were not the only thing baffling. Denmark has a performance work about darkness which has you sit in complete blackness (and then some not very illuminating light displays) while three women’s voices narrate or recite some very trite nonsense about darkness and light for 30 minutes and I think there was a talking seed. Poetry! I can sit in the dark and listen to poetry for hours but not at an art fair and not if it is not good poetry. Germany has a performance piece below a clear floor with the audience above which I have yet to brave the queue for so I am not sure if it is dance or theatre or a little from column A and a little from column B. It is supposed to be really good but that is not my actual point. Egypt has built a mud brick facade inside which they are showing a film on five screens. Poland is showing an impenetrable slo-mo film in a blacked out room so dark that everyone entering falls over the foot high platform on which the seating is arranged – now if they were filming that and replaying it on the screen that would have been something. Art people! I want art! I don’t want your solemn, performative, experiential, interpretive dance with your constantly depressing falling cadences and atonal music.
I would be more than happy to watch any of these works at, lets say, The Venice Film Festival, The Venice international Contemporary Music Festival, The Venice International Theatre Festival, or the Venice International Festival of Contemporary Dance (except I don’t think many of them would make the cut) but until it is ok for me to show sculptures or paintings at any of these other affairs I think they should be restricted severely at the ART Biennale and visual artists should be able to show up and make art and have the audience interpret it in their own heads without a fucking screen!