From a personal
viewpoint, it is with great relief that I am not crawling on all
fours in a repeat of the violent heat of summer 2003 trying to engage
with the art and staying alive at the same time. For that reason,
the pull of the Welsh Pavilion in the slightly cooler setting (In
more ways than one) of the Giudecca was too great and it was here
that I enjoyed my stay most. This magnetic attraction continued
for 2005 as I was so impressed by the Wales debut of 2003 that my
view was slightly biased in making sure that we made the effort
to return to this part of the city during the vernissage.
homing beacon of Cerith Wyn Evans installation piece Cleave
03 (Transmission, Vision of the Sleeping Poet), it seemed peculiar
making the journey across the grande canale without the piercing
beam of light shooting into the sky for the opening event. A tough
act to follow indeed. It is always with great curiosity what the
intentions of the descending artists choose to follow in making
and presenting work for Venice. The actual nature of the venue poses
so many questions to the artist, that they can choose to ignore
the competition with the history of its art or embrace the essence
and absorb their work into the foundations of the place.
The title of
the Welsh presence Somewhere Else reflects the participation
of exhibiting outside the Biennale gardens in the ex Birreria, on
Giudecca. As with any small nation, there is always that underlying
feeling of being on the outside looking in, but all credit to the
Welsh ensemble in embracing the trend of moving away from the masses
and establishing their own position. The jostle for superiority
in the giardino all adds to the excitement and the volume of art
displayed in the arsenale truly tests ones capacity of experiencing
the work in one sitting. This is why the vaporetto across the grand
canale clears the mind and allows the opportunity of experiencing
the Welsh Pavilion in what seems like all the time in the world.
Once you have made the trip over, the spectacle of watching the
mayhem back on the other side of the water makes you feel that there
is no point in returning.
So the selection
of artists curated by Karen Mackinnon proved an interesting mix
of where contemporary art in Wales stands today. The artists representing
Wales for 2005 are Peter Finnemore, Laura Ford and Paul Granjon.
Additionally, these artists are joined by Bedwyr Williams as the
artist in residence. This residency is a new opportunity organised
by Artworks Wales and Wales at the Venice Biennale of Art 2005 and
was selected by open submission. Typifying the culture of art development
in Wales, the residency once again proves the forward thinking and
support in elevating Welsh artists in prominent arenas.
So after igniting
the public’s imagination with the show Further in
2003, how does the collective of Somewhere Else stand up
in this cauldron of visual feasts? In essence, the show is inevitably
more low key than 2003, but there is a feeling that the exhibition
this year holds more substance. The initial razzmatazz of Wales
participation in 2003 has subsided, so the focus has shifted to
the importance of the work itself, which is surely the primary reason
for being here in the first place. With an admission of no thematic
consideration, the show nevertheless encapsulates many collective
traits of a country steeped in culture.
As stated in
the notes of Mr. Michael Nixon (Commissioner - Wales at the Venice
Biennale, 2005), "If there are similarities in the artists
approach, it is through a sensibility which comes from artistic
concerns that are generated through social as well as formal interests.
This in turn, is approached through humour or an examination of
stereotypes and these views, from 'somewhere else' do not subscribe
to an orthodoxy, although the work has serious intent".
Apart from Paul
Granjon, all the artists were born in Wales and only Laura Ford
lives and works outside of the principality. French born Paul Granjon
has lived and worked in Cardiff for the past ten years and is deservedly
included for his contribution to art in Wales over this period.
So with a cultural mix reflective of an ever-evolving country, the
work stands out with an equal balance of humour, complexity, childlike
perspectives, subconscious observations and an underlying seriousness
that pulls all the work in together as one. Without a showcase piece
as in 2003, the subtlety of Somewhere Else forces the viewer
to fully explore the delightful nuances of each artists work. Humour
is a powerful tool as an icebreaker between the work and the viewer
and so the audience is left feeling fairly comfortable in the first
instant. It is only on further investigation that we are aware of
slightly darker themes at play.
This is certainly
the case in the work of Laura Ford. Familiar with
Laura Ford’s recent solo shows at the Houldsworth Gallery,
London – Headthinkers (2003) & Wreckers
(2004), the most striking aspect of these shows and the work presented
in Somewhere Else is the juxtaposition of the pieces. In
Ford’s creation of strange hybrid creatures, the positioning
of the work provokes interesting questions that seem to cover a
multitude of extremities. In the work Beast, a sole hybrid
creature sits on a small stool with a hood covering its head. With
an animal like posture, in one extreme it suggests the possibility
that it is a creature taking a rest from a children’s fantasy
film, but at the other end of the scale it is suggestive of the
harrowing torture images one associates with recent news bulletins.
It evokes similar ‘Terrorist’ imagery to that of the
work shown in Wreckers (2004) of suicide bomber children.
Yet, through all of this it plays with this double edge sword of
extreme darkness and childhood innocence. Ford seems to take you
to places that you probably did not wish to take and reinvents psychological
scenes with playfulness that never strays too far away from their
figures in Glory Glory are a miss-match of identities from
national costumes, deconstructing stereotypes and posing questions
of our own identity and emphasising the multi cultural society in
which we live. In all, using figures associated with child’s
play and placing them in an adult world, it is a surprising mixture
that engages all of your primary emotions.
seem to be central in Paul Granjon’s work
in his creation of a Robotarium. This Robotarium
consists of three battery-operated robots that seem to encapsulate
basic human needs in a low tech closed in ‘Zoo’ environment.
The premise is divided by two of the robots (male & female)
actively seeking each other out to ‘mate’ in a synchronised
almost balletic dance around the enclosure. This pursuit is dictated
at pseudo-random intervals with the robots entering an ‘in
heat’ algorithm. Unfortunately, the two robots can only mate
successfully if they are both ‘in heat’, otherwise they
cannot detect each other. Separated from this mechanical love affair
is the third and more humanistic of the three robots, whose sole
objective seems to be avoiding all manner of obstacles in its path.
Mirroring the many obstacles of life itself, the Smartbot
as its titled, enters into programmes of emotion if its simple task
of wandering aimlessly results in failure, be it crying, blinking
or even swearing (In French & English).
It is an intriguing
idea of how basic human functions can be simplified in this makeshift
arena and is an interesting and humorous overview of social activity.
One of the most insightful discoveries is that Granjon utilises
the escalating detritus of the technological revolution to create
his work. This filters a more serious outlook on the work, as it
is suggestive of how our society exists today and also reflects
our intense quest for technological advancement.
of social activity and identity, albeit removed of mechanical machines,
are a focal point in Peter Finnemore’s three-screen
video installation for Somewhere Else. Finnemore’s
work delves into an exploration of memory, the home, Welsh cultural
history and narratives with an appealing sense of humour and surrealism.
A common theme taken from his current show Zen Gardener
is the use of his own garden as a theatre for performance and the
appearing actors dressed in character. There is a beautiful madness
to enticing members of your own family and close friends to dress
up in combat gear and perform in these videos. This is not always
the case as mostly, Finnemore acts alone, although in some cases
even pets appear in leading roles as seen in Time Lord Explaining
Uncertainty Principle to Muffin the Cat (2005). However, the
work is extremely complex and multi-layered encapsulating a range
of ideas, influences and historical art references. This is evident
in Potato Eaters (2005), whereby there are direct references
to The Potato Eaters, titled works of both Van Gogh and
with another diversity of ideas and surreal humour is the resident
artist, Bedwyr Williams who in the words of the
Welsh press release is ‘Our man in Venice, intrepid detective,
reporter, non-participant observer and loose cannon on the island
of Giudecca’. This was never more evident than in his publication
on Venice, Basta, an observational critique of the more
mundane happenings of island life, with occasional comparisons to
his own experience of growing up in North Wales. In direct contrast
to the endless tourist books and novels on Venice, ‘Basta’
transpires into a book of quintessential honesty, that emanates
child-like thoughts without consequence. The fourteen-week residency
provided enough time for the artist to almost break down cultures
and install a refreshing equality that resonates in the final work.
All in all,
the success of Somewhere Else stems from the natural realism evident
in all the work. There is nothing forced in this pavilion, just
the inescapable feeling that behind all the Welsh wit and surreal
imagination is a pertinent questioning of how we live our lives
in today’s multi cultural society. Sometimes it is the quietest
voice that creates the loudest noise and in Wales follow up to 2003,
once again it is evident that Wales have reasserted themselves as
a ‘must-see’ event at the 51st Venice Biennale.