Friday, 31 July 2009

Venice Biennale - 6 - collateral events

In the Saudi Pavilion, tucked down beside the Guggenheim collection, stood there, with an orange aura, the mother of all kitsch elements in the Arab world: The Fake Neon Palm Tree. Controversy on that issue can be discussed in length. But in Venice, surrounded by old stones and a view on the canal, it served its purpose.
The exhibition has the intention to be at the edge of Arabia (its title) and presents confirmed artists who like to push it to another level.
Among others, Manal al-Dowayan portraits women with some male professional tools: "I am an engineer" "I am a truck driver". The message is loud and clear. The photography in black and white is apealling.
Ahmed Mater Aseeri uses two x-rays printed on paper prepared with tea, pomegrenate, coffee and other materials used traditionally on the opening page to a religious text.
The show gives a sensation that contemporary art in Saudi Arabia is moving on the uphill road for more fame.

(link to the website : edge of arabia)

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Venice Biennale - 5 - collateral events

In the collateral events, the one not be missed was : Peter Greenaway's video installation of "The wedding at Cana". He used the wall where the painting originally was hung, in the Benedictine abbey across from St Mark's Square. He pulled teams of sound and lights experts. He wrote scripts for a virtual dialogue between all figures on the canvas and added music to the event. He manipulated laser beams, projections on side panels, numbers on characters for identifications, closeups images of faces, animated diagrams. He darkened some areas, focused on others and the show was on for 50 min.
The stage set for the wedding. Murmurs of voices starts with a gossip on the far end, comments on the invitees, remarks on cloths, references on food. Attention gets closer to the main organizers, their worries and pride. Instruments are played, cutlery shaken, velvet and silk crumpled. "An ebullient painting, a feast, a wedding, a celebration, a grand event, a tumult, a swirl of bright conversation, laughter, music. (...) Banish gloom, guilt and melancholy. What are all these people saying, talking about, chattering about,debating, anticipating, discussing? Should we listen in? Can we listen in?" says Greenaway in his written introduction.
Until drinks dried up and the Christ performs his first public miracle to turn water to wine. And it continues to spin in their heads, on their tongues: doubts, amazement, suspicion, credulity...
The miracle was depicted as if Jesus was part of the Venitian court of the 16th century and far away from its setting in Cana, Galileo with a Jewish background in AD 31/ 33

Could Paolo Veronese, the Italian painter of the Renaissance in Venice, have thought of this interpretation in his "Wedding at Cana"in 1562? Or did Greenaway see in this painting the potential to go beyond what the artist offered in his art?
He was able to turn this silent canvas into a lively hybrid from modern technology to art history to an explanatory form of the subject with the context of the period it was painted in.
"In this way it seems that, shifting the identity of this work from vision to sound, you were able to retain the idea of Veronese, that is the idea of art, which is always to establish a non-place" says Achille Bonito Olivia

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Venice Biennale, 4 Palestinian pavillion

The collateral events scattered around the city are as interesting as the main events in the official Arsenale and Giardini. With a map and the vaporetto, it felt like a paper rallye race from one end to the other, trying to locate them.
For the first time, the Palestinian pavillion presented few works of their artists. As Palestine is not recognised as a country, it could not have its own stage. In reference to that state without land, their catalogue and title "Palestine c/o Venice" is about the need to have a host for their existence.
In its tourist's guides, Venice has the stigma of starting the first Jewish ghetto in 1516, when the ruling council decided to make all Jews live in the "Ghetto Nuova" and allowed them to practice their pawn-lending under strict laws, leave their ghetto with a yellow scarf or circle and lock the gates at night.
Venice is coming a long way, to allow the victims of the Israeli occupation to have their own physical presence on land and show their art under their own banner.
Palestinian art is closely related to lives under harsh conditions. It has to do with installations of photos of land, villages destroyed, buildings restored…
Salwa Mikdadi, the event's independent curator, had the difficult task of conceiving the project, as she says on the artists :"The fluidity of their art is reflected on their ability to work unfettered by geopolitical boundaries and exile. Collectively, they have brought to the world’s attention diverse conceptual readings of space of memory, displacement, migration, nation and the human condition."
Or which art to present at the biennale and how will it be understood in the arena of the best and will it be of equal level as the other art works?
Their most surprising work was in the dark sound proof room, where Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Patti offer a recording of: words from the Oslo treaty, people arguing, songs by Oum Kalthoum, and the unfogettable, hauting resonnace of bombs and shellings... It had the simplicity of a straight forward art, with a vibration that plunged the viewer into another time and space.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Venice biennale, Giardini - 3

In the Giardini, among the 30 official pavillions, the elegant Venitian pavillion concentrated on glass works and their garden had a explosion of colors, forms and materials by the artist Dale Chihuly. The pavillion is about "glass art" and the historical link to the murano traditions.

The Egyptian pavillion presented their best work with canvas by Adel Al Siwi and Ahmed Askalany's scupltures in palm tree leaves and iron. The giants looked impressive and gave a earthly feeling of life on the Nile's shores. Size of these "worshipers" was dramatic, filling the space with deep connection to majestic monuments from the pharaos' time.

In the Brazillian pavillion, two artists were representing the art in South America. At first glance, the canvas works by Delson Uchoa in their intrecate layers of materials, and the brightness of colors were the most striking. But after reading the curator's note, the Luiz Braga's photography is on one hand very familiar and simple but also researched in details :" because his approach to the subject is not literary or ideological, his gaze records, directly and precisely, documented sequences that seem to strech out the time of a peculiar life. Treated as a raw material in an abstract, aesthetic vision, the Amazon reveals itself as an artificial world, like a markedly pictorial , nearly dreamlike staging of the place where he lives."

The Spanish pavillion proudly showed Miquel Barcelo's retrospective. His works include his love for Africa, He uses organic materials on his canvas as well as clay for his ceramics. His performance recorded on video using a large amount of clay on a wall then on a person reveals a tendency to surrender and surround himself with clay and earthly matter without disctinction between beauty and mud.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Venice Biennale, art - 2

In the main Pavillion at the Giordani (Gardens), one of the most spectacular installation was done by Tomas Saraceno, born in Argentina, living in Germany. A room filled with black elastic wire gives the impression of microcosm of cells and atoms, to the macrocosm of constellations and planets. He is interrested in innovative architectural projects and fascinated by utopian theories and astronomical issues. The Back Widow's gorssamer filaments are able to suspend extreme weights tthrough the use of complex geometry. Although light and airy, the whole room has a intriguing complex opressiveness.

Georges Adeagbo, born in Benin, explores walls two corners where he hangs various found objects and pictures, news papers relating to the moment and the ideas in his toughts. He gives the viewer time to reflect on issues of political and cultural appropriation, colonial violence and post colonial "benevolence".
With a law degree, "Already in 1971 he created in the yard of his home his first installations, which he himself called ´installations éphémères´ (ephemeral installations), but for twenty years he lived in extreme poverty and isolation, lavishing more attention on his artefacts than on his sizeable family, who sent him several times into psychiatric care. It was not till 1993 that a French curator and collector happened to meet him and take an interest in his work" (
(no pictures were allowed)

Hans-Peter Feldmann, from Germany, plays with shadows and light: "toy figures and other objects pilled on slowly rotating platform, lit with stronglights, cast a dance on the bare walls in a manner akin to shadow puppetry or magic lanterns" Dynamic and amusing.
Susan Hefuna is the only artist of egyptian descent in the main Pavillion where 37 artists show their work.

The biennale says it is not about nationalities nor politics. Their official title is "Making the world, Fari Mondi" but many critics see it as arena where countries with their power and ressources enter the world of influence and culture.

Venice Biennale, art

Venice Biennale 2009: The artists awarded are the first to be seen as they must represent what the jury thinks is the best of art today in the world.
Golden Lion for best National participation: USA, + Bruce Nauman: Topological gardens. At the outside walls of the American pavillion is displayed some of his neon art: words flashing in contradiction - lust, faith, greed, charity ... Inside, the exercise of hands in clay as sculptors is quite taking.
Golden Lion for best artist is : Thobias Rehberger (germany) for his installation of the bar : "his project consists of a complex scheme of geometric shapes in contrasting colours, creating a visually disorienting atmosphere"
Golden Lion for promising artist: Narthalie Djurberg (swedish living in Germany). In a dark room, she puts a strange world of the heavens with colored clay figures of flore and faun and videos of clay personas who undergo cruelty and dissections.

"If any show can be said to reflect a larger state of affairs in art now, this one suggests a somewhat dull, deflated contemporary art world, professionalized to a fault, in search of a fresh consensus (NYT, review on 10/6/09)" Many reviewers have a bitter taste to what art has become.
Yet for the Arab world representatives, there are a few hints of existance and turmoil. Next posts will contain a glimpse of that.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Fortuny Museum

Fortuny Fabric is well known in the world of design, curtains and upholstery. The man behind the brand is Marianno Fortuny. The museum dedicated to his work is hosted in this large Gothic palazzo in Venise and it was transformed by Fortuny into his own atelier of photography, stage-design, textile-design and painting.
He was born in 1871, son of a renowed artist born. He quickly found his own interest in the art through theatre. He began his fascination with the decor then the back stage to be taken by the importance of light at a performance. He invented a new way of back lighting that allowed him to be projected a first time in the world of business through an association with a german company that started to produce his invention. He would then invent a new way of printing on silk and velvet that will become the trademark of the Fortuny factory. Without loosing sight on the artistic version of life, he took up photography and was still decorating museums, theatre and homes. Keen on the technological advances of these times, he was able to combine his artistic sense to the need to excell and propose new ideas. The two wars in the first half of the 20th century were a blow to his factory, but his creativity with the recognition of his talent by the rich and famous allowed him to continue in the path of art. He finished his life absorbed in painting and he died in 1949.
Today his palazzo hosts an exhibition of contempory art : "in-finitum" (from the soul of the unfinished to the border of the infinite, a spiritual journey along works of art abundant with energy.) It must be the decor planted in the Fortuny museum that gives these works of contempory art a warmth and a depth of color and lights.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Fashion Week in Paris

Designers, Haute Couture, Fashion in Paris was on the menu for a week. Dresses, details, embroidery, drappe, dentelle, lace, feathers...
Commentaries by Fashion experts on the news: "Haute couture is really about taste and aesthetic vision. It’s the kind of vision that Karl Lagerfeld showed the other night at Chanel (...)The best show of the couture season, which ended Wednesday night, was Lacroix ...(IHT)" glitz, glamour...
Arab designers were part of the show. Elie Saab, the most notorious to Rabih Keyrouz, the new comer in the arena, they all presented quality, talent and ideas.
Beyond the frivolity of the present, an exhibition dedicated to Madeleine Vionnet is currently at the Musee d'Arts Decoratifs in Paris. Known as the pionneer in the Biais cut and the art of drappe, Vionnet had her ateliers from 1912 to 1938 with 1200 workers. She allowed the transformation of the woman's silhouette and the body's emancipation. Dresses became her signature of purity. Geometrical design got her closer to architects like Le Corbusier. At the age of 63, she closed her shops, on the eve of world war II. Coco Channel was her contemporary but her couture house is still at the edge of fashion. The business model chosen by Coco allowed her name to remain while Vionnet is in Museums.
Nevertheless, Vionnet's dresses could be on the runway today with style and ease competing with the fresh designers desperatly trying to impact and influence women's world.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Classical Music

Seiji Ozawa, conductor, was at the highlight of "Theatre des Champs Elysees", Paris, on the 1st of July 09. Conductor of the Vienna Philahrmonic Orchestra, he founded the "International Music Academy in Switzerland" (IMAS) in 2005 where he teaches new talents on string instruments. This was their first concert beyond the Swiss borders. Students presented a piece in a quartet formation and after an intermission they all played under the Maestro's baton.
Music at its elegance and finesse. The pleasure was to listen to young performers with enthousiam and seriousness. But the moment the Maestro stood hands up for the first note, the musicians and their strings came alive with breath of fire and wind. They became music and music was the fleeting glimpse of life.

Ozawa is an eminent director. Born in China by japanese parents, he has transcended with his passion to classical music all borders, and any other humanly restraint. He believes that "Humans can discern ephemeral fashions..." "The sensual contact, the energetical presence, the emotional comunion are important elements of the imaginary and the self. If you had asked thirty years go when I was in San Francisco influenced by hippies of that time, I would have predicted the end of Classical music, and I would be wrong."
"All I try to do is understand the emotional architecture of a piece, seize the intimate aproach of the composer. This vision is what I search for as it gives the sounds, the dynamic that the orchestra should reproduce. For me the director's work is like a medium between the composer and the musicians interpreting"

He says on the IMAS: "Teaching is like a drug ! Once you have started it, you cannot give it up anymore.»