Thursday, 4 June 2009

So Much Art, So Little Time

Standing in front of Silvio Wolf's massive lightbox installation, (I Nomi del Tempo, photography, light and sound, 2009) could be a metaphor for the whole Biennale experience. There are 77 countries exhibiting in their own pavilions across the islands of the city, and 44 collateral events, a truly bewildering quantity of art to fit in three weeks let alone the three days we have.

We have decided to concentrate on the countries with a perceived agenda beginning in earnest with the Russian press launch tomorrow morning. Wolf's monumental work was shown in the prime real estate of the Italian pavilion and for me once again proves the transcendent power of art to become more than the sum of its parts and even a vehicle for the divine.

My traveling compadre is Ed Pereira, our boss and executive editor; a man whose snoring, as I found out, is similar in pitch and volume to the Titanic as it ground against the iceberg that fateful night. The only redeeming fact was that it is impossible for the human body to maintain such destructive vibration without collapsing in on itself like a dying star, he quite simply shook himself awake every 5 minutes or so. He was, he later told me, down with hay fever and asthma half the first night, crawling around on the floor, gasping for breath as he had forgotten his inhalers but I, deeply asleep, heard none of it. The idea of performing the Heinrich maneuver at 3 in the morning, not that it would have probably helped much, filled me with mixed emotions, none of which I particularly care to call to mind. Ed, strangely, insisted on booking the hotel himself once I informed him that I get mixed up between a twin and a double rooms; it is a fine and comfortable affair on a bus mainline on mainland Mestre, a few short minutes from the action.

I consider it a personal insult when I travel to the continent if it is even a tiny bit overcast; on principle I never take even a jumper (a principle that of course has the capacity to backfire horribly), but on this occasion I was vindicated, there was not a cloud. It is the smell that really informs you that you are abroad; as we wondered aimlessly on the first night through Mestre, the heavy sweet perfume from some unnamed flower gripped us.

There were a number of things I was not quite prepared for as we stepped off our bus in Venice that first morning. The first was the shear beauty, my eyes were assaulted by a thousand vistas each of which had been photographed a million times. The thing one has to realise about Venice is that everything is aesthetically conceived; take a humble mooring pole for example, it clearly is never just any old lump of tree trunk but an object, beautifully and sensitively shaped, before being driven deep into the Venetian mud.

We wandered down the Grand Canale by vapporetto, the excellent water buses, and found the press pavilion at the Arsenale, one part of the dual hubs of the Biennale around which everything else spins. Then began the convoluted 'two step' of securing press credentials with precious little proof that we were not just freeloaders. Press packs safely in hand we could begin the impossible task of planning our time.

Wales' John Cale experience was under full steam when we paid them a preliminary visit with the ministers, curators and powermongers wafting down the shady alleyways in sharp suits leading to the Capannone on the island of Guidecca. There were typical pre-event logistical struggles unfolding, lost cheeses for example (Easyjet in their wisdom took them to Milan). We were looking forward to screenings and the party the following day.

As the day closed and the sun set over the water the sheer size of the task awaiting us over the next few days seemed truly daunting but one which we would throw ourselves into with every ounce of strength we could muster. So much art, so little time.

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