Two art projects in the Giardini at this year's Venice Biennale particularly thrilled me because they drew attention to the garden location of the pavilions; and they did so in unpretentious and understated ways. What made the exprience even more emphatic for me was the unanticipated serrendipity of encountering one immediately after the other.
First there was Steve McQueen's poetic two-screen film in the British Pavilion of a damp, rubbish-stren, decaying and desolate winter Giardini. McQueen juxtaposed carefuly framed close-ups alongside mysterious wide shots and enigmatic out-of-focus details to reveal the erstwhile hub of the art world crawling with slow-moving insects and snails; dripping with mist; drenched in rain; and haunted by scavenging long-legged stray dogs and men smoking cigarettes in the shadows seeking secret assignations.
With these images still swirling around my head, I descended the steps of the British Pavilion and I made my way down hill to the next exhibition, that of the Czech and Sovak Republic. Here, I did a double-take and checked my bearings, as the wide open doors of the pavilion revealed an inside exactly like the outside. Here Roman Ondak had landscaped the whole inside of pavilion into an exact copy, or actually an exact extension, of the Giardini's gravel paths, trees and shrubbery. This simple gesture, coupled with breaking a door through the back wall of the building so that people could walk right through un-impeded, had turned the pavilion inside out. It was in fact quite funny to find myself walking directly behind a group of four people who seemed entirely oblivious to the fact that they had walked through a building, let alone an artist's installation! They seemed so engrossed in their conversation that they unconsiously followed the path in front of them without pause, as if Ondak's exhibit had made the pavilion invisible.
What, when, where: Steve McQueen, "Giardini" 2009, British Pavilion; and Roman Ondak "Loop" 2009, Pavilion of the Czech and Slovak Rebublics; Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art 2009, Venice, Italy.
Photos of "Giardini" courtesy the artist; photos of "Loop" by Rob Garrett.