Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Venice Biennale in the rain

My wishlist had always included a visit to the Venice Biennale - the bi-annual event that those in the art world have on their must-go-as-often-as-possible-to-see-and-be-seen list. We just scraped in before it closed in late November. The main pavillions are housed in the Biennale Gardens where the majority of exhibits can be found. The smaller countries such as Azerbairjan have their exhibitions housed in satellite locations such as the odd palazzo and crumbling building dotted around the city.
Australia's 30 year old temporary pavillion
Now to be fair to the Biennale we could not have chosen a more miserable day to visit. The rain didn't stop and we ploughed our way into the wind and slopped our way around the Gardens. Drowned rats we were but we were hoping to be uplifted by the art. Up-lifted we weren't. Of course as loyal Aussies we wanted to visit our own pavillion which is tucked away in the forest right at the back of the Gardens. Now on a lovely day this 'shed' might have been uplifting - might - but instead it was an embarrassment. Built in 1988 as a temporary pavillion - it is still there. A new pavillion designed by Denton Corker Marshall is finally being built in time for the 2015 Biennale thanks to the support of the Australia Council and private philanthropists (thank goodness for the philanthropists who have 'driven' this replacement or it might still be there in another 30 years!). The Australia Council website states: The Venice Biennale provides Australian artists with critical international coverage, exposing them to key new audiences, markets and contexts. This exposure helps build the profile of Australian contemporary visual arts and facilitates the establishment of significant international cultural links, networks and dialogue for individual Australian artists. The Biennale also represents a significant platform on which the Council can promote contemporary Australian visual arts more widely. Now that's the kind of art-speak I find pretentious. If it was so important why has it taken the Council so long to replace the temporary Philip Cox designed pavillion!

Note the peeling wallpaper - that is part of the instillation!
To be honest we just didn't really 'get it'. As we sloshed around this mainly open 'shed' the two staff/ volunteers were pushing the water out with mops! It was explained to us that the artist Simryn Gill removed half the roof of the Pavilion and then installed the photographs, drawings and sculpture all of which were inspired by images of Australia's pit mines, dams, lakes and waterholes (there were waterholes everywhere that day!). It also included peeling wallpaper (meant to be but hastened by the downpours!) I do recommend you take a moment to listen by clicking here to the explanation by the artist and other luminaries. Their explanations prior to our visit may have helped!
On a sunny day....
We sloshed into a few other pavillions - including the Russian pavillion where women were invited to take a see-through umbrella (pretty appropriate that day!) and walk into the middle of a room where gold coins rained down on them. We were then encouraged to put the coins back into an old bucket which was then hoisted up by rope to be 'rained' down on the next unsuspecting women. I think this is called 'interactive art'. Now maybe I am missing something here but.... We never discovered what the men were expected to do?!
Stand aside while Russian gold coins shower down on you from above (note the bright orange E10 plastic wellies on the left)
Walking through a maze of chairs was the main attraction at the German Pavillion and the UK Pavillion seemed to be a hotchpotch of the old and the new. 
All I want to do is sit down!!
It was all a great let-down I'm afraid. I'll leave you with a sculpture that we passed each day crossing the Accedamia Bridge - she haunted us. We loved her. I hope you do too!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Vale Madiba

I know an enormous amount has already been written about Nelson Mandela but I felt I wanted to add my memories of him when he visited Melbourne at the end of the 20th Century. 

It is not often that I feel I must attend a public forum with a leader from another country but in this particular case it just seemed the compelling thing to do. And I was not disappointed even though the sell-out event was held at what is now Etihad Stadium. 

In he walked and one could feel the energy rise in the stadium. He could have just walked in, given us a wave and walked off and we'd all have felt that we had been in the presence of a man whose aura was electric. But it was when he spoke that we all knew we were glad we'd come. For the life of me I can't remember much of what he said I do remember knowing we had witnessed something special. 
I will miss that remarkably handsome and even to the end that boyish face. And I will go back and re-read his remarkable story The Long Walk to Freedom.

Thank you Madiba for reminding us that with forgiveness, determination, humility and grace that greatness and change can be achieved.You will not be forgotten.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Serenisima - a love affair!

Welcome to Venice - one of our first views
Venice used to be known as the Most Serene Republic - except for the wars they orchestrated and engaged in - but all is now forgotten except the wars with tourists - after all the Venetians were always one of the world's major traders. 
Cashmere, cashmere, cashmere - shop till you drop with St Mark's Square reflected in the window
Fortunately the tourist numbers mid-November are nothing like those in 'high season' when one wonders how the plumbing works (!), how the locals tolerate the hoards, how the millions of oak and pine piles cope with the footsteps of the 20 million visitors per annum (almost the entire population of Australia!).  To give you an example there are 8-9 piles every square metre of the city - I'll leave you do the sums - but the Santa Maria della Salute church has 1,106,657 wooden piles holding it up! No wonder there are only 60,000 local inhabitants still living there - the rest have fled to the mainland and commute daily to 'serve/service' the hoards. Oh what we do to our dream cities of which Venice is one.
It doesn't matter how many times you see the Grand Canal - it is still stunning
I've just returned from a two week trip to Northern Italy as the result of a trip won on the internet (more on that unsatisfactory experience in a later post). Venice has always been a favourite and I wanted to spend more than a couple of days exploring its labyrinth of alleyways and waterways and to visit the bi-annual Venice Biennale (a huge disappointment - more in a later post). Venice lived up to its memories. We avoided the interiors of churches - a travesty you are probably crying out - but I needed a break from the magnificent paintings of the stories of Christianity in all their gory (not glory). I'm tired of graphic paintings, however magnificent, of the slaugher of the innocents, tired of fire and brimstone, tired of death and destruction. I just wanted to enjoy the beauty of the city. And what a city. And with the lower more manageable tourist numbers at this time of the year we were able to wander where our footsteps led us. 
A quiet back 'canal'
Just another view of paradise from the vaporetto
At the recommendation of a friend we'd specifically chosen a hotel (click here) with views of a canal (not the Grand!) and were often awakened by gondoliers serenading their next load of tourists! It's a rather nice way to welcome the day! I'd been fortunate to stay in a room overlooking the Grand Canal many years ago - if you can afford it - then it can't be beaten - but we enjoyed our little canal when we flung open the windows to welcome the cold morning air! 
O sole mio - from our bedroom window!
On our return to Venice at the end of the trip we were kindly offered a room overlooking the square. Reluctantly we took it thinking we would miss our 'canal view' - but we were 'blown away' when we opened the curtains - just look at the view. It's rather nice going to sleep with cherrubs watching over you! I'll take the cherrub-watching room over a canal backwater next time!
Cupids to watch over you
One of my favourite things to do when travelling is to attend a concert or two or three! There's nothing more exciting than seeing the locals enjoying some wonderful music in amongst the 'tourists'. My favourite website for pre-booking is (I highly recommend it). We chose to see the opera Rigoletto in a private Palazzo on the Grand Canal. Around 50 of us gathered in the faded-glory of the home and we moved from room to room following the abridged version of the opera. Heaven. Memorable. And we shared it with our new French friends who we had had the good fortune to sit next to at a wonderful Vivaldi concert the previous evening. Now that's not a bad way to spend a couple of nights! 
Rigoletto by candlelight

Collapsing fabric on the walls
Just a bit of old ceiling decoration in the Palazzo!!
I had hoped to see an opera at the re-built Teatro La Fenice Opera House (rather well named as it means the Phoenix - rising from the ashes - more than once in its life-time). It was just a hop, step and a short canal swim (!) away from our hotel. I was disappointed there was nothing on during our visit but we had a bonus! 
The foyer of Teatro La Fenice
A view to take your breath away - we were sitting in the first floor box
Taking a self-guided tour around the Opera House we happened to pop into one of the boxes (the Doges box perhaps?!?) and spent the next 2 hours watching a rehearsal of the orchestra and later the singers for the up-coming opera. Now I love a rehearsal - I love watching re-runs as the conductor encourages the orchestra to 'get it right' - and then the bonus of the lead singers going through their roles - what more could a girl want (other than the real thing!) A visit to this Opera House is a must. It was faithfully reconstructed after the fire of 1996 - it took 8 years to complete (read John Behrendt's absolutely fascinating book on the fire and the subsequent scandals - The City of Falling Angels) Unfortunately by reconstructing it faithfully the accoustics are not as they should be on all parts of the stage - when it was originally built it was more important to be 'seen' than to listen to the opera!  Sadly we couldn't take pictures inside or of the rehearsal.
La Fenice canal entrance - seemed to be the 'back door' but wouldn't it be fun to arrive this way
So on that note (!) it's time for you to have a break. Don't worry - there's lots more to come!