Tuesday, September 15, 2015

In the Giardini: Norway and Uruguay

The Venice Biennale’s Giardini of national pavilions (literally) houses the more overt, dramatic and demonstrative and the more restrained and introspective. Both can work, and it is at each end of this that I find my two favourite pavilions of the Biennale: Norway and Uruguay. With Norway a clean-lined building built around the central lift of three large trees in leaf becomes an expanded site, constructed and destructed with sculpture and sound. And with Uruguay an artist explores artistic language with the delicacy of an exacto, creating a white-on-white environment and in-between space for syntax and idiom.
Here I am in Venice, wandering sideways to start, as is my predilection, rather than taking the main avenue in from the garden’s front entrance. I am soon at this stalwart, clean-lined building busted out, with large white-framed panes of glass in various states of shatter. At angles to each other, they are composed architecturally, like upright tectonic planes caught in stasis. This building, the Nordic pavilion—presented, this year, only by Norway with artist Camille Norment, is open, permeated, tipping out while it tips into its capacious central space marked in one half of the ceiling by microphones that remind me of the special space and anticipation of a recording studio. Although these mics only play out, they also draw in. They are receivers, (figuratively) having received before, and they are effectors that reach even further to sound the body of the building through excitors attached to resonating panes of glass. They are now playing the surround of Norment’s component sound work, a subtle multi-toned drone in glass and female voice. Light and soft but edged by the run of a wet finger along the break of a glass harmonica’s notes, I watch people stand under the mics as I do, lingering yet wavering as if naturally trying to touch the sound in the material way the building does./ In Norment’s work I have source and cause, sound as both protagonist and possible assailant, sound as both constant and transitory. We have the big bang, music to create a universe and ‘in the beginning was the Word’. In so many cultures, sound as vibration and resonance has an unequalled capacity and power. Conceptually, sound occupies quietly here while its context suggests otherwise. And more viscerally, sound and physical structure are made equal in an exploration of spatiality across media and the senses, in a space that is both inside and outside, uncompromisingly physical, yet, for me, ultimately indeterminate. As part of the Venice Biennale this stands out, this uncompromising ability and courage to work so fully with form, media, and concept in a particular space.
At the end of the same sideways path, is Uruguay. Tucked in behind the relatively massive structure of the Australian pavilion, you could easily miss it, and I’d say many did, unfortunately for them. I hesitate before going in, because you can’t see everything, and this is such a ‘modest’ looking pavilion... But just in the entrance I see the start of Marco Maggi’s work: a line up of sharp pencils held like arrows in bows, in a row, a quiver, point as focal point, drawing as poised and held within an armature. Inside, I take a moment to try and calibrate what seems to be a moderate and empty white-cube room. But it’s far from empty. It is occupied by the lay-out of thousands of small markings, indistinct given their nature of cut white sticker on white wall, but distinct in their extraordinary individuality. They run up and up, and along, pacing out this room with the exactitude of deliberate tiny gestures in lines and connections./ The history of language is in residence here. The potential of words and our desire to hold them, pick them up, play them out, and roll them down the river (as Neruda says), in different configurations, with the same, yet always different constituents, is core. I don’t even think of the futility of trying to photograph this, subtle intricacy. I just soak it up, with a weird kind of hum threatening in the back of my throat. I wander along and I don’t specifically wonder. I let the possibility of every run and connection, every configuration, emerge like its part in the ultimate possibility of language, the reason why I write in the first place, because there is, after all, always a process of making involved./ Three months, that’s what someone said was the time taken by Maggi to work this up, and I can imagine it, thousands of minutes over about 90 days (I guess at 54,000 minutes in that many days). Obsession and care going hand-in-hand, with the canal rising in and out a stone’s throw from the room-as-studio./ I think of what always amazes me when I write poetry: that I can change one word, insert one break, and correspondences immediately morph and change as if I’ve knocked something down in a game-line of dominos. Would Maggi have got this close as each piece went down? I’m absolutely certain of it. / Looping and leading who knows where. Part drawing, schematic, hand-cut and laid circuit board, central nervous system, epic poem.

Nordic Pavilion, 2015 Venice Biennale. Cammile Norment's sculptural installation, photos by Jodie Dalgleish.

2015 Venice Biennale, Pavilion of Uruguay, work by Marco Maggi, photos kindly provided by Marco Maggi:

Thursday, September 3, 2015

When sculpture Works. On the way to the Giardini: Ursula von Rydingsvard

Sculpture is something else. Sculpture relates to your body because you encounter it more directly with your body, in three dimensions, you have to walk up to it and around it, measure yourself against it. You can’t help but sense yourself in it, or not, marking similarities and differences, transmitting tension and flex. It pushes and pulls, gives and takes. It exists in space, just as you do, and you are there with it in a conjoint environment. Like you, it picks up on what’s around it, angle and surface forming its character, its individuality. It has the sense of a single event, as does your arrival, and it has continuity—a run of life in a wider context, as do you.

On the way to the Giardini, I notice a sign for a collateral event on the wall to a garden. New to Venice, I wonder if this is another (perhaps free?) entry to the Giardini and decide I might as well go in. I’m so glad I did, although it didn’t get me to the Giardini. Dense yet translucent in front of me is a sculpture, rising like a compacted fractured composite of off-clear glass (resin), a stratified salt-like pillar, a subtle sway-backed allusion to a woman’s body bearing weight, a mast-like stalactite in inversion. Yes, all those references are there, but what draws me in is the immediate and more abstract impulse to put my body against this, to touch it, and get a more tangible and uncompromising sense of its height, its girth, its form and its surface. I am impressed by the smooth crag of it on my skin and by my imagination of the strength and tenacity of the sculptor and the process that must have been behind it.
But this is just a beginning as I move on to wood, picking up the well-thought relationship with the particular nearby trees in-needle, their barked angles playing with and off the soft splay of the work, the multi-faceted surface breaking into filigree. It’s like a winged pointer, an immediate signpost, a budded junction between a loose ring of six sculptures by Ursula von Rydingsvard wound together by the more mannered soft grit paths of the Giardino della Marinaressa.
I am taken by the way others engage with the sculptures and the way that they, like me, must have a sense of being tucked into various angles and found in certain apertures. I watch a string of small children literally and instinctually tuck themselves into different parts as if they were made for them, fitting with the work, one before the next. In these works there is a sense of shelter and belonging, but they don’t give themselves up as domestic or gentle, they gesture toward larger contexts and, in this place in Venice, an architecture of repetition offset by the ubiquity of flow.
Sculptural sway opens to the next sculpture’s more variegated form and its opening that slits its curve back to its base, making a join. And then, a more stalwart and dramatic sculpture in front of nearby buildings stands in bronze as if folded in and aspiring to the foliage and cumulus with the delicate pattern of its rim. While it brings to mind the lagoon island Burano’s lace and needlework, constructed over time as a craft, with each stitch binding together a community that’s struggled to keep this practice alive, it also seems to atomise, break apart, and continue elsewhere. Then it comes down in wood as the next sculpture rises and cascades in folds just held by its ragged jutting top, while the next compresses and truncates. More stump-like, it leads me around again for another measure.

Ursula von Rydingsvard's sculptures in the Giardino della Marinaressa, an evento collaterali of the Venice Biennale (photos by Jodie Dalgleish)

Von Rydingsvard’s Biennale works previously appeared across the different landscape of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, as part of a major survey of her work. They had a different life then with more green and roll, lines of hedges and walls and a different and more capacious spread of trees. Perhaps in Venice, the environment brings a more domestic-scale to the work that, multifaceted, resonates yet pushes against this, while in Yorkshire the work opens out, expands and seems more monumental in its sweeping range. Both work, grounded in response, as sculpture must be.

Ursula von Rydingsvard's sculptures at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 2014 (photos courtesy of YSP © Jonty Wilde)

Anyone heading to Venice'a Giardini (gardens) should also consider the garden of the Marinaressa, especially created for the Venice Biennale, and unexpected in that context. Then I would like to ask them which they liked the best.