Remembering last editions of the Biennale, light played a lesser part in the works in the Giardini national pavilions. The main exhibition there lacked light in the number of art works, but the shear amount of it was still pretty considerable. Even painfully so. In the Biennale's Arsenale site, however, light was widely used. In some cases it took the lead, but mostly it was used in supporting roles. There were also quite an amount of sporadic light and lightish art in the national pavilions spattered in the city, outside Giardini and Arsenale, of which I'll mention a few. The non-Biennale-related exhibitions had their fair share of light, too. A fair, fair share.
In my posting about Prague Quadrennial scenography show I briefly brushed the theme of thin line between scenography and fine arts. I was happy to find a reason to smile smugly when I found this piece in the Russian pavilion. The artist was also on display in PQ, which totally proved my point. Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai's coulisse had some more mechanics involved this time, and some whimsical neon light, too. Blatantly old fashioned and wonderful!
I though I could stand any amount of light, with my vast experience with it, but no. I just had to close my eyes in front of the painfully full radiance and walk half blind through Ryoji Ikeda's spectra III in the main exhibition. First it got me really irritated and wondering why is this done in the first place and is it even art and my imaginary child could have done this and after a few hours of pondering I realised I had been thinking quite the essential questions of art. Well done, Mr. Ikeda, but I still hate you!
Venice's own pavilion has lately been quite the Liberace of the Biennale, putting forward everything shiny and expensive la Serenissima has to offer. Luckily, this year it had a more distinguished and subtle approach to the essence of the city. I especially enjoyed the immersive artwork by Plastique Fantastique and Fabio Viale, which grasped both the romantic and melancholic atmosphere of the drowning city, quite haptically, without unnecessary embellishments.
Here's an example of not often seen political light art. Tavares Strachan's Robert Henry Lawrence Jr and What Will Be Remembered in the Face of All that Is Forgotten are more or less straightforward comments on remarkable persons, faded in history, most likely because of their gender and colour. Probably an incident, but it's mildly amusing to note that even here the male is depicted by writing his name both in the work and its title, and the female is left unnamed, presented by her body, however uneroticized. At least for us with no neon fetish. To mention.
It was nice to watch the breathing hues of these "corals" and I do appreciate military materials used for art rather than war, but somehow the piece by Christine and Margaret Wertheim was a little too showcase-y for my taste. However beautiful the electroluminescent wire was, it still was just electroluminescent wire. With nice colours. The context, however, brings some content to it: the other pieces of Crochet Coral Reef are handicrafted corals, commenting the great barrier reef and the possible loss of it. This one was taken aside for the darkness it needs, I presume.
Korakrit Arunanondchai's No history in a room filled with people with funny names 5 was another example of the thin line between using video as media or as light. Sometimes the information of image was the main point of attention, sometimes the screens were filled with pure abstract colour fields, making them luminous sources of light. This, of course, defines if the art work falls to category of video art or light art. Which is a question no one but an obdurate classifier, such as myself, should be bothered with.
Hito Steyerl's piece This is the Future included some accidental light art in the form of most wonderful reflections. And yes, I'm a fangirl looking for any excuse to include Steyerl's work here, even though it's pretty obviously not light art per se.
Here's one example of increasing use of light as material for an artwork. Alex da Corte's Rubber Pen Devil is a hilarious series of videos of Satan and his pals, shown in a neon framed auditorium. The light in itself was definitely not the main attraction of the piece, but it did bring a certain kind of modernist-decadent mood to the space and thus to the experience of the videos. This was not just well designed, unobtrusive lighting, but very precise part of the artistic whole.
Most of the attention in the Indonesian pavilion was stolen by the big ferris wheel in the middle, but pretty soon my interest was stolen away by the light numbers on the ceiling. I couldn't quite catch the idea of them, nor did I find information about the piece. Which probably was there right in front of my eyes. Anyhow, the lights of Lost Verses by Handiwirman Saputra and Syagini Ratna Wulan really got me thinking, wondering even.
Not in any way technically amazing or visually staggering, Synchronocity by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Hisakado Tsuyoshi wasn't too easy to get, lightwise. I still don't know if I did, since after wondering, what's the light gimmick here, what with the fading bulbs and random general lighting, I realised there isn't one. By then I was far too mesmerised by the piece for not liking it so, yeah, I could say it really caught me.
Even though Saules Suns by Daiga Grantiņa in the Latvian pavilion didn't include light wow effects either, the quasi sloppy untidiness felt a bit arrogant to me – even though there was something interesting in the use of light, when I really put my mind to it. I'm all for messiness, that's not the problem, but I quite felt like someone is inventing the wheel again and making it crappy on purpose.
I do love me some good neon allright, but this particular work by Gabriel Rico, I think, was in a wrong environment in the hallways of Arsenale. The placement made the work seem diminished, something taken to the corner, out of way. The surreal in the art work was nullified into awkward by mere misplacement. That's a bummer, since mr. Rico seems very interesting artist, especially by his use of light.
Hypersonic Hyperstitions by Marko Pelhjan of the Slovenian pavilion was probably one of the most photographed pieces in Arsenale. It was also one the pieces whose message was lost on me. Later Google told me all kind of interesting ideas about hypersonic weapons and stuff, but at the site all I could think of was a vehicle commercial from Galactica. Or this:
There seems to be a certain trend in the use of light in contemporary art, which could be called souvenirism. The light emitting materials used in this kind of art include, indeed, actual blinking souvenirs, but also motley selection of other shiny bric-a-brac.
Here's just two examples of many: Lee Bul's Aubade and Tracey Snelling's Shanghai/Chongqing Hot Pot/Mixtape. See also Thailand's pavilion, later. Snelling "gathers information through the process of wandering, observing, participating and documenting", which is pretty much what tourists do, and thus matches my self-invented -ism perfectly.
After the long walk of multi layer of meta levels art pieces in the Arsenale's never ending corridor, it was a relief to see some sunlight. Call me easy, but I enjoyed tremendously A Place without Whence or Whither by Chen Qi, an outdoors extension of Chinese pavilion. The idea was simple, pretty much from a course of lighting design for beginners: holes in surface where the light gets through and makes nice patterns on the other surface. That's what we do in theatre all the time. The work really was border line kitschy, but it didn't try to disguise in any kind of deeper philosophy, which I do appreciate. It was what it was. Just lovely!
Thailand's pavilion is situated right in front of Giardini, in a restaurant. Or, more precisely, in a room between the dining area and the kitchen. It's a blatant collection of souvenir kitsch, lit with equally kitsch ever changing LED lighting. Restaurant patrons looking for a toilet and staff looking for patrons who are looking for toilet give the exhibition experience an extra layer of dead pan comical je ne sais quoi, which couldn't possibly be created on purpose. Highly recommended experience!
I wonder when I'll learn to schedule my art staring trips so that I'm not totally overwhelmed by the share mass of art seen. Probably next year. Always the next year. Anyhow, in between all the full packed exhibitions, Montenegro's quite minimalistic pavilion, An Odyssey by Vesko Gagović, was a much welcomed piece of mental reboot for me. The few large boxes with light glowing from beneath disturbed my sense of gravity in a most pleasurable way. As I lingered between them, other visitors came in, and I could read their minds: "Oh, boxes" as they exited right away. What's wrong with people these days! They were AWESOME boxes!
Dysfunctional in Ca d'Oro was a quite interesting hybrid of art and design. Light was present in many forms, mostly as lanterns and reflections. The interactive mirrors of Audience by Random International followed the visitor, who all of a sudden found herself to be pretty much in the center of everything. In addition to that, most beautiful reflections when Sun is shining. The oil-like colourful reflections of the venetian windows on the surface of the glass bubbles, called Moments of Happiness, by Verhoeven twins, are just perfect excuse to post photos of the said, quite cliché, windows. Because it's art, you know.
Visiting palazzo Fortuny is one of my musts in Venice. Not only for the usually interesting exhibitions there, but also for Mario Fortuny. When discussing mr. Fortuny with two friends of mine, I first mentioned that he was a big shot in the history of lighting design, then a couture interested friend added that he also invented bias-cut and the third friend asked if he was the same guy who designed the pattern of their couch pillows. Well, yes he was. Quite a multi talent man.
One of the most famous of his inventions (at least among the three people in the world interested in the history of lighting design) is the dome theatre with almost a realistic sky, pictured above. Also, the downstairs gate to canal usually is involved with some kind of lightish art. Now on display there was Fuori Tempo, a simple colour field work with gels by Francesco Candeloro.
Reagents in Complesso Ospedaletto displays some neon art by Arthur Duff. There's always room for one more work with neon letters, but the staircase of Ospedaletto really makes the visit worth while.
According to my social media flow, Yannis Kounellis seemed to be one of the hits of this year. I have to say I quite liked the exhibition, but more from an art history perspective than my own personal liking. The insta friendly golden wall was quite impressive, but the flame series was more of interest for me. First I though the propane tanks were purely conceptual, but then the guards announced that they were to be set ablaze in a moment and I felt so privileged to see that. Such a joy to see thematic, not just decorative use of light.
The Personal Structures series of exhibitions in palazzos Bembo and Mora and outside in Giardini della Marinaressa was probably my favourite. Loads of different techniques and styles, even more rooms to endlessly follow each other and some works interesting also light wise. For example Footprints, the light tube work by Wild Flag Studios animates the tubes according to current immigration data. Already the second example of political light art here.
I think Daniel Pesta's Top Secret Chain also quite falls into this category, with its shady bunch of important men alighting their hands and stomping the fire out in turns, quite ritually. Kouji Ohno's Quantum Fluctuation was pretty interesting, but then I read the info plate and the work was spoiled by way, way too much and too detailed information. You just don't start with science lecture, add all kinds of philosophies, throw in some human existence and end up by describing what can be plainly seen. You just don't.
In Punta della dogana's Luogo e Segni exhibition, light was present in more conceptual forms. The dead-yellow greenhouse lights of Mesk-ellil by Hicham Berrada emphasised the artificial effect of light rather than its beauty while Roni Horn's huge, visually intriguing glass objects of Well and Truly changed elementally according to the position of Sun. Yes, I waited quite long a time to be sure. Then there was the chandelier We Are In Yucatan And Every Unpredicted Thing by Cerith Wyn Evans, a big name in light art. I enjoy a low hanging, abundant, Murano-style chandelier as much as the next guy, but the artistic idea of this piece escaped me. Maybe it's because I've seen approximately gazillion flickering bulbs before, with or without a chandelier.