If, as Richard Kadrey suggests, “Memories are bullets. Some whiz by and only spook you. Others tear you open and leave you in pieces.” then it explains a great deal about the state of my memory. Over the past many years of being an art educator, I have had the unique opportunity to travel to many parts of the world looking at art and then bringing it back to my students. The challenge has been that there is so very much art and so very little time to share all of it with my students.
As a result, I have over ten years worth of collected images from shows sitting around in my iPhoto library. If I happen to think of a particular work or artist to show a student, then I have to attempt to sift through thousands of images to find the work. As a classroom teacher, it's a flawed system at best. This new series of posts will be my concerted effort to address this.
My intention is to choose an artist or work that I have seen and respond to it on a personal and aesthetic level. Time permitting, I will try to provide additional information about the artist for those interested in exploring their work on a deeper level. This is as much a personal journey for me as an artist and educator as I continue to explore the ideas and inspiration within my own artwork.
This past summer of 2013, I had the opportunity to go to the Venice Biennial for a second time. The theme of this year's show was "The Encyclopedic Palace" based on "the model of a utopian dream by Marino Auriti who filed a design with the U.S. Patent office in 1955, depicting his Palazzo Enciclopedico (The Encyclopedic Palace), an imaginary museum that was meant to house all worldly knowledge." While not my favorite exhibition, the show did introduce me to a fantastic range of artists, many of whom I had not been aware.
After attending an exhibition as huge as the Venice Biennial, I find that a bit of distance and time from the show offers a better perspective on the art I have seen. Those images that linger in my memory, like a burning ember or a scar, are the pieces I hope to share in this ongoing blog.
One such artist is, Cathy Wilkes. Her piece, Untitled 2013, in the central pavilion, was engaging both in it's use of space as well as the emotional impact it had on me personally. The work provoked in me the desperate state of women and children all over the world. The expressive body language of the mannequins contrasted with their delicate yet simple faces set brought forth a sense of hopelessness that was a breath of fresh air compared to much of the cerebral work I had seen earlier in the day. I especially liked how the work revealed itself by requiring you to walk around the threadbare curtain, providing no real privacy to the drama of these figures' lives.
Often students ask me how best to bring together an installation piece. I believe that this work with both it's use of unified textures, faded color and emotional context
The Giardini section is my favorite part of the Venice Biennale. I like how the artwork is divided into pavilions based on various nationalities. The short pause of waling through the gardens from building to building allows you to reflect momentarily on what you have seen before having to move on to the next "course" if you will. This is in stark contrast to the amazing, but somewhat overwhelming, "endless buffet" of art in the Arsenale.
One would think that this national focus would promote competitiveness or discord, but instead the event has a healthy sense of unity in coming together every two years for over 100 years to celebrate art, architecture, music and dance.
That is not to say that the exhibitions are lacking in political speech. Three in particular had overt political themes in their work. Venezuela's pavilion focused on street art which had a strong anti-globalization vein running through it. I thought it ironic though how globalized graffiti culture has become. Germany's pavilion was full of political speech, especially, Romuald Karmakar's videos that addressed Germany's struggle to deal with it's history. South Africa's pavilion dealt with the idea of trying to move beyond it's history of apartheid and the protest art that defined that generation into one focused on crafting a new identity for the country. http://sa-venice-biennale.com/sa-pavilion/
This was an amazing year for the biennale and I'm looking forward to showing my students ALL the work that was on display at the event.
Jeff "Coach" Hall is an artist and art educator who is currently the Fine Arts Dept. Chair at Maggie L. Walker Governor's School for Government and International Studies located in Richmond, VA.