Venice. Impression

The winer of II contest for young art critics Katerine Busol about her trip to Venice:

I have never been either to Venice or Italy before. The fact that Venice is the epitome of romanticism in the minds of so many makes my perception of the city even weirder. To me, Venice has always been fatal – perhaps the reasons are Death in Venice by Mann and Visconti or the prophecy that haunted beloved Diaghilev – that his death will be close to water.

I do not know whether it happened because of the mentioned prejudice or perhaps it is really so, but upon my arrival in Venice I became only reassured that this city strictly discriminated between life and death, tradition and modernity. Indeed, all the mentioned elements co-exist, however, their existence is parallel, they do not dissolve in one another but accentuate the presence and particularities of each other. Here is a simple example: even the cemetery of the city is located on a separate island, distinctly separated from mainland Venice. All the numerous geniuses that rest there – Stravinsky, Brodsky, Diaghilev, Pound – are still loved today. They inspire and support but remain at a firm distance, behind a fixed watershed – both figurative and real. At least, it is the impression that I got. I had the same impression regarding contemporary art in Venice. It is there, it is watched, supported, encouraged with. But you will not track down the dissolution of this ultra-new art in Venice that can so easily be observed in such megapolises as London, Paris or New York. And this is not necessarily for the worse. If all the mentioned cities are overwhelmed by integration and combination to the extent when it is difficult to perceive the classic, modern and contemporary separately, Venice enables a viewer, especially such an inexperienced one as myself, to observe various epochs, styles and trends simultaneously, and no individuality or autonomy is sacrificed in such co-existence and co-observation. It is this atmosphere that makes Venice a unique location for the Biennale.

As regards the exhibition itself, I found the Belgian, German and Russian pavilions most memorable. It might be so because of their relative accessibility for such inexperienced viewers as me. But perhaps it is so due to their appeal to initial images and myths that, though known by everyone, remain as profound, meaningful and acute as they were ages ago. Thus, the crippled tree from the Belgian exposition appeared to be a haunted and downtrodden doe and could not but refer to the notions of Eros and Thanatos, primeval totem and taboo, and oppression of nature – both one’s own, internal, and the external one. I was drawn to the Belgian pavilion not in the least because of its curator – John Coetzee, one of my favourite writers. In his works he often invokes the issues of apartheid in Africa, but he does it in a way no conventional authors or lawyers do. When looking at the Belgian installation, one cannot but recall Disgrace or Waiting for the Barbarians – the novels in which Coetzee examines the underlying nature of oppression and its subsequent effusion in new oppression.

The theme of distortion of the natural was also elaborated by Finland. The latter placed birches in front of its pavilion. The birches were assembled of the remnants of ones live trees.

Russia reinvented the classical Danaë myth. The coins that were poured over the visitors carried hippy-style engravings and thus, intentionally or not, referred to the chanting of sexual minorities. I have not figured out yet whether the author intentionally counted on such a reference. But, in any way, the mere fact of such association as seen by the viewers is important – especially given the official position of contemporary Russia regarding sexual minorities.

I could not expect that it would be so difficult to write about the Ukrainian pavilion. Difficult because upon seeing already dear Zhanna and Hamlet in a far-away city of water one has to overcome the sudden wave of warmth and quiet joy first. Only in a while, having calmed down a bit, could I look at Ukrainian project with a higher degree of impartiality. Zhanna’s Monument to a New Monument has been extensively written on. But in Venice I was particularly struck that, whether you want it or not, you start to compare the silhouette and texture of Zhanna’s work with the shapes of sculptures and mosaics from numerous churches of the city. Surely, such a reflection was hardly predicted or welcomed by the author, but my experience turned out to be the way it was. It was the ability of Venice to tune the dialogue between different and seemingly uncombinable things while preserving their identity that became my principal impression of the city, its art and my first Italian art-trip.


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