It seems like an oh-so cliché word but it is the only word that can describe my time here in Venice.
Preparing to come out here whilst being the last of our bunch to go, keeping up to date on the other people’s time here over five months I felt the pressure to make the most of my time. Over and over again people would say ‘you have less free time than you think!’ or ‘it went by so fast!” – I told myself that I had to use every minute I had efficiently.
Images of myself scheduling every second of every hour, researching every pavilion, exhibition, and collateral event that everyone else had seen left me feeling more and more like one of the waves of cruising tourists at San Marco that try to do Venice in a day, desperately not wanting to miss out on anything. Trying to navigate the winding alleys using glitchy google maps amongst the throngs of holidaymakers was a feat only surmountable to Jennifer Connelly tackling the Labyrinth to rescue her baby brother from the wicked goblins and David Bowie. I half expected to see a tiny talking worm telling me that the dead end is not actually a dead end, or to run across two doors guarded by coats of arms that tell me one door leads to my destination and the other to my demise. Although, I think I would be able to solve the Truth or Lie puzzle now, you always ask the liar (thanks Shopkeeper and Pic!).
Yes, my first couple of days trying to venture out on my own were sometimes overwhelming and frustrating, but a serendipitous moment where I ran into the incredible Rialto bridge after getting hopelessly lost on a five-minute walk to the co-op made me realise something. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, where you are going, or you’re completely lost, there is always something special or beautiful around you in a city like Venice. When I stopped trying so hard to make it certain shows or making sure I didn’t miss out on the most talked about pavilions that everyone else ‘loooved’ I discovered most of my personal highlights of the Biennale. At such a huge festival that has hundreds of pavilions, a massive curated show, and countless collaterals it is easy to fall into the pressure of only focusing the most well-known or ‘trendier’ shows in the hopes of not wasting your time on the not so great things– but then aren’t you only seeing things so you don’t get a bad case of fomo rather than going because you thoroughly enjoy or appreciate what is being shown?
On the way to see Katja Novistkova at the Estonian pavilion I got hopelessly lost (are you seeing a pattern here?) and ended up in an area full of stunning artisanal crafts shops- dressmakers with the most opulent and lush fabrics, handmade jewellery shops with glittering windows, a traditional art store with hundreds upon hundreds of pigment powders in every hue, countless artist studios, and privately owned tiny galleries (I even saw a Jeff Koons!). If I am honest, it was a perfect real-life example of the Luxus pavilion at the Giardini. I then ended up going into the wrong building but came across the University of Disaster – the Bosnia and Herzegovina pavilion (that I had never heard of before) and was blown away by the animated film and collages by Radenko Milak and Roman Uranjek.
Another instance was when I was trying to find my way home from San Marco and just happened upon the Mauritius and Mongolian pavilions nestled in a little garden area in the Instituto Santa Maria della Pietà. And again, I found these exhibitions (Speeded Up Nature and Lost in Tngri) to be amongst my favourites. It has happened a lot within our own pavilion too – people stumbling upon us by accident or just walking past by chance and ended up staying for the whole film, and loving it!
It is easy for some of the events to get drowned out in the din but the the most magical, enjoyable moments of my month here were the unplanned moments, seeing exhibitions and works I had not fervently researched, been told to see or heard about before coming here. I guess that is also part and parcel with the Biennale, those little accidental, magical moments are what it is all about.
Within the contemporary art world, especially with young students, it is easy to fall into the pressure of pretending to like a well-known artist or a piece of artwork for the fear of being misconstrued as not understanding it. This can also be passed on into only making work that is ‘trendy’ or acceptable amongst your peers. As I am only in my second year of my HND, getting ready to apply for art schools I am just at the beginning of my higher education and by extension my journey of discovering what kind of art it is that I like and what kind of work it is I want to make.
Working at the Biennale at such an early time has made me more self-aware of what it is I like and where I would like to go, I am very lucky to be in a place that is so rich in culture and teeming with such a variety of work. If there is anything I have learned from my time here it is that it is okay to do different from the crowd, it is okay to not like the popular stuff and planning gets you nowhere so welcome the serendipitous!