Venice: the dictatorship of the viewer

Bonami’s done it. And done it nicely. I think we all remember the sprawling agony of the Arsenale at the last Biennale where morale was so low that even the photographic work of Orimoto sticking bread on his mother’s face barely registered. I do. The national pavilions positively sung as the main event and a blessing of organisation - didn’t matter on what grounds. Neat fresh tuna and olive tremazines and cappuccinos available at accessible points of a lovely stroll between this country and that. The Arsenale, on the other hand, brick-bleak with a huge statue by Ron Mueck welcoming the nightmare and coffee three miles that way. This year, the farming out by Bonami of large areas of the Arsenale to various curators, relieving him of having to worry about too much, has not only reorganised the Arsenale but also reorganised the relationship between the Arsenale and the Giardini. The Giardini now sits on equal status and as a result some weird things happen. The struggle against the flag, acted out by certain countries in one way or another, now looks silly played out in what this year looks more like what the place is - a series of national pavilions built like brick shithouses. Bonami strolls, his curators curate, and countries fight and struggle with their own inevitable buildings. To make matters worse, someone made the decision to remove tremazines from the Giardini: angry queues formed as anything edible had to be put under a toastee maker. I’m surprised no one built a wooden shack outside the cafe with flee-ridden carpets for doors and the sheer weight of an ox to heat them up just to show us how people in Switzerland have to eat panninis. Issues warm up better under a Bonami so make mine a salami and mozzarella. Granted, the Arsenale is still an effort, even with the chill-out zones, but now the Giardini is as well. Sweet move...

Some distance away from that by some strange aberration one can only assume is painting’s providence reached by lines Actv 1/82, coupled with a sense of inland one can only assume is the providence of a large square with pigeons, stands a history of painting from Rauschenberg to Murakami. That’s the fifties to a short while ago. It all starts with a video by the Japanese whose name and circles hang from every gondolier post and palace balcony in town. The video commissioned by Louise Vuitton makes Murakami’s world as gorgeous as one of his bags and functioning neatly as an introduction to the exhibition in its Japanese non-differentiation of such trifles that worry boss-eyed western sensibility. The animation mocks a video eye view of the street from one of Vuitton’s shops. The focus of attention is on a young Japanese girl outside with a smart mobile who is then swallowed by a wallopingly big fat benign blob creature - a familiar character to regular viewers of Murakami’s paintings. Odd sensation. Once swallowed, we follow the young Japanese girl in to the fantastic belly-world of this blobbo where, the story goes, we meet a famous Superflat Monochrome. A little sentimental at the end, using a stock cliché of the girl appearing to have imagined it all until she receives a photo text of monsieur Blob on her mobile and some green thing as well. But a nice modern twist of the magic of 3G and a healthy reminder that even the Sony Walkman has a soul. This video animation was shown in the windows of all Louis Vuitton’s shops this year, and in situ I would have felt pleasantly like a young Japanese girl soon to be swallowed by Blob to venture on a voyage of discovery where she would not meet the Superflat Monochrome but other worthy paintings. But perhaps I have stumbled upon a word here; benign. Having stumbled on that word, I will add to it ‘discretion’. I noticed about this pittura show that there was a strange benign discretion to it. I noticed it near the end. It was as if some paintings were particularly small bag-sized examples of what one remembers to be gigantic mothers of the said represented period. Maybe paintings seemed larger back then, like when you visit your old primary school in Kyoto. I remember Kiefer’s paintings to be so big. I don’t remember seeing such a small Hirst either and I’ve seen huge Hirst’s in my time. Gerhard Richter’s painting of Gilbert and George - teeny compared to my memory of his work. It goes on - Riley, Immendorff etc., etc., yabba, yabba. The point being - they appeared small. I think I have grown ever so big in a funny way over the years. But what happens is odd as a result. Paintings once so big look like they are shrunken, shrunken little dicks nailed to a wall. They look like they finally agreed not to do it again. Ill fitting suits and sipping tea in an office with a small rectangular reinforced window, incongruous to the memory of twenty years ago - how things have changed out there. Now Agnes is naturally discreet and has elegant poise and I love Agnes. She sits well wherever she’s invited in my opinion, not unlike Buren in his own rigourous womanising way. Others, too, have swelled in the compassionate surroundings. But the shrinkage in regard to other artists not known for their discretion is new, a bit like Jack Nicholson after a lobotomy. And why not? He should have one - there’s no need to find the brute scale of performance interesting, and a man can struggle to adapt in later years unless he’s Greek. This is about compassionate rehabilitation and finding out that you don’t have to be big to be big and you don’t have to be small to be medium sized or even big in one case. It’s about nurturing relationships, however complicated and difficult, with those that hang about with you and not about showing off and driving people away to the point you break the law. There’s nothing big about that.

It is a slow, unhurried affair: The smudge of Bacon and Dumas. Dumas, smudgy and looking out, wet eyes and hands-a-droop, glaring magenta-red on Prussian blue. Bacon, smudgy and blue-pink head squashed against a black TV trying to hear what's going on. Good connections made and pressed together. Clemente and Kippenberger, wet paint, orange, yellow and red in the case of Clemente, black and white in the case of Kippenberger. Wet paint and fingering each other. Sweaty and juice-like application, or stained in a more runny form of pumping crude. They face an almost appropriate eviction in the form of Schnabel and Kiefer, staring at them. These two are together again, smaller than before, after a massive break up in the early nineties over who pays for the food and bills and who pays the rent. Schnabel was hard working, and so was Kiefer, but neither wanted to share the bills, it was left up to the weaker of the two to fork out the money while the other gallivanted over half the world on the savings. They are together alright, and like chalk and cheese to the wetto brothers opposite. Schnabel has used broken crockery on his surface painted over with a warm brown colour, leaving a single pale green cup. Kiefer has stuck what looks like a dry cow pat on top of a German myth. So there you go. You can sense the tension in this room, spinning like the end of a spaghetti western. Currin, like Margherita Manzelli whose painting hung on its own, painted an odd woman. Currin’s had a dot painting on either side. I have to confess, she was recognisable. I carry in me a woman who wants to control and is not too happy by all appearances. I think it is my grandmother, who led an academic life driven by an eating disorder. Much harder to grasp than even her bony memory, and lurking in an equally powerful way was ‘untitled’, by Gino de Dominicis. A swollen head with a certain amount of indistinct resignation that brings out the best in me and others.  This was a nook. And, on a nook too far, hung a sagging mouse as weighty and as full as a bull’s arse. Domenico Gnoli. Another strange Italian to add to the increasing number of strange Italians painting in the recent past and a painting not too dissimilar in colour to a large uncooked gnocchi on a pine table in Tuscany. A completely different level of sociability to Clemente’s rather isolated activities of fingering himself in a garish yellow body stocking. But then who’s judging? Not me. Every man needs his pleasure and mine just happened to have veered more recently towards cooking and appreciating fresh ingredients. It’s a social thing. Tuyman’s quiet and Hume improves. But none so blank as Lichtenstein’s ‘Mirror’ that leaves Gerhard Richter and Ed Ruscha glassy and reflective. The last room, what I like to call rather unfairly the Chuck Close room, had a grouping that wasn’t encouraged to get on with each other, either by creed, colour, or race, or other similar hobby interests.  So I was left using my energy up, thinning out nicely, and o.k. with separation. Chuck looks weirdly normal behind the little pink bananas and holding court over Glenn Brown, Karl Althoff and Thomas Scheibitz. If I was to try and find a suitable chorus to bring this group together it would be from ‘Godspell’, with Paul Nicholas in the lead role.  But, in truth, that unifies nothing. Maybe a rousing Dylan number like ‘Oh Huge Banana-Head you Banged my Wife on my Big Brass Bed’ would bring them all together? Granted, this show swells to a bloat, nearly to the point of transparency, shrinking all that hangs from it for whatever peculiar reason known only to God, and embedded deep no doubt in the way things are now with curators and their current relationship to painting in relationship to their other relationships, not to mention our relationships, however intruded upon they might be by some gross invasion of privacy - and what better relationships can you have? But there are sudden inward, tight moments that squeeze goodness out of you. It’s better I always think to leave a place with less weight than you came in and vaguely transparent, than the building going all scaffoldy and painted gauze on you and hardly bearing the brunt of your fat arse. Moments I just fattened up like a complacent pig, but moments my hang did it for me and the show sucked me dry. The only proof I have is a small passport photograph of some blob holding two green runner beans up to his cheeks and smiling at me.

Which brings me neatly on to Obrist. ‘To Obrist: to steal shower gel; to interview’. He and two others (Molly Nesbit and Rirkrit Tiravanija) curated the zone entitled ‘Utopian Zone’. Now what that means is that the labels are hard to find (but with effort, it can be done), and that it looks retro. Just to make sure it looks retro, some things are in the garden by the coffee shop and have been pissed on something rotten by the weather. ‘The Church of Fear’ was neatly Appalachian but worked better if you didn’t take up the invitation to look inside. Then it became not frightening. It became a slot to look through at a video and some handwriting on the wall. Jerry-built buildings aplenty in the garden inviting you to go up rickety steps to sit in them and stare at maps which end up being Denmark. Cushions, dope and squats. Washed out rainbows hanging off balconies and a new sense of what Amsterdam could be if it was only transported to Munich. Stairs going up and an Oscar Wilde quote that suggested everything has a little bit of utopia in it and the danger, one assumes, is when you try to isolate it from the good bits of life. No one was playing - they sat drinking cappuccinos and eating panninis. Obedience meant I tried. Good to feel the grass under foot. Posters, posters, posters. Yin and yang and bubble my pipe one last time before the pigs come and smash our stupid little heads in. I feel like breaking into a chemist tonight and stashing all the goodies in a duffel bag under the wooden platform I call my new home. On leaving the garden of getting better all the time, one is struck by a homage to John and Yoko just below the temple. A loud ringing in my ears and by the time I know what's happened a fat woman with a security badge is singing ‘its all propaganda’ in an operatic voice. Its not over till the fat lady sings, I suppose. And its a cheap trick to throw one off the scent. Because thinking of this as propaganda is not the problem. Not the problem one little bit. Nor is the idea that it announces its own end, because it doesn’t. Labels. That's the problem, and curators like the Kenwood Obrist Liquidiser (and Molly Nesbit and Rirkrit Tiravanija). I would be disappointed if I was me. ‘Obrist’ sticks in my head like a fucking enormous fishbone. Nothing else. Having a chance to see some work is over in this section, replaced by a large concept squatting in South Harrow. Oh, and a large book of interviews. Hans used all the shower gel in the hotel room, there were only two sachets and he used them both. We were mad. To see labels again was a joy on leaving the Utopia Zone. It was as if some artists had been included and not torn into a million unidentifiable pieces and crammed into some MDF. Now it’s an interesting fact that when a car bomb goes off in Lebanon that the engine gets thrown on to peoples balconies. Press photographers try to photograph the engine before they try and photograph the bits of people, whether artists or innocent bystanders. They chase the engine all the way to someone’s flattened geraniums. This is meticulously documented by Atlas Group and Wallid Raad in the Dutch section of Contemporary Arab Representations curated by Terry van Gilliam and Catherine David. It makes sense. Why photograph the bits and pieces? You won’t get them on the front page of the Telegraph and there can’t be much money involved in selling them to Only specialised people working covertly photograph that kind of thing. We all make these negotiations (unless you are the Chinese feutus eater, but he’s not here so that’s that) and the results are often neat. The Israeli’s on the other hand have a robot that taps you on the shoulder and asks if you would like to get up and take that belt with you, all to a very beautiful song by someone like Simon and Garfunkel. Its gentle in a restrained fatherly sort of way with its clumsy metal claw, like the video itself by Doron Solomons. Young girls never look so gentle as when they are getting ready to blow themselves up in a crowded shopping mall. That's an odd fact of life caught with aplomb. And while on the subject of Chinese artists under-represented because they’re mad, there are some pretty good examples here. Not the craziest but maybe that’s for the best. Still, you have Chen Shaoxiong presenting his ideas of how tall buildings can avoid being hit by planes by bending backwards, using a sacred template to wind up Americans, others shift walls across the road, brick by brick. Heads in buckets while swimming, another over there, three more in that corner - a city of little TV’s, a room, a half-funded room, some kitchen utensils, an alarm radio, a model airplane? No, no model airplane. Quick! quick! A kettle, a cuddly toy, a set of cutlery, kitchen utensils, no, said that... It’s really difficult to pin down the Chinese because there is so many of them in such a relatively small space. Don’t know why Hanru did that, and all sliding down a slopey ramp. Flip-flop the ramp is underfoot. Help people and make a video. I admire the French artist group Campement Urbain for their balls. They went to a very poor place with a high crime rate and discussed the fact they hadn’t got a solution to present, but would you all like to be in the Biennale anyway? And the answer from the good people of the community was a resounding yes. Sylvia went a step further and, splitting from the group, did a bit of her own work on the side. It was urgent stuff with statements chosen by the citizens of the French equivalent of Castle street, which they wore on T-Shirts in front of Sylvia’s camera. Trouble is, what we see is not the same thing as what they meant. Maybe not, maybe they thought ‘I want to look like a cross between a V.W. advert and Benetton’. Who the fuck knows. Anyway, bottom line, it wasn’t as good as a V.W. advert. I never liked the Benetton ads. Noisy and chaotic shanty town of a zone with everything down to in-flight safety vids, portable hotels for the assistants and many people belonging to a single railway track. At least this noisy chaotic zone had labels and was vaguely navigatable as a result. And springy ramps. Now compare this with the zone dealing with individual systems. Not easy, is it? Its not easy because that zone was out and out dull. Dull. I mean white and dull and dull. No, not dull. Torture. Pain. Self-inflicted pain in some cases, other times I blame the taste of the curator and how Igor Zabel likes to organise exhibitions. It’s like slow death that hasn’t got the time left to make a decision regarding conflict (as opposed to having enough energy not be arsed). Art and Language are odd. They embed in their dullness a reflection of other people that sound infinitely more interesting. You look close into their white box and there, pinned down and staring out, are interesting people. Little heads with a variety of hair cuts and expressions. What's all that about. When someone gets pompous they encase things of variety but never escape the frame of their own pomposity. It’s their own fault. They wanted to go down that route, and now they spend their time trying to get out of it by resurrecting a dead problem they promptly struggle to solve and then call it beleaguerment. Maybe that’s interesting. Sounds interesting and that can be enough. But when you put a lot of them together in a zone then you have a case of pain and trouble. The word ‘Individual Systems’ sounds interesting at perverse moments, but to be surrounded by it is not much fun when it’s white and funereally sparse and lacking the authority of a low ceiling. Like maths when you are looking at it rather than doing it. But thank God for the Russian, Yuri Leiderman. Saved by large eskimo drawings listening to Wagner through their copper tattoos in order to entice three or four light bulbs to go on below some yellow string tacked to the ceiling. The Russians can always be trusted to bring something to the party to break the ice. Elsewhere a light goes out. A light goes out following the inaudible dull thud and electric zap of a  fly hitting its own capitol punishment. The sheer scale of the world around the hapless fly somewhere far up in the skylights, the effect it has upon this enormous space, opens up in me an encapsulated kind of space of the sort just before a big sleep. Not a trace of a burnt smell in the nostrils far below. Heat in Mexicana Polanski with a knife or two. ‘Solar’ radiates large feathers from a silver umbrella and a V.W. Beetle hangs dissembled in an orderly instructional way while my mind fills the space that has swelled yet again momentarily before dropping to the dark blackness of no images but a life of its own, freed from the turmoil of flydom on turd. Fernando Ortega, Abraham Cruzvillegas and Damián Ortego have a relation to the transformation to space. They transform it well by taking me up to the ceiling to be zapped into a welcome darkness and the shadow of a reflective light. Not the first time I’ve been up at the ceiling, I can tell you. But first time here. Neat carvings by Jean-Luc Moulène who chunked out fruit from a concrete Parisian bollard and Miffy the dog who is a little more expressionistic but neatly contextualised by his owner, Jimmy Durham who’s going to stuff him later. This is the Everyday Altered and there’s lovely for you. Nothing big. Little moments - big space, and worth their weight in chewed up gold and dog saliva for making the brick walls remain brick walls. I rent the space. I sublet it, I do what I want. I build on it and I move out mobile homes with views of Lake Takahiki and Sea World. I bulldoze. I buy the swampland. I take inventory. Later I sleep in a hammock up there to the sound of buzzing and I miss the occasional word when I am reading. This space is mine. Dryden Goodwin also alludes to taking me up to the ceiling, and even to me already being dead in an o.k. David Niven kind of a way. The kind of way that allows me to look down and be compassionate about people looking up at me in a quizzical and wondrous way. It felt good, I admit. That feeling of spirituality is connected to thinking that you have already died and are in the possession of some knowledge that those not yet dead would give their right arm for, but not the whole scaboodle. Sometimes its enough just to feel like you are dead in a looking down benevolent way. But its probably not like that, ask the fly. He is probably in a void darker and more tinged with iridescent blue than his fat burnt out dead fly body. He ain’t looking down at anyone benevolently. But Goodwin gives us a sunday afternoon death moment and the basis of much religion in the home because your father looks down benevolently at your little child face as he administers love and and a firm hand. Such benevolence always turns paranoid through a change of perception of that face turning in the group. Then you know that the security of being dead already was a joke and of little help now. Of as little help now as Tacita Dean’s technical problems. Bonami and Birnbaum, like good refs, weren’t that visible at the Giardini. They were present in moments of  noticeable good taste and an eye for a variety of subtleties. So you have big things in the form of names and familiarity, but then you get to see Duchamp’s tender smile silent and chrome silver. A sip of water and a sly glance of milk. Edie Sedgewick was turned off and looked disconcerted, frail and thin but not that far away from the fifties. A Hollowed out, dark eyed fifties. Hirst had me looking for ‘Green and Clears’ but Lucas was a surprise and brighter than some in her skag door mat ambivalence. Ofili is weird. He represents Britain and lost me completely in his awareness of a context which he brought with him in a large heavy suitcase. Pistachio Nutty, red and black. But, shit, better than ending up in an African section mouldering on about diaspora and taking good work down with you. He’s writing an opera for Liverpool next. When you see Fred Wilson moments before its hard to get to grips with the immense subtlety of Ofili and his architect friend's vision and red and green light bulbs. Fred Wilson had us singing in the showers and camping it up with the moors. Over the top humour belly-laugh stuff with a Danny Elfmann soundtrack while we all plonk our selves on the sofa with the remote. I have a yellow face and my hair sticks up. The moors could have had yellow faces, despite being literally black a lot of the time. Literally black makes it a colour and wrenches something else open. A flag is different. Flags are difficult, full stop. Painting it a different colour doesn’t help. Just say no.  

Good to see Frank Bowling at Venice.

Maybe age beset me and I have turned into a jerky off-colour cine film, or running with a red flag with more passion than the Swedes. I feel like that. I am tired (of waiting), I am a light box, I am stationed above the entrance of a large Biennale (all in an Irish quiz show host accent). But I am not large Gaelic font by Susan Mackenzie. And all the time that smile stays in my head. However, I am placed in a space that is transformed by Gabriel Orozco into some life-size sterile marquette when I stare at the original outside. That is influential. Nice moment of clarity. Orozco curated the fly-piece and Orozco is forming in my head gradually, beyond my will. Duchamp’s tender smile smiles in this space formed. Everything is beautiful and it gets so that Warhol has a gentle touch. Age does that. Even if it isn’t literally a body to get all wrinkled up but the work. That is hopeful in itself but can’t be pre-empted or else you look like some Darwin freak with an advanced GameBoy. But be fair, the work from the Australian Pavilion had a Dreamworks attraction. Pig things that you marvelled at the when the animatronic department over-did the furrowing of the brows - three hundred tiny little muscles all with a mind of their own and ‘human hair’ on the label. Star Wars looked like it was filmed in Australia, and maybe that’s a factor. Too much heat that over-emphasises the odd physical nature of evolution. Physicality is not the only aspect. What about light bouncing off rocks? Over-emphasising the physicality of evolution is like a big weighty painting or a man with a theory of how to do things and how important that is. Yes, that smile is a slippery one and bounces right off my rocks. Evolution and space travel, particularly people visiting us, hung from my nose like a plasma. Duffel-coated and with bright orange hair and eyeball covers, I visited the Danish space and tried to get it working so I could go home. It needs more plutonium light fasteners. Bugger. **** In the same vein as that which follows, Dan Graham and Carsten Höller decided. I turned left. My decision was based on the fact someone had entered the work by the exit-only door. I saw myself leave shortly afterwards and didn’t at all. I went straight on, slap bang into Barney. Wonder why I am so interested in delay and these empty moments of random decision when Don Delillo makes me sick now. It’s all you can do here to liven up the day. Orozco understands. He understands very well and works with these limitations. You can’t bring a knife to a gun fight, but you can bring a gun to a knife fight. But then it won’t be a knife fight. A gun fight’s always a gun fight, knife or no knife, and you get shot and have your fingertips placed on hotplates and shotgun cartridges gaffer-taped in your dead mouth before your body’s set alight. Are fights suitable for the Biennale? A recent survey said categorically ‘In a way, yes’. Hakan ‘the Turk’ Gürsoytrak doesn’t mince his paint. Gets stuck right in whenever there’s trouble. Paints like a butterfly, stings like a bee. His paint daubs are teasing little jabs and stains with the occasional uppercut of violent white floor and feet stomping all round. Oil paint seeping from barrels on the docks of Istanbul and stuck on boot treads and heads. It’s a pleasant activity and in fairly large quantity. Painting by real men intrigues me ever since Karl Jung said gangsters are always more likely to appreciate the beauty of a sunset, bringing them almost to tears, after having beaten some guy in his Y-Fronts to death with baseball bats. That's not to label Hakan, it just brings up this thought. It brings up the Chinese painter in the ramped Zone of Urgency who portrayed himself giant as an anti-riot policeman and a hooligan in black and white sloppy paint.  How do you paint with anything but a waspy Norton anger? Big? How do you paint with a lasting violence and still paint good? I mean the kind of inbuilt anger that leads to monosyllabic answers and a razor sharp patter at all times while on the job? I don’t think people bother painting then. Why would you? You’d have what you want already. So painting fights is nothing to do with all of that, or fantasising of being in a uniform and twelve feet tall. So the story is a different one and laced with a sophisticated multilingual rainbow of emotion. Some things can only be represented. Orozco, he speaketh through my weeny fingertips and produces something interesting when he’s not playing with me. Fischli and Weiss, on the other hand, were a major let down and they won a prize. So we can’t all be bitter. Either they were a major let down or they think in many different languages. I don’t think in that many languages unless my room has turned icy and my bed’s raising off the floor. Or I am in a Coke advert. And I got the feeling this work had gone through the obligatory ‘It’s good to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony’ filter and ended up looking like the job centre. But there you go. The prize was for their life time achievement so well done. And well done to the Russians for their life time achievement. All of them. But particularly the collective achievement of Sergey Bratkov, Valery Koshliakov, Constantin Zvezdochetov, Vladimir Dubossarsky and Alexander Vinogradov. Tzarist-Sokurov cardboard and Underwater types of Muscovite ideological splash, bulbous-nosed terrorists and the like lurking under a rage of oceanic size and carrying suitcases and buckets. They paint well and to see cobalt and cerulean dreams of abundant Rosenquist life-style hopes with bubbles coming out of the mouths of all asunder gave me hope, like dreams and thoughts emanating from a malfunctioned submarine lying on the bottom of a cold black bed, all in one language - strangely Russian. Was Hogarth Russian? No, but  if he was, he would paint underwater scenes, and maybe bulbous testicles. Just a stone’s throw away, in the Lithuanian pavilion, testicles were bulbous. Not only that, cocks were long and smooth, and wrapped like snakes having a rest. The penis suited the baroque environment. S & P Stanikas’ work was a strange blend of sepia ‘Alien’, Venice, someone's ancestors, and someone’s particularly young and curvaceous-in-an-earthy-kind-of-a-way ancestor being ‘bad’ to House music. Not so far from Russia in their odd-fitting energy, but that's probably o.k. now. I mean, they’re nearly in the European union. They wouldn’t dare, would they? Last Biennale Lithuania fitted into things like a fucking disappointing glove, presenting a promotional video on the history of Lithuania to major curators. This time, it was Estonia who was as flat as a pankaki and the silly car wasn’t working in the transparent space ship tube. So, like me in the Danish pavilion, they weren’t going anywhere. In their defence, there were a lot of technical problems at this unusually late hour, a kind of Cerith Wyn Evans/Bethan Huws downgraded budget version of the opening few days. Who gives a shit after that? Not the International Welsh contingent, that’s for sure. Beth refuses to show his film again until Basel, Cerith’s left a light bulb from the Second World War and its up to Paul Seawright to awkwardly hold the fort with some enlarged covers from ‘Welsh Photographer’s Monthly’ - volcanic red filters and graffiti walls. Simon Pope is no help. Having to stick around for the duration, he is sinking into an isolation that seems to be driving him a slowly nuts. They should have some kind of support network for artists who get stuck somewhere like Venice or else you end up giggling nervously at labels in supermarkets. Equally parked up and looking suspiciously like a successful proposal to the Henry Moore foundation, was Graham Gussin’s Conceptual Art Bus. He drove all the way to Venice in it and parked it in much needed space (ask the South Americans all crammed in next door). Lucky it wasn’t towed away. I checked the tires and they were worn. I know that sounds weird but I checked them because Simon Starling, having ‘taken’ a Fiat from Italy to Poland for explicit spare parts, had brand new radials on his. Either he took it up to Poland in the back of a massive lorry or else he changed his tires when he got back, so not to dirty the wall where he’d parked. And what of the little people? the ones that swarm like disease or march in a more frightening pattern, liable to eat everything in their path and don’t drive? A dark installation, darker and busier than a hall of venetian waiters from the Palais Londres of Harry’s Bar itself. These were tiny folk, and, to our conceptual scheme, baffling. Following a logic all of their own, and looking very similar to the conceptual scheme of a raging bout of D.T.’s. Rampantly alive like a horde of eager hungry visitors under intense heat of the first few days, unable to say much other than state how hot it is under the black sun of doom and forgetting under which plant pot they had hidden the vodka. Crank bugs crawling obediently along the walls, or squirming snaky in a petri dish with their little mouths yawning if you could get close enough to see - backwards and forwards, round and round. Isolate the leaders and squash the little shits genetically. Israel's Michal Rovner infests the Israeli pavilion and they crawl under my skin. I am reduced to a compulsive digging movement involving a small kitchen knife and my arm. I feel like a bug after that and not a big one lying in bed but a little one. De-humanising experience on a par with a lot of things other than the obvious one of David Attenborough’s liver. It was depressing, all things considered, and probably depressing in a way the Dutch pavilion wasn’t although perhaps ought to have been if one could only snap out of this infernal denial. Maybe if you looked at the Dutch pavilions intentions under a microscope you would see a swarm of Paul Verhoeven’s getting somehow organised. Then maybe you wouldn’t. We are the world and the world is flat with bicycles on it. I feel uneasy being asked to participate, no matter how broad the cultural reach. Implicit in that is the accusation that I don’t participate and that I need to be taught. It really gets my purple goatee. Best for me was the aggressive documentation video by Alicia Framis of dresses designed to throw things back in your face and haunting in its Salo-esque binocular complicity. Apart from that there was a quaint shoe shop making red shoes for devilish Americans, a Muji shop, and a video installation by Erik van Lieshout of life as usual. Unlike the Dutch strain of liberal, multi-cultural instruction that has produced many a fine decorated Durex machine, Spain was very charitable. You weren’t allowed to get into the Spanish pavilion unless you had valid Spanish papers. One less Pavilion to enter. They were generous like that, and something Obrist might have picked up on. Cut out the middle man completely - Ulrich floating helplessly in a dark, damp breeze-blocked space with no visitors. Kippenberger survives such a fate. That, even dead, he is much lighter than the Israeli pavilion, or the darker recesses of Spain behind closed doors, is a strength of Kippenberger, all things considered. His piece was Monroeish and as discreet as a G-string under a secretary’s skirt. Set below Düsseldorf Nord Strasse U-Bahn, that lies as empty as an institutional building at lunchtime somewhere near St Paul's, it throws up a breeze to dislodge those ailing lunch break blues and refreshes the legs and mouth before sinking into a Pret special of Höffer and avocado on Rye with light mayo. Höffer is a deserted lunchbreak, and a familiar short one at that. Kippenberger is the promise of home-time lurking below your aching feet. It’s family waiting for you in your daydreams. A family that in reality don’t see you but you can see them, getting on with their lives, remarrying, and finally, after a few years or even months, removing your picture. More darkness prevailed in the Egyptian pavilion. It was one of those pavilions that had an entrance and an exit. You went in on the right and came out on the left. In the middle, after pushing through heavy black drapery that didn’t comply that easily, Ahmed Nawar’s video projections were not working. Big black space. Wish they could have warned me. Black and white dove things heralded the malfunction and spread upwards above my exit door. Nearly broke my neck, but what the hell. I am no fun. I don’t go into situations that aren’t heavily monitored by nurses. Urs Staub commissioned for the Swiss Pavilion some Angels Camp residency thing organised by Emmanuelle Antille with four screens that documented years of people living in tents, gradually becoming a proper family by not saying much and barking occasionally. Is this another anti-capitalist thing? If it was, it was a bit North Wales. Next they’ll start making their own medieval musical instruments. Are shareholder activists the future? Some nighties and a few tears and a child in little sandals and Laura Ashley. A Swiss-looking Irish singer singing one heart rendering song in the local pub that is always spinning by nine and falling in a ditch by one-thirty. I liked the installation. I liked the fact a crowd had gathered and we all turned round in unison to watch which ever screen dominated. That’s different to getting anxious about being asked to go, but look how we all got into the spirit of the installation. More can be seen in one day at the races than thirty farms designed to employ peach-pickers. A gush of refreshment in Iceland followed by an overwhelming need to pee in the nearest field. Do all Swiss families bark with each other? And if not, why not? I would, given a Swiss work permit and their benefits policy. I’d bark all day. I don’t know why they didn’t show us more footage of around Zurich. Get our mouths watering again. And why keep those gorgeous Swiss Volvo’s to themselves? Better than an Italian Fiat with fucking Polish doors. Didn’t see anything of that at the Angel Camp. Got the Volvo’s stuffed away in some underground Parkplatz no doubt till camp’s over. To be honest, the only kind of mud I am interested in wallowing in outside of Switzerland is the kind of mud described in the Instituto Italo-Latino Americano squashed space up near the Gussin bus depot. The kind of mud that enables you to not only be filthy dirty and warm but also to steal gold at the same time. Helpful little tip from Tomás Ochoa if we could just find a gold mine to work in. Fat chance. About as much chance of that as being Swiss. A Fruitful Land. A touch of utopia in a small square of plastic flowers and even a tin sub-aqua device hanging above my head ludicrously inviting a view of the Caribbean underworld. That’s wit in a strange biased way that I don’t want to shake off. Don’t want to shake it off because of Henry Moore just outside the door. He lurks like an office of over important cuties making small funding decisions about pot plants and water features. Humbling, and a good reason to emigrate. But you always take yourself with you. It’s like this thing about Japan, wearing robes, a pony-tail, and being served by a little doll like thing that eats flies when you’re not looking. Zen and the like. I took myself with me to the Japanese pavilion and had an epileptic fit. They call this kind of space ‘Heterotopic’. Back in England we call it Coventry. Afro Coventry. Red, green and black lights at night with Henry standing in the town square nursing an unwanted pregnancy. This tongue-biting Japanese sado-masochistic game show thing goes too far sometimes. Is projection of the future a sado-masochistic thing? Is that why the future always looks like a bondage club that’s open till dawn? Is the future black and blue buttocks and tubes hanging from every orifice? It feels that way sometimes. Maybe the future is hospital and not dying like a warrior anymore in a split second. Did warriors resist? Probably not in the middle of a fight. Maybe resistance is hospital. The confrontation of future and resistance produces a heterotopic space that ends in a bed bath and little charts that become your very own individual system. People mutate in hospital, that's for sure. I would wager that people mutate more in hospital then anywhere else because of the way they’re run. You don’t have a clue what's going on and that’s the biggest single cause of mutation ever. I’ve mutated a few times this year and now sport a Walter Moseley-style Pomb-Bang many times over. But if you live by the sword, you die by the sword, and the Japanese had their come-uppance with Guiseppe Gabellone. He dealt their prints a fatal Italian blow, rendering them in copious amounts of overcooked spaghetti just like moma used to make. Good for Guiseppe. If only nations were quite so straightforward. But nations have problems bigger than me, you, or Guiseppe. Big identity problems that a Pomb-Bang and a good dance before a mirror won’t cure. The artists they choose are merely the tiny tip of their huge respective icebergs whose anxiety travel further down than the Great Wall of China and sprout back up as doctor plants with nightmarish head-blooms lolling around the Giardini giving check-ups. I wouldn’t be a nation. No way. Not this year, anyway.

To think of Bonami under these conditions, or Bonami teamed up with Birnbaum, is a relief. And the cheeky quirkiness of intense specificity as to who was born where brought a knowing smile to his table. Nothing like a higher degree of specificity to focus the attention. I hardly noticed the Swedish soldiers lurking near the toilets, but then who ever does? Hammons doesn’t. Or the fine black-sailed boat of American aim humming towards the new world of a Thomas Hart Benton picture appropriated wall size by Kerry James Marshall, all connected by gymnastic floor designs. Battista supporters soon to be recruited by the CIA on their arrival or unwanted deviants to be taken into the Everglades and shot. The homosexual pimp saw it coming and was shot in his begging mouth to stop the squeal. Castro lying dead, Kevin Hanley visualises what Guy Banister, et al, failed to achieve. Frustrating in its casual ease considering all the planning. A ghost ship drifting out of the fog, tracing small lines through the cigar smoke hanging at half-mast. Equally weird in an unfathomably different way, the murals commissioned by Shirana Shahbazi gave genuine Iranian street painters a chance to boldly paint were and what no street painters have painted before. Blonds for our overwhelming perusal, and lacking Glenn Brown’s beautiful fear of ageing due to their short life span. What they lack in years they gain in scale and clarity. What would I say if I was blond and here for three months only? It would be short and sweet. Is this love? Can’t help feeling that there is an awful lot of love gone into Efrat Shvily’s photos of the Palestinian cabinet. They didn’t last long either. As a work it was bound to take on a life of its own in one way or another once she tried heroically to pin it down. Maybe that’s the love. Some of them looked fucking exhausted and that is love. Brings to mind Iain Duncan Smith in a really unpleasant way, like he is something that dropped from the back of a radiator with a damp splodge on the floor. Or beany-face Blair poking out of the plant pot like Bill and Ben’s high-pitched weed. The Palestinians escape caricature because of the premature nature of their portrayer. Must be the first time a set of portraits of politicians do escape caricature. Solid as as a tired inevitable rock. Bung-ho. The conflict escalates and entering the range of my tiny little fish-eyed peephole is a very bendy road that leads to a burnt-out bus made of steel and Andre-red. It is a bus, believe me. Pull the other one, oh skeletal conductor. Ding-ding and lets find the engine. Space is good and space is bad - take your pick. Find the stop you want and be happy. A cadmium yellow-green space with Korean optimism of Derridean influence that laps the view or no windows at all. It makes not a jot. My black charred head hurts. Charred with decisions, decisions, decisions. Like one pink eye staring down an endless dull lime green corridor with a student hunched up half-way down. Under-sized sex torture chambers with enticing chocolate taste-titles and shiny bully-boys in a row. A child pretending to be swallowed by a frog coat, surrounded by flash guns whapping and cracking. You have entered The Pump House. Sado-masochistic open-Arsenale walrus-suited political sex house. Throbbing issues strapped to a railing. Where’s my head? It’s stuffed up a brick-lined gorilla's arse and I can’t get it out until its been pulverised by a thumbing big fire extinguisher. I started at the end and worked backwards. All you’ve seen is what the present hasn’t seen yet and doesn’t know is going to happen. I don’t know the Utopian Zone and I don’t know the garden of washed out activists and cappuccino, and a particularly expensive Pizzeria even though it was written. St Marks’s Square and the entrance to Murakami’s world of blurred shop-front font and the greedy blob, Swatch and Stefanel all to the strains of The Florian soft tuxedo jazz. Venice sinks very slowly and the paintings are as poignant as if they were filmed by salvage crews. No wonder there was no bombast, but only considered scale of a cult pop star with beautiful hair and red mike or a market selling vegetables. Such a range of rooms are infinitely better than the last yet to come - this is not about history. And in that sense the pavilions are odd Port Merion follies in general and leave one with a sense of Patrick Magoohan dread if one stays and even more problems if one attempts to leave. Big lumpish attempts with big lumpish passports. Traffic noise playing behind venetian blinds and Magoohan weighed down to the crackling sound of ‘All You Need is Love’ - the first live satellite transmission broadcast ever. 

David Mollin 2003

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