Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Distance looks our way

Creative New Zealand has just announced the venue for next year’s Venice Biennale outing and it's a bold move. In past years artists chose their own venues. They'd usually try to take advantage of Venetian character (Denny, Millar, Parekowhai, Stevenson, Upritchard) or to secure a venue with good foot traffic (Culbert, Denny, Millar). For 2017 the venue selection has been taken over by NZ's Commissioner for Venice Alastair Curruthers. He made it clear he was determined to secure a permanent venue for New Zealand (with no formal consultation as far as we know) within the main exhibition site. To an extent that is what he has done. (Commissioner Alastair Carruthers has since told us that there were three options offered the artist and curator within the Arsenale and that the current space has only been leased for the current Biennale)

The new venue for New Zealand is Tesa dell'Isolotto. This translates as 'small island' and this is no doubt what it was some time in the past. So where is it? Well, not as Creative NZ would have it in its media release ‘in the heart of the Arsenale exhibition district’ but rather on the outskirts of the Arsenale. While this part of the Biennale is visited, suggesting it is in the heart of things is stretching credulity as you can see from the map. The Commissioner has made the call that if NZ can't get a space in the Giardini (and that's been a closed shop for decades), then we are better off in the Biennale precinct consistently than trying to make an impression each time in a new venue. There's certain corporate logic to that, if you want to find Team NZ you'll know where to go. But there are trade-offs. While the format of the venue is perfect for Lisa Reihana’s work, with its very specific space requirements, of course, this will not necessarily be ideal for those who follow. The gamble is for a more manageable known quantity against
unpredictable opportunity .

The main challenge with this particular location will be getting audiences that still have attention and energy to spare for us. The centre of the Biennale remains the Giardini with its array of national pavilions (this is where the Australians are) and part 1 of the Central Exhibition curated by the artistic director of the Venice Biennale. As a visitor the big attraction of the Arsenale is part 2 of this exhibition. It's always an exhausting experience all but fills one of the biggest exhibition spaces in the world with a huge number of artists (in 2015, there were 136 of them), themes, talks, performances etc etc. Once you've popped out the other end of this over-heated clamour there are even more spaces to deal with. In 2015 these rather brilliantly included the Vatican and next year will include New Zealand. One of the problems is that few visitors start their Biennale experience with the Arsenale but kick off with the big names in the Gardini. Still the deal is done now so let's see how this new set of cards plays out.