The following words are by Laurence Dube-Rushby whose personal research, while stationed in Venice as a fellow for the Biennale, took a turn towards observing sites of resistance within art installations exhibiting as part of the Venice Biennale, from Laure Prouvost for the French Pavilion to Cathy Wilkes for the British Pavilion.
Social Engagement, Participation and Water; Examining the sites of Resistance in Venice and in the artworks at the Biennale.
I set out to research the place of live-art, social practice and engagement in the biennale in response to the curator's call 'May we live in interesting times' (Ralph Rugoff) and the work of Cathy Wilkes.I wanted to visit and research a range of venues to explore the strategies used for 'truly' engaging people in the work,and how this may transform our ways of seeing and being in the world. In my response, I explored the use of unconventional performative processes to challenge the notion of engagement, hoping to reveal the 'true' value and impact of the art.
The liveness in the work of Cathy Wilkes
During the residency, I realised that the time spent with the work of one artist in the pavilion was to become an invaluable opportunity to create new meanings. I spent many hours scrutinising Wilkes’work, and began to make my own journey through the fragments of a story presented in the carefully selected objects; a mix of fabricated and found elements, spaced around the pavilion, in a way that leaves the viewer in a place of discomfort, thus pushing the mind to fill the gaps and resolve the emerging sites of tension.
The work is a-live piece of art in many ways; metaphorically and physically. Twice daily, we closed the gallery to clean the small residues of life brought by the visitors, a contradiction in itself for a work which invites the audience to complete it and engage in sense-making.
This incited me to examine the sites of resistance which emerged from the work and from people’s engagement with it or their difficulties to engage. The extreme precision of the layout became an opportunity to learn and create new responses with body and mind.
Venice as a site of resistance.
The research took a turn and I began to ask; 'What are the sites of resistance which can be identified in';
• the work of Cathy Wilkes,
• the biennale presentations
• life in Venice
• my engagement with the elements in this new environment; air, sun/heat, water, salt, artworks
• my position, standing in the space of the pavilion to support the work/support visitors to engage with the work.
How do I engage and negotiate physically, mentally and emotionally with resistance in these places?
How can this engagement produce new visual and sensory forms of representations in relation to global context and issues?
How can my body and mind react, reflect, respond to the sensory stimulations of Venice as a whole.
While walking through the many exhibits in the Biennale, I was mostly caught by the ones which invited my participation; the invitation to engage in the work varied in style, asking to invest time,response, presence, reading or thinking.
The most prominent theme throughout the Biennale focussed on a sensitisation to climate change, a theme emphasized by the constant flow of the surrounding water and its visible threat to Venice.
The Lithuanian pavilion, a definite highlight and winner of this year's Biennale, invited people in an operatic performance in two ways, either as a volunteer, laying on the beach for 3 hours, or as a god's like audience, watching the one hour show from above, a position which left the viewer suspended in time and space, but also powerless.
The work depicted a picture of a society stuck in a self-inflicted struggle which each participant has the power to change, but nevertheless remains passive within the setting of a holiday beach.
The French Pavilion
Deep See Blue Surrounding You / Vois Ce Bleu Profond Te Fondre by Laure Prouvost was another eye opener which took me on a sensory journey through water, climate change and plastics.
I was fortunate enough to interview Nicolas Faubert, one of the dancers in the film as part of my investigation of participation in a work of art as a life changing element.
I went to the pavilion repeatedly, as you would take a roller-coaster ride; the experience never failed to turn me upside down. I will miss this the most.
In my search for live art and participation, I was drawn to visiting Joan Jonas's work, "Moving off the Land II", at Ocean Space, Venezia (Chiesa di San Lorenzo). Jonas worked with a marine biologist and with a group of children to create a series of short films presented into little booth to provide an intimate setting which contrasted with the gigantic setting of the church in renovation. She used the scaffoldings around the room to suspend large fish and sea-creatures’ watercolour sketches, thus transforming the sacred space into an ocean in which I was immersed. Deeply moved by the space and the children' s presence in the film, I decided to record my feelings by spinning a blue wool thread to add to my dress.
Her shamanic presence in the film, with her white hair, white lab coat and bells, dancing and moving with sea creatures, seem to entrust a precious heritage to the future generations.
I returned several times during my stay and decided to interact with her in a performance, adding another layer to her work; the stance of the visitor making sense of this ocean.(see image below) I brought with me a linen dress, a gift from an artist friend who recently passed away, as well as naturally died cloth from my past projects presenting similarities with the cloth used by Wilkes and with the colours of Venice itself. I wore the dress and spun coloured yarn across venues (see following image) as a way to absorb the emotions, values, and meanings emerging from the works and from the people I met within the various exhibits.
Near the end of my stay, august fellow Heather Fulton, from Scotland, invited a small group to reflect on a text which helped me connect the various meanings and emotions through the theme of water which had been with me all along. (Hydrofeminism; Or, On Becoming a Body of Water in Undutiful Daughters: Mobilising Future Concepts, Bodies and Subjectivities in Feminist Thought and Practice, Astrida Neimanis, 2012)
I finished the residency with a collection of film pieces, texts and photographs, a dress dipped in the lagoon water, and pinhole images which I will process over the year to investigate a new direction in my research. I am planning to create a new piece of work for the fellows’ exhibition in London, next March. In the meantime, I am reshaping my blog to become my research report.
The opportunity to research in Venice was invaluable to my practice, buying me time to take new directions in my research. I seized every opportunity available to meet and engage with artists; I was able to carry out two interviews, one with exhibiting artist Lilli Miller from LA, who has been mentored by Louise Bourgeois over 15 years, and one with Nicolas Faubert, Dancer from the French pavilion. I also made lasting connections with a few more and collected pieces of film, photography and colour schemes with a series of reflective notes which will come to shape in an archive blog. I'm thrilled that I've had the opportunity to present and discuss my research both at Ca’ Fociari University and at the Curatorial school of Venice and I am hoping to bring the students involved in my PhD research to Venice, in October 2019, to create action-based art in the basement of the pavilion which served as a studio to Cathy Wilkes earlier this year.