Ruth Houlsby, a Fellow from Birkbeck University of London, reflects on her time at the British Pavilion in Venice for the final month of the 57th Art Biennale.
As part of the last group of Fellows at the Venice Biennale, notions of time and transience were ever-present and seemed to be repeated throughout many of the biennale pavilions and collateral events.
Firstly, there were the many pavilions of transient performance art, which were also often some of the most critically-acclaimed. There was the beautiful music of Xavier Veilhan’s Studio Venezia in the French Pavilion, which changed from day-to-day and minute-by-minute in an ephemeral mix of performances, recordings and rehearsals.
The long queues outside the German Pavilion attested to the popularity and excellent reviews for Anne Imhof’s performance of Faust, which in the final week ran for four hours a day and offered visitors an intense experience of movement and music where visitors were pushed around in an unsettling and thrilling performance.
In a garden of the Central Pavilion in the Giardini, Lee Mingwei’s When Beauty Visits was a moving participatory performance inviting visitors to watch a moment of shared intimacy between Lee Mingwei (or an artist’s assistant) and a participant chosen from the crowd invited to take a moment of silence before being presented with a gift to be opened when they next experienced beauty.
Tehching Hsieh’s Doing Time in the Taiwan Pavilion, housed in the seventeenth-century Palazzo delle Prigioni, had a special resonance for me. His One Year Performance 1980-1981 documents the artist clocking on to a worker’s time clock every hour for a whole year, taking a photograph as a record. The exhibition included a six-minute video showing every single time punch, as well as every photograph in a dizzying display running around several gallery walls. I spent several months with the video of the performance in 2009 in an exhibition at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland during a previous invigilation role, so the notion of passing time was particularly poignant; a once familiar work seen again after many years in a completely different context.