The Glasgow-based Scottish artist Graham Fagen has been talking about the work he will be showing for the Scotland + Venice presentation at this year’s Venice Biennale.

Taking place across four rooms in the 16th century Palazzo Fontana (pictured below), which faces on to the Grand Canal, the exhibition will include sculptures made from bronze, steel and ceramic, a series of drawings, and a five channel audio-visual installation.

Visitors to the exhibition will be greeted by a neon sign bearing the phrase, in Italian, ‘Come into the garden and forget about the war’ (pictured above).

Fagen explained that he selected the building – the first time it has been used as a Biennale venue – after visiting many sites. “I chose it for the context it gives. It’s a fantastic, classic Venetian building that reflects the history of trade in Venice but also a history of culture and ideas.”

The exhibition for Venice continues Fagen’s exploration of Scottish cultural identity in his work. In particular, he explained that he is interested in asking questions about the country’s relationship with the slave trade.

The Slave’s Lament

The exhibition’s audio-visual installation will feature a recording of Robert Burns’ 1792 song The Slave’s Lament, reworked with the help of producer Adrian Sherwood and reggae singer Ghetto Priest. The piece also includes contributions by musicians from the Scottish Ensemble and a composition by the composer Sally Beamish, who is known for her work with Scottish traditional music. 

Fagen – who first recorded The Slave’s Lament with Sherwood in 2005 – explained that the coming together of Burns and reggae stemmed from both growing up in Irvine, Ayrshire (where Burns lived for a time) and his love of the music, which he first encountered at punk gigs when he was teenager. “I began to wonder why I felt more connected to Jamaican music than to the work of Burns,” he said.

This year’s Scotland + Venice presentation is curated by Hospitalfield in Abroath, and will be the seventh time that Scotland has presented work at the international art world’s most important biennale.

“My ambition was always to play football for Scotland,” said Fagen, “but I’m happy to be representing the country at the Venice Biennale instead.”

Scotland + Venice 2015 is a collateral event at the 56th Venice Biennale, 9 May – 22 November 2015 (preview 5 May, 12-6pm).