Supported by a-n, Edinburgh College student Chloe McHardy is part of the 2022 Scotland + Venice Professional Development Programme. The aim of the programme is to help participants establish professional networks at a transitional point in their careers. Over a 4 week period, McHardy worked closely with the team at Scotland + Venice whilst invigilating artist Alberta Whittle‘s Collateral Event ‘Deep dive (pause) uncoiling memory’, a new exhibition featuring film, sculpture, tapestry and painting, and telling a universal yet deeply personal story of racial identity, belonging, and place in today’s world.

Here McHardy reflects on how the experience has benefitted her artistic practice, her own personal highlights from the Biennale and the impact on her future plans.

Was this your first visit to Venice?
It was actually my second visit. The first time I went was the summer before I started studying art, so it was really nice coming back with a fresh perspective and obviously having a bit more knowledge behind me, of things like performance art. Really just a better understanding of what contemporary art is.

How do you feel it’s going to benefit you in terms of your professional development?
Having the experience of working in a gallery has helped my confidence massively. I feel more confident to speak about artists’ work now, whereas before I was a bit more reserved and nervous to chat about other people’s work.

In terms of my own practice, I think it’s made me realise maybe what I don’t want for the future. I am really interested in sustainability and using sustainable materials, and I don’t really see myself as being a practicing artist and going to Venice Biennale in that role. When thinking about environmental issues, seeing so many countries transporting artwork to the Biennale for just a few months and the volume of tourism was overwhelming. I really want my practice to benefit other people and I want to make sure my work is accessible to as many people as possible. This might be through online platforms or something like art therapy or teaching.

When viewing work across the Biennale did you feel there was a lot of work addressing environmental issues?
I was keeping a note of some of the materials that were being used and the amount of plastic used to create artwork. Experiencing such a large volume of tourists and thinking about the amount of CO2 being produced from a constant influx of people coming to Venice was a bit of a shock to the system. I think it’s really important to keep thinking about that and not always get swept up in how fabulous these sorts of events are.

What was the best thing about working with Scotland+Venice?
Scotland+Venice introduced us to artist Alberta Whittle right from the onset. On the first training day at Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh we actually got to meet Alberta. She spoke to us about her work and then we had a studio visit.

Scotland+Venice really made sure that we were working alongside the artists and Alberta gave me and the other invigilators a clear vision of how she wanted the work to be looked after when we were in Venice.

This helped ease us in because you felt like you almost had the blessing of the artist to talk about the work, so that the people coming to visit were looked after and informed. That element of it has been really good for me – not feeling so much like ‘they’re the artists and they’re unapproachable’.

Alberta’s practice explores lots of different mediums, including sculpture, tapestries and film. Is there any commonality in approaches with your own work?
I’ve not dabbled in sculpture myself, but have done a little bit of film. I think, if anything, the biggest commonality is how Alberta wants the viewer to respond to the work, making sure they’re cared for throughout – thinking about how the viewer is going to be affected by the work and if the work is doing its job in communicating clearly.

How did you find discussing Alberta’s work with visitors to the exhibition?
In terms of the themes of Alberta’s work, I suppose I was a little apprehensive before I went. A lot of her work is to do with colonialism and the effects that that has in today’s society, and as a white female I am perhaps not best placed to really speak about colonialism because I’ve not had those personal experiences. It’s so important that people are educated about colonialism and I think it’s important to give platforms to the people most affected, to share their experiences. Ultimately the message that Alberta wanted to leave people with was to invest in love and to learn from it in a positive way – to move forward by loving one another.

You were in Italy for four weeks. Outside of the Biennale, what other experiences did you have?
We had a day trip to Milan to see an exhibition by one of my favourite artists, Louise Bourgeois, which was spectacular. We also visited Lake Garda, so there were opportunities to explore and switch off from the art for a little while. Back at the Biennale we attended events like a late night dance at the Arsenale, which was a lot of fun.

In terms of the other work at the Biennale, what were your highlights?
My favourite would be the Dutch pavilion, which featured When the body says Yes, a new video installation by melanie bonajo. The building itself looks like a grand old church but then you go in and it’s all darkly lit with some pink hues. The exhibition assistants tell you to take off your shoes and the floor is covered with  big soft cushions. People were lying down everywhere, in front of a large screen showing the work, which reflects on the meaning of touch and intimacy. I thought it was a really interesting exploration of how we connect with one another.

What are your plans after completing your course at Edinburgh College?
I’d like to continue my education and am looking at applying to two courses – a sculpture and environmental course in Glasgow, and the art philosophy course at Dundee University. I want to further my work with sustainable materials and working within the community and am looking at courses that encompass those elements.

Scotland + Venice 2022 for the 59th International Art Exhibition runs until 27 November 2022 at Docks Cantieri Cucchini, Venice.