- la Biennale di Venezia
Having just struck something from the ‘Bucket list’ in my Bridge, I am left in a peaceful contemplative state. The Smoker lights up as do I and we make our way towards the Giardini past millionaire’s yachts, Ice Cream stands and the occasional Pavilion still in the final throws of install. Arriving at the Giardini we are faced with an occupancy comprised of press, curators, artists and art darlings in a modern day real life version of Renoir’s ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’.
I imagine the chaos of the invasion in the days and weeks leading up to this moment. Armies of Techs and P.A’s armed with iPads and G-clamps burrowing through the streets and gardens. Each Tech and P.A hoping to get a breakthrough with their own practice through any of the extra roles they have had to adopt to survive. The Renaissance gave us artists who could do more than just make art and that is one thing you are constantly reminded of through meeting the likes of The Smoker.
Drinks are consumed and we arrive at the British Pavillion. If Wes Anderson were to make a Doctor Who movie about politics in Britain, Jeremy Deller and this ‘Art Tardis’ would be perfect for it. There is a lot to see but what is it all? I am drawn to the large fairground style painting of a man plunging a yacht into the lagoon but I am equally repelled. I move through the hoards of slow moving people. Everyone is making eye contact with everyone else, maybe we’re all famous.
I see photographs of Northern Ireland. I notice the signage on the buildings, the fashion and the old army vehicles. I immediately assume its documentation of ‘The Troubles’. When I’m home and I see old photos, they are just old photos but when in England or further a field, Ireland and Northern Ireland are usually perceived as The Emerald Isle or a war torn political battlefield
I read that the photos show crowds of teenagers amassing for a David Bowie gig. Deller has woven his particular brand of innocent positive re adjustment given the said Bowie tour coincided with the Bloody Sunday massacre by the British army who stalked the streets of Derry or London Derry as stated in the ‘Deller Magic’ handout.
I squeeze into another room filled with a collection of un-masterful yet delicate drawings. One pair in particular draws my attention. One of the frames contains a hand written text in pencil, in the other, 2 dead bodies lie side by side with a note on their chests. They have been drawn by ‘EZI’, a soldier who served in Iraq and was later imprisoned in Britain. The Woolwich Hero killing is still fresh in the British papers. Do British soldiers lose their hero status in prison? John Baldessari’s ‘Pencil Story’ comes to mind.
I am floored by this pencil story. The British had attempted to befriend the local populace with leaflets stating they were not the enemy and here to help. The people ‘EZI’ had given leaflets to were executed by the Taliban and the bodies were left on display with the leaflets on their chests.
I have lost The Smoker so I wonder off looking for the toilet and I walk for what feels like hours. My thick Brushed cotton wool trousers come back to haunt me and the seed of doubt has sprouted its first leaf. After finding relief I make my way back to the Boating Party garden. Sitting with gallery directors from Manchester I hear the word ‘political’ used the way ‘Modernism’ was being used a month before.
The Smoker and I are reunited and he is telling me he has met with the steel band members in Deller’s re-telling of Acid Brass. He has been invited to the after party. We walk to the water and I meet more A-N bursary people. Passwords and plus ones are whispered about like talk of people with pills at a rave. Access to the party island is a private boat with a list at the dock, if your names not down your not getting in. The Smoker is making his own invite seem like a group invitation. It works. We step onto the boat as lightening strikes behind The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore.
I arrive at the island to the repeat of camera flashes. Well dressed waiters hand me champagne, then they hand me something that tastes like blood, ash and figs and they continue to hand it to me. We are all fed on the island while the steel band plays ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. The world’s art elite, from critics to art Cathedral directors, rub shoulders with me and mine.
Deller arrives to rapturous seated applause and modestly moves around the island, from conversation to conversation. I grab his attention for a brief instance and ask him about the drawing made by the soldier in his prison cell. Deller tells me he watched the soldier painstakingly render the image in his cell over two days. Truman Capote comes to mind. I ask about the large painting of the man plunging the yacht into the lagoon and question its place and purpose in a show with pieces loaded with such weight as the soldier’s drawing. He responds awkwardly stating ‘it’s an impact piece‘.
On the flight to Venice I had read an interview with Deller in which he stated he was comfortable with his one-liners. This came across in print with confidence and self-assurance. When I questioned this ‘impact piece’ I read a different story in Deller’s Voice.
The night moves on and the bloody, ashen drink gets the better of the island. There is talk of head butting and nakedness on the dance floor. I see boats, then I see buildings and now its light. I’m lying on a small football pitch surrounded by knives and I’m nowhere near the hotel. The Smoker and I are lost. I see a boat moored up to the Canal and attempt to board it. If I can get it started I can take us home.
The boat and the land are getting further apart but I’m standing on both. I feel like I’m back on the Bridge again but this time I am the Bridge. I feel defeat consume me and see The Smoker get taller and taller until I am submerged in Canal water. I’m thrown between the wall and the boat. I wrestle my way up a ragged blue rope and clamber over the side until I’m sitting on the boat.
The Smoker calmly steps onto the boat and we both light up. My exhaustion and The Smokers calm demeanor gives no cause for alarm in the other boat people cruising past, waving on their way to work. They must be used to this at Biennale time. We make our way through the streets once more and now we are on a bus and now we are back at the hotel. My thick-brushed cotton wool trousers cling to my legs like wet plaster board.