Before we provide reviews, begin with a travelogue of daily activities on the Curatorship Honours students’ short but busy trip to the Venice Biennale. This travelogue, which chronicles the group’s movements through Venice, was provided by Curatorship Honours student Barnabas Ticha Muvhuti, the self-appointed photographer of the group (scroll to the bottom to see the image gallery).
At the beginning of the year it was rumoured that we, the Honours in Curatorship students, would be traveling to a, at that point unknown, European destination later in the year. We were all overjoyed by this surprise, knowing already that the trip would be a highlight of our time together as a group. The destination finally became known when Andrew Lamprecht accidentally let the cat out of the bag in one of his Critical Thinking in Curatorship lectures; we’d be traveling to Venice for the Biennale.
There were months of preparation. Nancy Dantas – the Liaison Officer and key link between the administration and us – was continually updating us. As a build up to our tour of the Venice Biennale, the 56th International Art Exhibition, Nancy gave us a few lectures on the history of the biggest art fair in the world. On Monday, the 8th of June, all seventeen students plus our two ‘chaperones’, Nancy and Michaelis lecturer Carine Zaayman, converged at Cape Town International Airport and left via Dubai.
We arrived at Marco Polo Airport in Italy on the 9th at lunchtime. The European summer welcomed us – a direct contrast to the cold Cape Town we had left. On arrival, Philiswa pointed to the ground, exclaiming “Welcome to Italy!” Indeed, we were standing on a floor decorated with elaborate paintings in the airport terminal (image, right). I fell in love with the place we were to call home for the week, Hotel Venezia. After checking in we walked to the Venezia-Mestre Station to collect our Venezia Card passes which would help us navigate our way around without any hassles. We split into different groups as some chose to go to the island, a pair opted to go to Verona and others opted to acquaint themselves with our local surroundings. Alex and I went about photographing the graffiti along the cycling tracks in the area.
On the morning of the 10th, after a breakfast buffet, we left the hotel to collect our Venice Cards at the station, got onto the bus to Piazzale Roma, the main station where we got onto the vaporetto (the waterbus). Our first port of call was the School for Curatorial Studies in Venice near the famed Academia Bridge. We attended a lecture conducted by Aurora Fonda, founder of the School, who was very critical of the Biennale in general. She did not hide the fact that she thought the Golden Lion award was awarded to Angola on its debut in 2013 just to show that an African nation could also win.
The group headed to the Arsenale, beginning with the Egyptian Pavilion. Nina and Sinazo led the group through the exhibition. The same procedure, a task given to us before we left on our travels, was to be followed as we visited each African pavilion. Londiwe, Dexter, Nala and Dylan briefed the group at the South African pavilion, and so did Amber and Michelle at the Mozambican pavilion. The disappointment of the day was the fact that Nigeria was not present as they had pulled out of the event. We rounded up the day by attending artist Mark Dion’s Wonder Workshop at the Casa deiTreOci.
On Thursday the 11th we met at Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) where we went for a guided tour of the Olivetti Showroom. We felt particularly privileged as the room was closed to any other visitors while we were there. The guides were informative and helpful, answering our many questions. This was followed by a visit to the Angolan pavilion at Palazzo PisaniMoreta and the Zimbabwean pavilion at Santa Maria della Pieta as our tour of African pavilions continued. Alex and Antonia briefed us at the Angolan pavilion and it was Hedwig and Adele’s turn at the Zimbabwean pavilion.
Friday the 12th saw us visiting the Henri Rousseau exhibition at the Palazzo Ducale. From this exhibition, we headed to the Prada Foundation for an excellent guided tour of the Portable Classic exhibition (images, right, left). It was while we were still waiting for everyone to turn up that Adele asked one of the Italian guides to fill up her container with water. To our amusement he received the container and threw it in the bin – one of the many examples of being lost in translation. Thereafter we headed to the Palazzo Fortuny for the MostraProportio exhibition. The mathematical language of the exhibition was too complex for me, but it was a fascinating and absorbing exhibition (images below).
Saturday was our last full day at the Biennale. We started by visiting the Slip of the Tongue exhibition at the Punta dellaDogana. Of all the guides we met, the one who led us through this exhibition was the most outstanding. He was highly competent, engaging, humorous, and did I mention how he made us laugh? Afterwards some of the students visited the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. The day ended with a guided tour of the Torre dell’Orologio at St Mark’s Square, providing a view over Venice from the height of the clock tower.
Besides visiting the African pavilions at the Biennale, we also had time to visit other international pavilions. I visited the yellow rooms of suggestive sculptures by Sarah Lucas in the pavilion of Great Britain. The ‘black cube’ of Australia was quite unique (image, left); and so striking is the sheer quantity and quality of Fiona Hall’s artworks covering the provided space very well. The Belgian pavilion had traces of Africa as the exhibited work included visuals from Congo-Kinshasa, its former colony. Many visitors spoke of the strengths of the German pavilion, particularly Hito Steyerl’s well crafted video piece entitled Fabrik. I thought the Brazilian pavilion (image from Brazilian pavilion, right) was outstanding as there was so much dialogue between the work of the elderly Antonio Manuela and the younger Andre Komatsu and Berna Reale. We covered so many pavilions in that scorching heat of the European summer, but unfortunately we could not cover them all in the short time we had.
Besides the Biennale itself, our week in Italy naturally consisted of much pizza and pasta consumption. Charis knew every corner where we could get the best pasta or pizza as she had been to Venice before. The waterbus rides were wonderful and Nancy was an important anchor in providing the names of the places we were visiting, but also in keeping us in check and on schedule. Dexter’s proficient map reading abilities also made him a vital, and much relied upon, member of the team. Overall we really enjoyed ourselves, and benefited from the exposure to the ideas of the Biennale. At 15h00 on Sunday we left Venice, though we all would have wanted to stay longer.
Thank you to Prof Pippa Skotnes and the whole CCA team for organizing the trip. Thank you to the Michaelis School of Fine Art and the University of Cape Town. We are all so very grateful to everyone who worked hard to make the trip such a success.