Like a glass of water – Lee Mingwei at the 57. Venice Biennale

“Like a glass of water”

The artist Lee Mingwei tells us about his participatory installations for 57th Venice Biennale.

A tiny woman politely invites you to a private garden, a young man mends damaged clothes with colourful threads. In the chaotic Biennale these simple pieces are like portkeys in a busy muggle street (this metaphor is just for Harry Potter fans): if you know where they are, they could carry you in another magical world. Lee Mingwei’s world is quiet and poetic, a place where strangers take care of you and share with you very moving moments. The conceptual performer, born in Taiwan in 1964 and now based in Paris and New York, is one of the most engaging contemporary artists. As in his 2 works shown in this year’s Biennale, his poetic is mainly expressed through one-to-one participatory projects that create connections and trust between strangers.

At the Giardini, the atmosphere in the Scarpa Garden is exalted by When Beauty Visits: a host invites a chosen guest to sit on a simple wooden chair and invites him/her to meditate for few minutes. The host then returns bringing an envelope, containing the story of someone visited by beauty (he will explain this later, in the interview), that the participant is asked to open only after first-hand experiencing that encounter.

For the Mending Project, at the entrance of the Arsenale, next to a multi-coloured web of sewing threads, a performer is waiting to mend fabric objects that the visitors bring. This very vintage gesture is a tool to begin an intimate conversation with the participant and the mender. Exactly the opposite of what a tailor does, the act of mending is not done to hide the damage but to celebrate the repair and the exchange happened meanwhile

If you’re planning to visit the Biennale, remember to bring a damaged garment and become part of the art!

On July 7th, 2017, Elisabetta Zerbinatti had the chance to interview the poet of participatory installation, Lee Mingwei:

The artist Lee Mingwei performs “The Mending Project” (2009-2017), Installation view at Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 2015, Collection Rudy Tseng, Photo courtesy of Taipei Fine Arts Museum
The artist Lee Mingwei performs “The Mending Project” (2009-2017), Installation view at Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 2015, Collection Rudy Tseng, Photo courtesy of Taipei Fine Arts Museum

First of all: why the curator Christine Macel chose you for her Viva arte viva Biennial?
I really don’t know! We should ask her.

Well I see some connections, but I was wondering whether she told you the reason or just said “I want you”.
I know she saw my piece Sonic Blossom and was very very excited, so she wanted me to do that in the Portico area, outside the the Main Pavilion at Giardini. However, that’s a performance where a singer offers to a spectator a gift of a song, so for acoustic reasons it couldn’t be done open air.
Then she proposed to do it only for the opening week, but I always thought that if a performance work is dedicated to a Bienniale it has to last for the whole period.

Is that because during the opening only art workers would see it?
Yes, there are quite a few performances this year that, after the first two weeks, are just falling apart. To me this is a very elite’s way of doing things and I often have questions about an artist being a celebrity. There’re always people asking “Is important that is you doing the mending in the Mending Project?”. Absolutely not! What is important is that it is a stranger who is doing something for you. I never advertise the time when I’m going to be there, because it doesn’t matter, it really takes away the sincerity of the work. Sometimes I go and do it, but I never tell people who I am, in fact quite few people understand the person that is mending their clothes is Lee Mingwei. Usually people don’t know whether the artist is a man or woman, sometimes even that he is asian. And that’s perfect.

The assistent Adrian during “The Mending Project” (2009-2017), Corderie dell’Arsenale 57th Venice Biennale, 2017, Photo by Elisabetta Zerbinatti
The assistent Adrian during “The Mending Project” (2009-2017), Corderie dell’Arsenale 57th Venice Biennale, 2017, Photo by Elisabetta Zerbinatti


In fact, my T-shirt was mended by one of your assistants and we had a very nice sharing. However, he told me that I was nearly the only one that brought something on purpose for that piece and had an emotional connection with the cloth. Is this a problem for your piece?

It’s not a problem. When it was first done in 2003 it was for a commercial gallery in New York, therefore every day I got only 2-3 people coming. It was on the second floor and usually people didn’t know about it; at that moment, I realized I could do embellishment, it doesn’t need to be mending, because many people would come and say “Wow this is great, but I don’t have anything that needs to be repaired”. Obviously, people don’t go around with damaged clothes! So jokingly I used to answer “I have a scissor to cut a hole if you want!”, but then I just offer them to do a decoration and make them sits in front of me while I do it.

Because it’s the exchange that is important.

Yes, it’s all about intimacy between strangers and creating that tension by repairing someone’s second skin which is the cloth. For me there needs to be a tension to make a work an artwork, otherwise it is just an activity. Instead when I share an extremely intimate moment with a person I just met a second ago, that brings everything to another level.

“When Beauty Vists” (2017), Scarpa Garden Giardini 57th Venice Biennale, Photo by Elisabetta Zerbinatti
“When Beauty Vists” (2017), Scarpa Garden Giardini 57th Venice Biennale, Photo by Elisabetta Zerbinatti

How about When Beauty Visits? I know you said that you don’t look for inspiration, the ideas just come to you, but did they arrive after you visited the garden? Was there an encounter with that space?
Actually, when Christine [Macel] asked me to do a studio visit in Paris, she was very clear she wanted 2 projects and that one was a new commission. She said: “I have the perfect space for you: The Scarpa Garden”. I love that place, it has always been my favorite in the Biennale; after looking at all those amazing works, it’s a space for me to rest, it’s a sanctuary. So I told her that I’d wanted to do a project there with beauty, on how each of us encounters and remembers it. At the time, I didn’t really know how to do it, only later on I realized it needed 3 stages: 1) to collect stories about beauty; 2) the participatory piece happening in exhibition space and time; 3) when people open their letters after encountering beauty, in their own space and time. I also realized it was for a Bienniale and there most of the works are very loud, exciting, colorful and active, but this is really not my aesthetic. So I told Christine that it would have been a very underwhelming and quiet project. And she loved it.

The performer Sandy offer the envelop to a partecipant during “When Beauty Vists” (2017), Scarpa Garden Giardini 57th Venice Biennale, Photo by Elisabetta Zerbinatti
The performer Sandy offer the envelop to a partecipant during “When Beauty Vists” (2017), Scarpa Garden Giardini 57th Venice Biennale, Photo by Elisabetta Zerbinatti

Well I loved it too! So in the third part you want people to encounter beauty in real life, what do you mean by that? What’s an encounter with beauty?
It’s the exercise that each person has to do for themselves, if they want to, to determine what beauty is for them. For me it’s enough for this person to have this idea in mind and think “I’m looking for beauty”. This person becomes beautiful, because is making himself available for beauty. For me the stories that people read when they open their letters are quite moving, but it depends on each of us. Some people might find it just a beautiful story and some people may read it and cry a lot; it depends on you and on the situation you are in.

It’s really subjective.
Indeed, I always say that my art is like having a glass of water: if you’re not thirsty is not interesting, but if you are that water is everything to you.

Let’s keep talking about your idea of art, you have chosen a very particular subject for your Artistic Practice’s video: a silent sky. Since it was meant to show how artists create, how is it related to your way of making art?
That is the view from my bedroom in my parents’ place in Yangming Mountains [Taipei, Taiwan]. When I’m there, every night I go to bed and every morning I wake up with the most beautiful landscape ever. When I made that video I told myself “I’m gonna shot a 3 minutes video and whatever comes into that’s exactly what I’m gonna give”. I filmed the mountains outside my window and toward the end, in the last 20 seconds, there was a beautiful hawk that came out, wheeled around and then disappeared.
That says everything about my work: is all about faith and chance.

Artistis Practises: Lee Mingwei (2017)

Then, considering the Bienniale in genaral, there’s another Taiwanese artist: Hsieh Tehching. What do you think about his work? Did you know him?
I’ve studied him actually! In university, he is the only Asian performer I ever studied, even before Yoko Ono. I have huge respect of his work, it’s really something that marked that type of endurance practice, involving the body and sense of time. It takes really a unique person to not only think of a project like that, but also do it. I could never ever do even 1% of what he does, he is absolutely mind-blowing! I’m very proud that Taiwanese Pavilion has Hsieh Tehching as this year’s artist.

Apart from Hsieh Tehching, while studying was there any other artist that made you say “Ok I wanna be this kind of artist”?
Not really, in 1995, when I was studying, there wasn’t really the idea of social practices, although there was already people doing it like Suzanne Lacy, but people didn’t know there was a category for that.
I just knew I wasn’t good at drawing nor at making objects, but I loved talking to people and being engaged socially. Probably if I had a second life I would have been a social worker or a psychologist.


But you knew you wanted to be an artist.

Well actually in Taiwan I never knew there’s such a profession called artist! My father, my grandmother and my cousins were all doctors, so I just thought “I’ll be a doctor”. However, after 4 years of training, I understood that it wasn’t what I wanted. If a doctor does something wrong someone may die, but if I mess up a show it’s ok, three months later people will forget about it. Also, I wanted to be in a place that celebrate originality and freedom of expression. I think that as artists we have the privileged opportunity to be a special voice in society and in people’s life. And how to use this voice is up to us.

Interview by Elisabetta Zerbinatti

The Venice Biennale – 15th International Architecture Exhibition – Opening

On the 26th and 27th of May the 15th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice opened the doors of the halls and rooms of the Arsenale, with what appears to be a new mission, of a more concrete and humanist architecture in action as a tool of social and political life.

Stiamo ammirando la preview del padiglione del Belgio! #biennalearchitettura2016 #LaBiennalediVenezia #architecture #igersfvg @valeercole

Una foto pubblicata da ? ???Constraint Magazine (@constraint.mag) in data:

No longer just an exhibition for professionals only, or exposure for architects and artists, but international opportunity for dialogue and to have a comparison of strong and compelling themes related to architecture. “You have to speak to the audience,” says Paolo Baratta, the Biennale president “to all possible decision-makers and agents of the actions with which it realizes the space of our lives, individually and as a community. If the architecture is the most political of the Arts, The Architecture Biennale can only recognize it.”

Representing the Biennale, the curator and Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, chooses in this regard an evocative image: the archaeologist Maria Reiche, the lady on the scale that reaching the summit can take advantage of a wider horizon and thereby conquering his “expanded eye “, a differe vision and one that is more complete, almost a look at the optimistic future and eager for positive change.

archeologa Maria Reiche, la signora sulla scala che arrivando in cima può sfruttare un più vasto orizzonte e così facendo conquista un suo “expanded eye”
L’ archeologa Maria Reiche, la signora sulla scala che arrivando in cima può sfruttare un più vasto orizzonte e così facendo conquista un suo “expanded eye”.

The themes that want to deal with “Reporting from the front,” the title of the Biennale this year, have been deliberately extended and no longer are they only concerned with art and culture, but range from issues related to new migrations, quality of life, the right to urban space, to the suburbs, to talk about pollution, traffic, waste and environmental sustainability.


In addition to the 64 pavilions of countries from around the world, these important issues will be addressed in various shows (Three pavilions dedicated to special projects: Reporting from Marghera and other Waterfronts, A World of Fragile Parts, Urban Age), events that will throughout Venice and Meetings with architects-authors dedicated to the public once a month, for the entire duration of the Biennale, to “share knowledge and exchange experiences.”

For the Gardens we would like to point out:

Pavilion of Spain, with its exhibition Unfinished has won this year’s Golden Lion, a must visit.

SPAINLAB – Cada Loco con su Tema – Presentation Video from SpainLab on Vimeo.

Pavilion of Denmark with the exhibition Art of many and the Right to Space, a pavilion set up with projects of more than 70 Danish architectural firms. They want to make the architecture something really special, and give evidence of a deep social commitment (in Denmark there is a movement for the house that seeks to ensure equal access to a housing at reasonable prices). Take a walk in the pavilion of scaffolding, ladders, and see up close all 130 interesting projects put on display.

Exit Utopia, Gellerupparken
Exit Utopia, Gellerupparken

Pavilion of Belgium with the Bravoure exposition, for the message it brings to our attention, “because in times of scarcity imagination is in danger. While the imagination is precisely the opportunity to find bargains in scarcity. Bravoure through scarcity is BEAUTY. It is an appeal to consider the universal dimension of architecture as the art of thinking by doing. ”

 BRAVOURE, Filip Dujardin, untitled from series Fictions, 2007
BRAVOURE, Filip Dujardin, untitled from series Fictions, 2007 via

What not to miss the Arsenal:
Turkey, Darzanà: Two Arsenals, A vessel. Visit it because the last galley Bastarda created in the pavilion is incredible. Ship in actual size made entirely with waste materials found in the old arsenal of Istanbul and brought to Venenzia, to suggest a new Mediterranean connection.

Darzanà. Foto di Cemal Emdem
Darzanà. Foto di Cemal Emdem

Singapore, now considered one of the most livable cities in the world, at the Biennale with his installation of raw glass lanterns Space to imagine, Room for Everyone. You can walk through a room lit by lanterns made of glass off the man’s height ceilings that create an almost mystical effect. They represent the “Homes of Singapore”, a photographic journey with images collected over a period of three years to portray the diversity, culture, individuality, creativity and colors within the tenements.

Impression of the image lanterns at the Singapore pavilion (© Red Bean Architects)
Impression of the image lanterns at the Singapore pavilion (© Red Bean Architects)

Now Sarajevo: People’s museum, to reach the Hall of Sarajevo you will be ferried to the channel there as Charon, and just for that it deserves. The exhibition highlights the changes of a post-war Sarajevo (Arsenal North, Tesa 100, collateral event, until the 1st of July).

URBAN-THINK TANK & BAIER BISCHOFBERGER
URBAN-THINK TANK &
Baier Bischofberger

Data on the Architecture Biennale 2016

  • It is the largest international architectural event in the world with over 60 pavilions
  • It takes place from May 28th to November 27th, 2016 in Venice (Giardini and Arsenale in particular)
  • The first Biennale of Architecture in Venice took place in 1980
  • This year’s theme is reporting from the front
  • The curator of this 15th International Architecture Exhibition is the Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena
  • Major prizes awarded this year: the XV Biennale Golden Lion awarded to the Spanish pavilion curated by Iñaqui Carnicero and Carlos Quintans; Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement “for his attention to the community” assigned to the Brazilian Paulo Mendes da Rocha; Golden Lion for best designer at the Paraguayan architect Solano Benitez.
  • More info devoted to the Biennale are available on the website: www.labiennale.org/it/architettura/

Sarah Lucas, “I SCREAM DADDIO”, British Pavilion, Venice Biennale (IT)

Visiting Venice Biennale is hard work, but the ludicrous moments pay it all. One of these moments is given by Sara Lucas, in the British Pavilion. At the entrance we’re greeted by a giant yellow resin penis, standing on an antropomorphic figure, then the joke goes one with some plasters of the lower part of female bodies smoking cigarettes with their holes.

Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015, Photo by Cristiano Corte © British Council via

This is provocative for sure, but not enough to be offensive. The pavilion is furnished with desks and chairs (Ready-Made references?) and a supply of SPAM (the British pop-art has SPAM, not Campbell soup).

Sarah Lucas, Octopus Spam Plinth, British Pavilion 2015, Photo by Cristiano Corte © British Council via

The resin sculputes are crawling on the ground looking like long tailed pets

All these non independent elments recreating a ghost of a domestic enviroment inhabited by the smoking plasters and by the resin humanoids with the standing penises.  The resin sculputes are crawling on the ground looking like long tailed pets, suggesting that everyday life is a crowd of freudian displays.

Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015, Photo by Cristiano Corte © British Council via

More HD Pictures at Sadie Coles

SARAH LUCAS
Address: British Pavilion, Giardini di Castello 30122
Exhibition dates: 9 May to 22 November 2015
Opening times: 10am-6pm Tuesday to Sunday. Closed on Mondays.
Vaporetto: Giardini

Movimento IUAV – epilogue of part I ? – Venice (IT)

Let’s start from the beginning:

We’re talking about the IUAV (Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia – higher institute of architecture of Venice) and it’s the last public University in Italy teaching design, fashion, acting and visual arts; the courses are helded by some of the most important artist in Italy who defined the aestetics of pretty much everything we’re looking at (some name-dropping here: Liliana Moro, Mario Airo, Guido Guidi, Luca Trevisani etc.).

IUAV it’s the last public University in Italy teaching design, fashion, acting and visual arts

This istitution is now having a bad time regarding the lack of income and, as non economists, this is just being presented as an unclear situation with the tag “technical problems” on it. These problems are not new to Italian and some European universities, but in this case the Academic Senate of IUAV just ignored the situation, in hope that in the end all the chickens would come home to roost.  Anyway the chickens never do that and the easiest way to solve a problem is to stop doing everything at all: the students have been told that a lot of their courses won’t be held anymore due to “technical problems”.

At this point the students came up with something: Movimento IUAV, a movement of students, professors and employees.

They officiated a funeral for the IUAV. – photo: courtesy of Movimento IUAV

 

They talked to the people about the IUAV. – photo: courtesy of Movimento IUAV

At this point the students came up with something: Movimento IUAV

They gathered the attention of the world and teached the Accademic Senate a sense of responsibility. After this small mediatic storm the Accademic Senate had to convene on March the 18th and deliberate about the cancellation of the courses, but the General Director was ill. They called again the meeting on March the 30th, but then the Dean was sick. That seemed a mockery to the students that responded with strong statements.

The meeting was postponed to today, April the 13th, and Movimento IUAV wanted to be sure of this decision to happen. The students, professors and employees standed outside the council room, two of them read a letter in front of the Senate in order to state the requests of the movement. After some hours the Academic Senate opted for the continuation of all the courses of art, design, fashion and acting.

After some hours the Academic Senate opted for the continuation of all the courses of art, design, fashion and acting.

A non destructive decision is an encouraging sign, but it has to be followed by a lot of constructive actions. Let’s wait and see.

 

exhibition: HENRI ROUSSEAU Archaic candour – Palazzo Ducale – Venice (IT)

March 6 – July 5, 2015

A central figure in figurative art between the end of the 19th century and the revolutionary period of the avant-garde movements, and famous for his dreamlike atmospheres, forests and enchanted landscapes, Henri Rousseau (Laval, 1844 – Paris, 1910), has always been impossible to pigeonhole.

Henri Rousseau, 1897, oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art

 

Henri Rousseau, 1891, Oil on canvas, National Gallery, London, England

These are two paintings you’re not going to see there.

 

The whole exhibition itinerary reports the debate held in Paris in the XIX century on the fact which Rousseau is whether or not an artist. Every description has an apologetic tone, trying to proof that those simple paintings are art. The proving process happens in mainly two ways:

  • Juxtaposing Rousseau’s painting to actual artists’ paintings from which he got some inspiration;
  • Listing opinions of other artists of the time.
Henri Rousseau Portrait de Madame M.1890, Paris, Musée d’Orsay

In the middle of this historical path the struggle of defining the outsider ends up to be something closer to entertainment than Art History, due also to the incoherent Pablo Picasso’s quotes and behavior.  The historical setting leads the viewer to confusion as no absolute truth is given at the end. That may be frustrating to someone, who will end up to enjoy – just visually – the paintings and the fascinating Palazzo Ducale.