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Monthly Archives: March 2016

The 56th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, entitled “All The World’s Futures” and curated by Okwui Enwezor, was open to the public for about 6 months at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues. Posts about the exhibition at the Giardini venues are here and here.


The Venice Biennale was founded in 1895 and has been recognised as the world leader in contemporary art exhibitions and the countries participating have reached 89 in 2015.


136 artists have been invited, of which 88 for the first time. The artists come from 53 countries, and of the works on display, 159 are expressly realized for this year’s exhibition.

 The Venice Biennale has been at the forefront in the research and promotion of new artistic trends – which makes it much more exciting than going to an art museum which just documents the past.
Many pieces need no explanation. One cannot help but react viscerally to these sculptures made with chainsaws dripping with a black paint or resin (above).
arsenale-5The meaning of the cannon (above), the copper dome, 2 pianos, money and mounted photos (below) need more explanation which unfortunately we did not have the time to discover.
There is simply a pile of cash (Euro) in the middle of a wooden platform.
There are thousands of faces mounted on a undulating surface suspended from the ceiling.
This is a miniature of an accident involving Santa Claus and his reindeers and a high-speed train.
There are more traditional sculptures.
These are backpacks that are decorated with a symbolic “fan”. We imagined that the backpack’s wearer will have his/her head lined up with the halo in the fan suggesting a certain type of holiness or superpower.
There are several shallow pools of water bridged by walkways in a vast empty warehouse – Tuvalu’s submission.
At the back of the Arsenale buildings are the docks as used for centuries by the once powerful Venetian navy.
The last piece of work we saw was ‘Out of Bounds” (below) by Ghana-born artist Ibrahim Mahama. He created for the occasion a 300 meter-long, 3,000 kg patchwork installation entirely made of old jute sacks that occupy a big corridor, on the southern side of the Arsenale. The jute sacks are commonly used in Ghana to transport coal, but were originally used in order to transport cocoa at the end of the 19th century.  The installation alludes to Ghana’s controversial cocoa industry and the hard labor hidden behind it, —a critic on the inequality and exploitation of the markets.
The next few posts will focus on the work of a specific artist.

A short break at the La Biennale Giardini site (56th International Art Exhibition), near the shop, we found this cafeteria.

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We were, by that time in late afternoon, quite tired from all the walking and gawking. It was a welcoming sight even it looked totally chaotic at first.

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While the patrons and their snacks and coffees were discernible, the counter was harder to see.

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Stripes and bright blocks of colors – nicely done.

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A cubist painting was created by the faceted mirrors that produce in real space a fragmented graphic effect.

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The cafeteria was designed by Tobias Rehberger in 2009, titled “Was du liebst bringt auch zum Weinen” (what you love also brings cry).

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The design reminded us of objects from Ettore Sottsass’s Memphis movement.

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Filled with bold and colorful motifs, the entire space was graphical.

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We relished our caffeine break and foot-resting … and then continued our tour of the nations’ pavilions in the Giardini.



Let’s take a closer look at some of the work shown at the national pavillions at the Venice Biennale. Part 1 is here.

Our favorite work is the mobile bonzai (as we called them) in the French pavillion. Several small trees with their roots bounded at the base move imperceptibly slowly around an open courtyard with a concrete floor. Very surreal.
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Sarah Lucas’s Deep Cream Maradona at the British pavilion, satirizing British culture, sexuality, and gender stereotypes.
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“The key in the hand” by Chiharu Shiota (塩田 千春) in the Japanese pavillion was very popular.
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The piece which was somehow moving (surprisingly) contains literally thousands of keys all suspended and connected to something in the room by red threads.
The external patio of the Swiss pavillion is illuminated by artificial green light burring the distinction between the indoors and outdoors, …
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… and the interior walls have a verdant colouring which dissolves the separation between culture and nature.
Pamela Rosenkrantz filled the Swiss pavillion with a monochrome liquid matching the standardized northern european skin tone (our photo below obviously does not render it accurately). It was a bit disturbing to view a pool of swirling skin-colored fluid – it is hard to explain the experience.
The nordic countries share one pavillion.
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… with a lot of broken windows
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… and some microphones inside
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The Danish (it has its own) pavillion is classical on one side …
but very modern and sparse inside.
It took us half a day to visit most of the pavillions at this venue and only in details in a few of them. We needed more time … but there was another venue. We really enjoyed the setting and the variety of works.

While canals, vaporettos and gondolas are really interesting (see earlier posts here, here and here), the main draw for us to go to Venice is La Biennale. The 56th International Art Exhibition ran from 9th May to 22nd November 2015. The exhibition took place at the Giardini, the Arsenale and in various locations across the city of Venice.

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The exhibition has three components: exhibitions by National Pavilions, each with its own curator and project; the International Exhibition by the Biennale curator, chosen specifically for this task; and Collateral Events, approved by the Biennale curator.

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The Giardini venue comprises the Central Pavilion (above) and 29 national pavilions, built at various periods by the participating countries themselves.
The venue is located near the eastern end of sestiere Castello, easily reachable by vaporetto.
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The Central Pavilion built in 1894 is open all year long not only in the service of hosting the main events but also provide educational activities, a library service, a bookstore and a cafeteria.


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A solo voice performs a cycle of Work songs which map and investigate the tempos of work songs sung in prisons, fields, and houses.
The national pavillions were built around the Central pavillion over a number of years in different styles. The Finnish Pavilion is a pre-fabricated structure designed by Alvar Aalto – it was assembled in 1956 from parts produced in Finland itself; entirely in wood.
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Spain’s pavillion has bricks.
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Belgian pavillion
Russian pavillion
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“Devastatingly direct”: Irina Nakhova’s huge helmet confronts a visitor to the Russian pavilion.
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United States pavillion
The South Korean pavillion is all techno – giant screens + futuristic interiors
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More to come.

This is the last of three posts on water transport, and it is about the gondola and water taxis. For centuries the gondola was the chief means of transportation and most common vessel within Venice. There are just over four hundred in active service today, virtually all of them used for hire by tourists. They are essentially dressed-up water taxis.

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While in previous centuries, gondolas could be many different colors. Now, all gondolas are supposed to be painted black.

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Four passengers are about the maximum number of passengers that can be accomodated.

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The gondolas still have a role in public transport in the city, serving as traghetti (ferries) over the Grand Canal. The service is offered only to residents and cost about 1-2 euros. I saw one operating in the morning ferrying commuters near the Rialto market.

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The historical gondola was quite different usually having two rowers. The banana-shaped modern gondola was developed only in the 19th century and the construction continued to evolve until the mid-20th century, when the city government prohibited any further modifications.

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Every detail of the gondola has its own symbolism. The iron head of the gondola, called “fero da prorà” or “dol fin“, is needed to balance the weight of the gondolier at the stern and has an “S” shape symbolic of the twists in the Canal Grande. Under the main blade there is a kind of comb with six teeth or prongs (“rebbi “) standing for the six sestieri (districts) of Venice.

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For some, one extra prong juts out backwards toward the centre of the gondola (see photo below), symbolises the island of Giudecca. The curved top signifies the Doge’s cap. The semi-circular break between the curved top and the six teeth is said to represent the Rialto Bridge.

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It is propelled by a gondolier and never poled like a punt as the waters of Venice are too deep.

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The profession of gondolier is controlled by a guild, which issues a limited number of licenses (425) granted after periods of training and apprenticeship, and a major comprehensive exam which tests knowledge of history and landmarks, foreign language skills, and practical skills in handling the gondola typically necessary in the tight spaces of the canals. Here, he had to tilt the gondola and bent over sideways in order to squeeze beneath the bridge and then steer the boat tightly to turn right.

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Gondola traffic jam is quite common.

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The modern water taxis are essentially speed boats. They are just as popular as gondolas and can take more passengers.

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Taxi stands

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They run typically between the airport and a hotel in the city.

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It is a bit pricy. But if there are several people, it is worth it simply for the thrill of speeding across the lagoon right after a flight to a hotel with its canal side entrance.

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Some tourists arrive by cruise ship – much bigger ones than these river crusies (see pictures online).  These mega ships apparently cause environmental problems for the city (affects the silt at the bottom of the lagoon ?).

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If you have missed them, part 1 and part 2 of Buses, Taxis and Gondolas are here and here.


Part 2 of this three-part posts is about all the other types of boats that we saw on the canals, beside buses, taxis and gondolas. As the canals are the main thoroughfares for the city, most if not all of the services are delivered by boats. It was fun spotting these boats.

Parcels by DHL

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Carabinieri (military police)

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Ambulanza (by the way, in the background of this photo is an island (isola di san michele) dedicated to serve as a cemetery, cimitero)

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Garbage disposal  – we saw men picking up by hand household garbage in bags placed in front of homes, and putting them into metallic carts, the carts were then pushed up to the edge of the canal where the carts are grabbed and loaded into the boat.

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Refrigerated storage (perishables for restaurants)

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General delivery (?)

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Heating oil delivery or drainage ?

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Delivery of clean linen and pickup of used ones (laundry for hotels and restaurants)

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We saw these boats frequently, considering that most of the businesses in the city are in the hospitality sector.

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Construction debris collecton

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Repair shop for boats (“garage”)

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Gas station

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It was fascinating for city dwellers like us who are used to seeing these services delivered on wheels. Not until one sees it, the functioning of the city completely lacking motor vehicles was hard to picture in the mind.