I have a new blank slate – a studio with Second Floor Studios at Thames Barrier in the same complex as Thames Barrier Print Studio. 1602 New Studio

I also discovered there are wood and metal workshops here, a gallery and lots of opportunities to take classes so I am very excited to be joining the complex and enjoy the amazing views across the Thames

1602 Thames Barrier

It was great to be back screen printing after quite a break.

1602 Induction Day Prints 1.jpgI had been working on an image I was thinking of using for an idea about the multiverse theory but wasn’t really happy with it so I cropped off a portion to use for my screen printing induction day. I saw these ancient fish in an aquarium in Shanghai, they look so prehistoric and are very alarming, hanging motionless in the water until they are offered a live snack then they move like lightning, leaping from the water to snap the victim in their jaws.

1602 test screen print

The 56th Venice Biennale theme All The World’s Futures was a cue for a lot of artists to excavate the past.

The multi channel video Fire Talks To Me by Almagul Menlibayeva cuts into the past and layers time. 1601 Venice Union of Fire and water (13)Grand Palaces, industrialization and dystopian landscapes give an epic scale to a turbulent narrative. 1601 Venice Union of Fire and water (12)

This work has huge scope. The history of Azerbajan, the Persian Empire and Venice are intermingled.1601 Venice Union of Fire and water (15)

At the centre of the tale is the Mukhtarov couple’s rise in fortune on the riches of oil and their downfall at the soviet takeover. 1601 Venice Union of Fire and water (14)

Their palace, built with oil money and inspired by love has been reassigned from private to public love temple and is now the ‘Palace of Happiness’ in its new guise as Baku’s marriage bureau.

1601 Venice Union of Fire and water (9)

The Union of Fire and Water  continues throughout the 14th C Gothic building with sculptural interventions by Rashad Alakbarov interacting with the environment and our journey through it.1601 Venice Union of Fire and water (10)

The journey can be circuitous.

1601 Venice Union of Fire and Water

Armando Lulaj deals with spectres of history. In his series of films ‘The Albanian Trilogy: A series of devious stratagems’ he looks at how political symbols can appear in one context then reappear in another changing their meaning. over time. He aims to uncover  processes which govern social memory. The research that his films are based on is really interesting so I have included quite a bit of detail here and more can be found on the Albanian Pavilion website.

It Wears As It Grows references a story from the cold war years. In 1959 Khrushchev visited Albania to discuss the Soviet Union’s plans to arm Enver Hoxha’s state with submarines and warships to counter the U.S. threat from missile bases in Italy. Four years later relations between the USSR and Albania had broken down leaving an Albanian navy with a paranoid fear of enemy attacks. When they sighted an object that repeatedly appeared and disappeared at the surface of the sea they shot at it believing it to be a submarine. The unfortunate target turned out to be a Mediterranean sperm whale.

1601 Venice Albania (2)

After being recovered, the whale’s remains were displayed in the Museum of Natural History in Tirana. In 2011, the skeleton of the whale reappears in the streets of Tirana, raised onto the shoulders of a group of people, like a ghost wandering the streets of the city until it found its final resting place inside Enver Hoxha’s mausoleum “Piramida.” This pyramid-shaped structure completed in 1987 was designed by his own daughter and son-in-law to glorify his name and create an eternal monument to him, just like the pyramids of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs.

1601 Venice Albania (1)

NEVER looks at how the positioning of five letters in rock on a hillside tells a story of political power struggles. When communism was at its zenith in Albania around 1968, the Albanian Labor Party decided to celebrate the magnificence of their leader, Enver Hoxha with a monument to his name. Hundreds of young people were forced to join the Albanian People’s Army to position and paint enormous stones on the side of the Shpirag mountain to spell out the name of the dictator. After the fall of communism in the 90’s the Democratic Party gained power and ordered the army to destroy the rocks with explosives. It wasn’t a complete success; the letters were only damaged and two soldiers were burned alive in the process. The task was abandoned and over time what could still be seen of the letters was covered in vegetation. In 2012, locals decided to return to unearth the letters and rewrite the name. After uncovering, cleaning and painting, what materialized no longer read as ENVER, but something altered. The emblem of a dictator ENVER returned as the English adverb NEVER.

Recapitulation traces diplomatic relations between Albania and the U.S. and the sensitive use of language to affirm or negate friendship. In 1957 a U.S. Air Force plane entered Albanian airspace. Two Albanian fighter jets were scrambled and escorted the U.S. plane into a forced landing at Rinas Airport. The pilot, a high ranking WWII hero, was held and interrogated by Albanian officials but due to US diplomatic pressure was released two weeks later. The airplane, however, was not released and in 1971 was moved to the new  Weapons Museum in the birth town of the Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha. This symbol of the Cold War was labelled “American Spy Plane”.  By 2009 relations with the U.S. were no longer hostile and so the Albanian government wanted to remove the plane feeling it was now deemed an affront to the friendly diplomatic relations. However that same year, the former US Ambassador to Albania, stated that history should not be rewritten. Immediately after his speech a question mark appeared at the end of the inscription “American Spy Plane” so that what had been an affirmation turned into a question: “American Spy Plane?”

Meanwhile Russia is rewriting its history and repainting its pavilion.  Irina Nakhova digs into a past tied to the wider context of the artists struggle for cultural acknowledgement.

1601 Venice Russia (2)

In 1993 the Russian Pavilion was emptied of art and painted Red by Ilya Kabakov in a statement of defiance against Moscow’s institutionalism.

1601 Venice Russia (1)

In 2015 Nakhova returns the Pavilion to its original green in the hope of a transformation filling rooms with references to past celebrated artists and archived images interspersed with organic matter, mixing history with inevitable entropy.

1601 Venice Russia (3)

Jiri David  showing at the Biennale for the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic presented Apotheosis an installation where the viewer becomes ‘immersed in the archaeology of knowledge and memories’. Uncertain of what we are approaching across the empty gallery  we walk towards a blank wall to discover a short narrow corridor hidden behind.

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Apotheosis – meaning the elevation to divine status is an appropriation of  Apotheosis of the Slavs: Slavs for Humanity (1926) by the Czech Secessionist artist Alphonse Mucha (1860 – 1939) reworked in greyscale and placed opposite a mirror of the same proportions. It literally brings you face to face with the politics of the region, the national pride and political idealism that inspired Mucha who is better known internationally for his art nouveau style posters. In further analogy it is hard to see the whole picture from this angle and a difficult task to understand ones place within it.

1601 Venice czech slovak (2)

In a world saturated with distorted images and media analysis where the words of politicians are vetted by PR machines applying a slick gloss to avoid accountability it is often hard to hear what is actually being said or read the persona saying it. Rabab Ghazoul’s  It’s a long way back ( Chilcot Project) is a deconstruction of Tony Blair’s 2010 testimonial in the UK government inquiry into the invasion of Iraq. By putting Blairs words into the mouths of ordinary people the words themselves become amplified.  Via a series of small screens we see members of the public listen and repeat words fed to them via headphones – they speak without rehearsal, with concentration, with self consciousness.

1601 Chilcott 1

On other screens people describe a man they see on screen before them speaking but with the sound off. Without hearing the content of his speech they must suppose from his body language and expression what emotion he is conveying. We hear their descriptions without seeing the man they describe. It’s a fascinating look at how we read what is fed to us. 0913 Venice Iraq

Tsibi Geva’s ‘Archaeology of the present’, an intervention on the structure of Israel’s Pavilion questions what it is that makes a home.

1601 Venice Israel 2 (1)Using fragments of artefacts, the ugly and the everyday objects he shows us the building blocks that together form the layering of associations that resonate as home.

An everyday item, the key is used to keep things safe but also to prevent access. Chihuru Shiota suspends hundreds of keys in a web of red threads in her installation ‘The Key in the Hand’.1601Venice Japan Chiharu Shiota 2) (2)Caught within the threads are two boats weighted down and unable to move.1601Venice Japan Chiharu Shiota 2) (1)So many memories to unlock or lock away. And so many memories that we have lost the key to.

Qiu Zhijie’s sculptures at the Arsenal reflect the old adage ‘history repeats itself’  in his installation ‘Historical Circular’

Placing us amongst the artefacts of physics, the search for understanding and the dreams that urge us forwards we get a sense of our weight within a world that spins on regardless.

It was good to see Tarkovsky’s film Mirror (Zerkalo) on a big screen at the BFI.

1601 Tarkosky Mirror

The mirror is turned towards Tarvovsky’s own life. His aim was to reconstruct his past from memories and photographs as accurately as possible. He even rebuilt his family home for this purpose. Like memories the film is dreamlike and non linear. We are swept away to quiet places. In excavating the past we are always on the brink of something not quite grasped. Images hover, an uncanny wind surges through the long grass as though some mythological creature is about to appear. 1601 Tarkosky mirror 2

Tarkovsky said that it wasn’t until much later that he realised the film was about his mother and not himself and perhaps it was not a desire to recreate the past but to transform it that inspired him.

Another life explored, also at the BFI, was tackled in a more traditionally linear way. Life on TV; Sir David Attenborough was a narrative interspersed with contemporaneous film footage.  David Attenborough stood on stage and spoke with such animation and without any notes for over two hours. He was able to recount past events with astonishing accuracy.  The audience were captivated and in awe of his energy, enthusiasm and recall at 89. David AttenburghHe took us back to the 1950’s and the first natural history programme broadcasts.   Most evident from these documentaries is how attitudes to wildlife have changed in the last 50 years. Instrumental in taking the cameras out from the studio rather than bringing the wildlife into the studio David Attenborough has brought the natural world in ever increasing detail to our living rooms.

1601 David Attenburgh rhinoHe offers us amazing visual richness and access to the extraordinary diversity of the planet, this does not translate as personal experience yet we now share a collective memory of these hugely popular series.

1602 Capability Now‘Capability Now’ at Orleans House Gallery looks back at the influence of landscape designer Capability Brown. It illustrates  his contribution to the development of the English landscape Garden, characterised by its informal and naturalistic appearance, as opposed to the ordered, symmetrical, and geometric gardens that came before.   Alongside the historical exhibits, contemporary artists present modern interpretations of Brown’s works and ideas. Lizzie Cannon exhibits Mended leaf [Acer rubrum] (2015) and Mended leaf 2 (2010).

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Lizzie Cannon Mended leaf [Acer rubbrum]

In rebuilding the past it is transformed.

 

 

 

 

 

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