26 November 2007

Biennale: Arsenale

Here curators opted for too many huge, glossy photos and time-wasting videos that had no effect on this viewer whatsoever (although there was a supersized, five-part sequence of Asian video imagery that gave me a chance to feel like an extra in Blade Runner for a few minutes). Add to that some sophomoric images of conflict in the Mideast (“Isn’t war like totally terrible? Ya know, like, all the innocence and beauty being, like, ya know, totally destroyed ‘n’ stuff?”) and an over-emphasis on Islamic culture in general. Also some silly stuff, like a turntable rigged up with a steel brush to scrape the tracks off Beatles albums, and a big white helium balloon with a vinyl question mark hurriedly glued onto it. Even a Chuck Close wanna-be got into this show. Been there, seen that.

Just like last time, I found my eyes wandering to the magnificent Arsenale itself. With its soaring ship’s keel ceilings, vast brick pillars, and imposing tanks and hydraulics systems, it’s a far more thrilling attraction than the puny artworks it currently showcases.

As awe-inspiring as an ancient temple, these historic buildings once housed the world’s first hyper-efficient assembly line (no matter what Detroiters might attribute to Henry Ford!). At the height of her powers and situated between the two empires, Venice launched a new warship everyday from the Arsenale’s mirror-like basin. The ghosts of generations of laborers and craftsmen nearly come out of the walls and pull your hair to remind you of what occurred here centuries ago. I had a great wish to see it emptied of all the Biennale nonsense and noise.

But there was one very bright spot…