askSTart: Venice Biennale 2019

The Venice Biennale: Through the eyes of Miel

Straits Times cartoonist Miel goes to the prestigious Venice Biennale to check out what is new in the Art World. He jostles with festivalgoers in their bid to experience cutting-edge works and tell the world first-hand what the movers and shakers of the art and culture industries have to offer in Venice.

The Venice Biennale is a biyearly event that has been held since 1895. Singapore inaugurated its national pavilion in 2001. One of the most notable presentations was by multidisciplinary artist Zai Kuning. His Dapunta Hyang: Transmission Of Knowledge (2017) was well received critically. Other Singaporean artists who have been featured at the Singapore Pavilion include Suzann Victor and Salleh Japar (2001), Tan Swie Hian (2003), Lim Tzay Chuen (2005), Jason Lim, Vincent Leow and Tang Da Wu (2007).

The weather is fine when I arrive in Venice. I’m here because I received an invite to the four-day preview before the Venice Biennale opens to the public. But first things first – I have to lug my luggage up and down 14 bridges! A punishing, albeit scenic route to my Airbnb accommodation.

The unit I stay in is on the third level, up 32 steps. An apt conclusion to the long trudge across 14 bridges earlier. You really have to suffer for your art.

It starts raining from the next day. The icy rain, however, does not deter the art crowd from queueing up on the first day of the preview.

I take a picture of what looks like a Banksy. I am almost tempted to call it a RiverBank-sy, but the graffiti is by a canal.

Art exhibitions are scattered around the island too. Artworks are displayed inside churches turned into exhibition spaces. At the Venice Biennale, art is religion too.

Art can be found in all places, inspired by just about anything and everything. Like this installation piece I see outside one of the exhibition halls.

I was marvelling at how sublime it is – a Spring Mandala at the grounds of the Venice Biennale. A symbol of unity through art...

...Only to realise later that it is a structure to catch falling drain water from the exhibition hall’s roof.

At the Singapore Pavilion, I encounter a time warp of sorts as posters of public concerts organised by the nascent Singapore Ministry of Culture in the 1970s and 1980s greet me. The pavilion is almost a counterpoint to the whole Biennale pomp and glitter.

Music For Everyone: Variations On A Theme by artist Song-Ming Ang showcases the lowly music recorder on the world art stage. The instruments are accessible, they can easily be played by anybody and everybody, regardless of race, language and religion.

I could have explored the sculptural pieces displayed, but I am dissuaded from doing so.

Back at the other pavilions, there is no denying that the art pieces displayed are Instagrammable.

Some are statements of economic might and are manifested in the well-conceptualised creations.

And in contrast, dirt and trash and other by-products of industry and colonisation can be as grand and eloquent.

In the end, when the party is over, all this razzle and dazzle will come to an end. And it will be two more years till the next Venice Biennale.

The Venice Biennale is on until Nov 24.