*"More bearable than Vogon poetry!" - some random*
*"She's just this burnt-out academic, you know?" - her closest friend*
This blog explores the misadventures of an arts and humanities scholar who left university teaching to get some work done. Posts include condensed versions of academic articles and conference papers, responses to films and events, reflections on researching emotionally challenging topics, and the experiences of navigating the precarious landscape of higher education post-PhD.
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In mid-June, I visited a friend who was coming to the end of
a semester teaching for Venice International
University. The few days immersed in the heat, sun, art, history and
excellent company were restorative. Much of what I experienced has reignited my
research and writing mojo. The focal point of this was visiting Damien
Hirst’s Treasures from the Wreck of the
Unbelievable. I’m working on a blog post to order some thoughts on
this, as well as researching it in depth to produce a conference paper and
publication on it. For now, here is a collection of thoughts and images from
the rest of the trip.
I had three full days in Venice. It was hot and my friend
still had work to do and had already seen many of the biennale pavilions. There
was no point in wrecking ourselves to see everything. I much prefer getting
more out of smaller aspects of things anyway, as it can be overwhelming and
counter-productive to try to take too much in. The humidity was playing havoc
with some old back and hip injuries as well, and Venice is a city that requires
its occupants to be able-bodied. We went only to pavilions we happened upon
during gelato-seeking strolls (there are increasing vegan options, by the way),
and on the way to and from planned activities. This turned out to be a useful approach,
as we came across diverse and interesting work that we may not have seen had we
pre-plannedour visits using the
substantial programme. Admission to each of the following biennale exhibitions is free.
How about NOW?
Commissioner: Godwin Obaseki.
Curator: Adenrele Sonariwo and Emmanuel Iduma.
Exhibitors: Peju Alatise, Victor Ehikhamenor, Qudus Onikeku.
Venue: Scoletta dei Tiraoro e Battioro, Campo San Stae,
Santa Croce 2059.
Nigeria’s first ever pavilion at the Venice Biennale centres
on issues around identity and time, being and presentness. I was
particularly drawn to Qudus Onikeku’s films showing his considerations of
national identity through dance, and Peju Alatise’s Flying Girls sculpture (pictured right). Inspired by the story of a young domestic
servant whose mind occupies an alternate dream world in which she can fly and
be free, the work is dedicated to all Nigerian girls. It sends a poignant
message calling for freedom for girls to be children just a few short years after the Boko Haram abduction of
nearly 300 school girls. While freedom can be attained in the mindscape, we
must fight to attain it for all in the real world.
A fuller and informative write-up of the exhibition can be accessed via the Venice Insider.
Republic of San Marino Pavilion
Commissioner: Paolo Rondelli, Direttore Istituti Culturali
della Republic of San Marino.
Curator: Vincenzo Sanfo
Exhibitors: Priscilla Beccari, Giancarlo Frisoni, Giovanni
Giulianelli Sisto Righi, Patrizia Taddei, Marco Tentoni, Xing Gang, Lee Kuang
Yu, Zhang Wang Zhao Wumian, Yishan, Fu Yuxiang.
The San Marino exhibition offers a diverse range of artwork
across various modes linked by the artists’ approaches to ink painting on/with
different materials. Continuing the Friendship Project initiated
in 2015, the work aims to embody and encourage collaboration and communication
that transcends difference and othering. It is housed across four venues. The
Ateneo, for example, claims to be ‘an institution for the promulgation of
science, literature, art and culture in all forms, in the exclusive interest of
promoting social solidarity’.
We visited the part hosted by the art school in
the Giustiniani palace. Highlights for me included Sisto
Righi’s sculptures made from rusted, ‘found’ materials standing upon their
packing boxes doubling as plinths (left), developing on the ‘readymade’ ethos that art
can be anything and anything can be art, even in the flatpack Ikea age. Yishan’s
large and miniature sculptures based on Chinese ink writing are fascinating, as
Taddei’s intricately painted ceramics and Marco
Tentoni’s large, multi-panelled paintings which I think are on goat-skin
parchment or a similar material.
Venue: Palazzo Ca’ Tron, IUAV University of Venice
(Finished 15 July)
Standing for Neue Slowenische Kunst, NSK is a state that
exists in time rather than in a place or space. Established in 1984 when three
arts groups based in former Yugoslavia merged, the NSK State emerged in the
1990s to interrogate the production of meaning and increasingly make this the
work of the spectator. Exploring the increasing fusion between art and
politics, ‘NSK State in Time connects the history of the twentieth century with
historic possibilities and necessities of the twenty-first century’ (Eda Čufer,
p.5 of the pavilion
newspaper). The exhibition invited us to do this by embodying the refugee
Accessing the tilted exhibition space featuring the
responses to the Apology for Modernity manifesto printed in the newspaper was
literally an uphill struggle. The less able-bodied you are, the more difficult
it is, just like asylum-seeking. By managing to get up the steep structure, or
by cheating and passing through the curtain acting as a side-door, the
back space and future possibilities it acts as a gateway to could be viewed and the box's steepness witnessed from the
outside. The space physicalizes and visualizes the difficulties posed by
man-made (and I do mean made by men) institutional structures.
The pavilion was housed in the Università Iuav di Venezia, a Venice
university solely focusing on design and architecture. Behind the structure was
further information about NSK State, more responses to their manifesto poll,
and its ‘passport office’ with the officer and desk up on an inaccessible
platform with a ‘reflection’ image of the upside-down empty desk underneath,
and the unmanned photo studio behind. Even if you make it through the difficult
loopholes, citizenship, legitimacy and safety remain out of reach.
The exhibition and brief manifesto are a call-to-arms to the
west to resist complacency and become active, caring world citizens. The
newspaper, which can be downloaded from the link above, is an important read.
Venice’s impressive museum of natural history is housed in
the thirteenth-century Fontego dei Turchi. Its varied collections comprise of
fossils and artefacts spanning 700 million years explained with informative
multi-lingual displays, including an interactive motion-sensitive holographic program
that projects images of your selections onto the surrounding walls to show, for
example, what creatures belong to what groupings. The curation alone blew me
away. Themed rooms in the pre-history section had wonderful audio and light installations
that gave the spaces a serenity conducive to concentrating while relaxing as
you view and read. We whizzed quicker through the anthropological and
zoological parts as neither of us are fans of colonial appropriation or taxidermy.
We appreciated the arrangements, even if the ‘birds in flight’ room is a bit
Hitchcockian and terrifying. The fish ponds in the central courtyard are
lovely. Worth a visit.
Playfully entitled ‘The Dish Ran Away With the Spoon.
Everything You Can Think of is True’, this collection of limited edition coffee
cup sets designed by artists from the world over was presented amid Robert
Wilson’s playful approaches to fairy tales and nursery rhymes. We happened upon
the exhibition held in Magazzini del Sale by the lagoon after emerging from the
Punta della Dogana part of the Hirst show. It was mercifully air-conditioned on
the most humid day of my trip. It is sheer fun and joy and weirdness across
seven rooms. Access is free and all on one level.
The Mocenigo Palace museum’s perfume exhibition had an
unexpected continuity for me upon visiting it after seeing the whole of Damien
Hirst’s Treasures from the Wreck of the
Unbelievable that day. Many of the plethora of perfume bottles across the
ages and places displayed incorporated the bodies of former living creatures.
The sea themes maintained a continuity for me with the discovered sea treasures
and the Venetian setting. It was fascinating to see and smell the
perfume-making process from the late eighteenth century, and to walk amongst
the palace’s preserved rooms and period dress.
Personal Structures is an international art project
featuring works by artists from all over the world practicing across all kinds
of media and modes. I’ve been missing getting the Ulster University art college
degree show these past few years, and this immense exhibition has sated me. Some
work drawing attention to humanoid genitals, manipulations of marble and busts
of Walt Disney again evoked memories from what we saw the day before at the
Hirst show. We spent around three hours there and barely scratched the surface, often unable to take time with certain pieces. For example, there was a corner with some fascinating
video work on juxtaposed cultural identities that we wanted to stay with for a
while, but the heat was stifling. If you visit in the cooler months, I highly
recommend a visit. The exhibition is open until 26 November and entry is free.
As well as being immersed in art and history, it was great to explore the markets, mask shops, canals, campos and architecture of the city. Italy is a difficult place to eat veggie or vegan, but the volume of international tourism with diverse dietary needs is making this easier in Venice at least. I leave you with an image of what Venice's sex shops think of current politics...
In trying to tackle the issue with having more research ideas than time or opportunities to publish them all, I figured I'd fire up the old blog to post up almost verbatim versions of papers and embryonic ideas to build an archive and show that I'm still active even though I'm still in that lovely early-career-and-may-not-have-a-job-in-a-few-months stage. This is one I gave in the Literature seminar series in the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, Newcastle University, on
25 February 2015, and again at a workshop at University of Aberdeen. This paper builds on a case study from my monograph, looking at it alone instead of in comparison to another film by the same artist.