I’m going to say it straight out. There’s a lot of shit at the Venice Biennale. Two planks nailed to a wall? Shit. Self-indulgent video of artist? Shit. So much of it reminds me of the Emporer’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson.
The wonderful thing about there being so much shit is that the brilliant work stands out like a beacon in a storm. By far, the most mesmerising and thoughtful and inspiring work is Alefbet: alphabet of memory by Grisha Bruskin at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia.
The foundation describes it as “A mysterious alphabet composed of 160 characters: angels, animal-faced demons, figures pierced by lightning, men carrying their own shadow on their shoulders or gazing into the secrets of a book.”
It’s a wonderful piece of storytelling, rich in the bizarre, the macabre, intriguing and beguiling. It takes its inspiration from the thousand year old Jewish tradition of the Talmud and the Kabbalah but is accessible in so many ways.
There’s amazing drawings and gouaches, huge paintings and then stellar tapestries that fill the exhibition galleries. But the kicker for me is an extraordinary interactive display that brings each character on the tapestries to life in an immersive interactive space. Touch a demon and he’ll burst into life. Intrigued by a man examining another’s penis? Touch the icon and a story unfolds.
It’s this enmeshing of traditional with contemporary that makes this the richest experience of Venice by far. If you’re heading to Venice, you’ve got to see this, your head for art will never be the same.