I am not an especially well-travelled person. So, being afforded the opportunity to visit the 2022 Venice Biennale on a History of Art field trip was an incredible opportunity to broaden my horizons. One that led me through an assortment of surrealist-themed art pavilions and exhibitions within ‘The Milk of Dreams’.
Flying from Manchester to Venice, we were greeted by the wonderful welcome of an Italian sunset – making the hour-long boat ride to the main island all the more pleasant. As I was told by many of my friends and family before setting off on the two-hour flight, Venetian food, drink and hospitality were bound to be wonderful – it was.
On the first night, our group went for pizza on the Fondamenta Delle Zattere, a stretched promenade lit at night by the ambience of small restaurants on the water, before strolling back to our accommodation in Academia. At the end of a fast-paced day of travel, taking some time to relax on our communal terrace overlooking the city at night was a fitting way to wind down.
Exploring the Biennale
During the following three days we spent in the city, I visited two primary sites of the Biennale (the Giardini and the Arsenale) alongside using my free day of travel to see sites of personal interest, such as Giovanni Bellini’s altarpiece housed in the Church of San Zaccaria.
Starting at the Giardini
Entering the Giardini, I was blown away. Never in my life had I seen such a large-scale collaboration of international art. Individual national pavilions each occupy their own unique space – some small and innovative, others large and industrial. Accompanying the scattered exhibitions is the Central Pavilion – the primary show of the Biennale – curated by a different director and focussing on a different theme every time.
Across the 59 iterations of the Biennale, directors such as Harald Szeemann (twice, consecutively) and Okwui Enwezor have navigated their artistic visions for the space, creating international acclaim across many themes. For our trip, Cecilia Alemani curated a surrealist journey through the central space that primarily focused on the works of women and gender non-conforming artists – a diverse and international collaboration that, in my opinion, shone the brightest within Alemani’s selection of film. If you get ever get the chance to see Nan Goldin’s ‘Sirens’, please take it – the sixteen minutes of film was truly my most valued experience of the day, perhaps even the whole trip.
My favourite pavilion
As for my favourite pavilion, that prestigious award has to go to Finland. Pilvi Takala’s ‘Close Watch’ followed their undercover work as a retail security guard with the aim of educating and informing those within the industry on the dangers of targeted aggression and violence. The entire process was tracked via a video installation that followed WhatsApp messages between the artist and those involved, including the CEO, supervisors and fellow workers of the security company. Being able to sit in the room of one of the smaller pavilions, experiencing art personally curated like this was, in my experience, the best thing about the Biennale and the driving factor as to why, if the opportunity is available to you, you should absolutely take it.
Moving on to the Arsenale
While the Arsenale did not quite compare with the Giardini, in my personal opinion, our trip the following day remained enjoyable. One of the most staggering aspects of the site is its location directly alongside a former military shipyard. In turn, many of the curatorial decisions are fascinatingly dictated by the adjoining architecture and monuments to a naval past.
Time to explore Venice further
As I’ve previously mentioned, I spent my free day ambling across the bridges and through the streets of Venice, seeing the famous altarpieces and architectural hallmarks of the city.
What really made the experience complete, however, was the free night that followed. Tucked away in a small jazz club in the quiet backstreets of the city, a friend and I were able to experience the privilege of live music for hours on end. Exploring the niches of local entertainment is always promising, but it’s not very often you find a gem like the Venice Jazz Club. Without recommendation or preconception, a welcoming venue of talented people, tasteful music and tasty wine.
Before hopping back on a flight to the not-so-sunny Manchester Airport, trying something different was the perfect send-off for someone such as myself. I am not especially well travelled, and this trip really allowed me to change that, to push the boundaries of what I know and what I’ve experienced simultaneously. Going from the walkways of Vanbrugh to the alleyways of Venice is an opportunity to be taken and to be cherished. And if you need proof, look no further than my final few video clips of the city: the ultimate and most beautiful sunset of the trip speaks volumes…