I get off the boat, as Italian words are banded around; San Marco is of some importance to the conversation. Light Pavement at the Giudecca. The island is a slither that has escaped the mad tourist maze of the monster Venice, the maze escaped, sitting at a bar on the canal, looking back at the ants nest, the arcane riddle, such a scene. This spectacle cost seven Euros for not much more than half a larger. Oh yes, the city is pretty, and she knows it, and Eros is never far from your Euros.
I step into this bar, with a few friends and sip beer out on the pavement and enjoy the scene before the bill can sour it. The suns just tinting as it gets ready to drop, a last deep breath touched with blue salt before the dive. Shadows start to pull away.
We learn local quickly... a supermarket... cheap beer sat on the canal edge, clumsy tapas, ripped and dipped, bread, cheese, tomato (the base of every venetian meal). Quick clean up at the water fountain.
Amble, deft step, play.
Were greeted by the staff, a welsh rrrings beneath accents, the ones that we’re used too, ‘John Cale Live’ is nearing... An unmapped bridge takes us over to the courtyard. Prosecco. Prosecco. John Cale is Alive, but not ‘Live’ in any art way. His work is there, as ‘live’ as any other video installation, and he is amongst us. People. People. What is live? We are here, and until prosecco has her way we are at least a little live. Lively if nothing else. People. Dance. Prosecco. What is every other video installation? I could tell you, by the time I leave Venice, It seems they are all here, every single one in the universe. Good and bad, and prosecco. No one cares too much right now. Live? What’s that? Prosecco? And yes! I approve! Party hard long into/past the dark days. Dark Days has a night life, fire, alive until prosecco has her way
There was art.
Video installation? Audio Installation with video? John Cale Live? Cinema? Theatre? Art?
The rooms dark, it’s ‘Dark Days’. The rooms rough, walls and a slightly uneven floor. It’s a little too dark to gage the character of the space, but it has some. Rugged and tall.
Screens are in the room. They are blank.
48 or 46 or something minutes of...
...careful now Sam...
Video screens show images there is a soundtrack. At times there is something desertedly beautiful that seems to emerge.
No, sorry, not really. I guess that’s maybe my problem, those times are imposed upon you; they can not really be delightfully uncovered, I’ve been given no space within this work to explore it. It’s set, ordered and it’s provided. The rest of the film/work aches, desperately pleading with your patience, too often not delivering the goods. Too often not going far enough, not driving and continuing with horrific confidence, just reaching an insecure ‘almost’, and withering. That is in-fact it’s dersertedly beautiful aspect. The moment of sadness as it falls gently and honestly into... dare I say it, boredom.
Dark Days is that ‘Almost’. What I felt most sad about, was the potential, the stories that had enthralled me prior to its manifestation, the humble and honest approach of the artist. All of this fails to hold fort in the installation.
I should not speculate too much, hindsight and imagination are unfair to rule against. But I cannot help but imagine this material given room to breathe, audiences given time and space to investigate the changes of pace. The emptiness and stifled energy of the panning shots of an interior. The cruelty of the piano not played. There is something very possible. Continuous, multi-screen, installation, in at least two spaces... possibly? I’m not sure... but there are endless possibilities... the one they used did not work.
I had high expectations, and a lot of background information. These things are maybe unfair.
The final scene:
I’ll tell you what I thought I knew about this scene. John Cale was to be water boarded, that’s the intensive interrogation technique recently been used by US intelligence services. The sound track, so I was lead to believe, was going to be a welsh rugby crowd singing the welsh national anthem. Sounded to me like quite an intense scene. Sounded to me like some thing that would have some punch.
The version in the installation has awful video effects, like a TV being tuned in, kind of zapping across the screen. It’s very cliché. The audio sounds like noise, this is no criticism of the welsh rugby crowds singing ability, but the clips were short, edited choppily, so there was no way of catching any sense of people singing, never mind a particular tune. The water boarding looked uncommitted. It never appeared he was in danger; his face was barely submerged, and for what seemed like about one second at a time. It may have even been horrific and horrible to be there. I wouldn’t know. But it did not come across.
Why would I write this review ? I think that the Venice project is valuable to the welsh arts scene. On this occasion after a good choice of artist, and an apparent wealth of exciting and vibrant material. Did it go wrong? Why review? Why Art? One more prosecco? Here I fail too.
I felt like this should be part of my writing about this place, my journey, it is what took me there. There, there is the city, the sick money conversations I overheard at the Giardini, insane nationalism, prosecco and the stacks of wine, big art!, an island for the dead that’s so colourful and quiet, an ugly scribbled city that swallowed me and spat me into the canal, the sublime dark streets that walk you on tours round kitsch lit shrines, churches and the endless endless exhibitions. Where was I?
The Canals at Night.
We stop for more one beer on the steps of a catholic church... eyes close... nothing... nothing... nothing... nothing... nothing... nothing... nothing... BLACK silt, GREEN salt and dirty sick... KICK and grasp, gasp, heavy drenched clothes, salt scratched. SPIT – black SILT, green SALT, mouthful... BREATHE (gasp). Arm them elbows up onto the pavement. Venice night hides down alleyways, leering... Ghost town for lost artists, spirits searching for the last vaparetto, and it’s so easy to get lost here. A hall of mirrors (a few cracked), reflections and dead ends - every street and canal built high and close, jagged close - every street shows the same dusty face (high and elaborate-kind-of-close) in varying degrees of ‘touristy’. Every next street is thinner and darker than the last, another loner a few echoed steps maybe one street ahead, can just disappear. Feet splash in my shoes, jeans stick to my legs, I walk, empty.
Beer on the steps of a church... artists get lost...
- Fly piece. Spring 1968
Fly... ...swallow...BLACK silt, salt, ugly, GREEN salt... oh no!
Naked on a cold tiled floor of my friends dripping with BLACK, silt, salt – get ghost – a lost.
She... the dress is teetering on the crest of her shoulders, larking about, with swish and sway, tracking between short words and kissing the cheeks of friends, pivoting on her prosecco glass, larking about as if to fall... the black dress is teetering on the crest of those shoulders, the curls of hair, the curls and swirls of black hair bob and weave around her neck... bianco skin so pure and slim.
She... and her laugh, her laugh drowned of its audio by the party music and chit chit chit, her open eyes and open mouth, her acceptance of light airs, her posed – surprise... love... her brown eyes as deep as forest, from which black depths a wolf might howl, or stalk... legs are perfect forms every step is a effortless choreography. effortlessly this Icelandic Italian geography.
She... petit and sweet... skin so warm, deeply breathing skin, exhaling a nectar, field flower... darting shoulders... flickering brunette hair... simple brown in shape with her move.
She... Hair a dusky sunset orange, lips a final red eclipse. The horizon opens , just one tiny slip, smiles. There the world ends.
She... a makeup masterpiece white on white... black as midnight on a moonless night - eyes so big they stick in my throat.
She... wearing china tea cup blue from neck to ankle without hiding anything, she steps so carefully as if fragile. White lace pattern. Gentle (honey)fresh freckles warm her complexion... The world makes room for her as she moves. Hair is red twists that impress with that throwaway skill... relaxed... with so much control over a raging energy.
She... blonde unlocks my jaw, her blonde as a perfect temple pillar down her back. She – as a preserved statue in these temple ruins, high and slender in this crumbing Venice room.
She... the neutral tones of her hair frame her neutral toned face. Accuracy of the fringe and cut... her eyes are so small , tiny black marbles, almost insignificant, except the face is made for them. The subtle tones and shape and fine dark hair, everything draws you in, toward the pinnacles of dark beauty.
She... a glint of red shines almost the length of the room. Lipstick with some purpose... the vessel that carries this flag, she’s a beauty. She floats on the waters edge, aching to sail out, tufting small smokes... navy blue shawl across her shoulders... against the canal, a glowing green, the light in the sky now so far away and still leaving, the space it’s left above is empty and open. She feels a zephyr on her sail white skin, her red flag rides to a small smile.
She... striking yellow the fabric is loosely tossed across her, high on her thigh , and low on her chest... hinting at something not so subtle. She carries a certain aggression though that prevents this being perverse. There is something determinedly innocent, a direction and mode. The skin she shows is inevitably smooth and almost monochrome, gentle blush before a tan.
She... third gulp of some white label spirits, and riding the rock and roll dance, she hands it off to one of her orbits. A man who collects it and necks it. A moment later her eyes spring, fear, as she’s almost knocked over, but the crowds restore and she’s smiling as she is re-centered. Her orbits assure. She’ll not compete with the wild flares of females in here, but she can remove them all from your thoughts, a carelessness, free and not self afflicted, she’s here with everyone else. A refreshing presence and one that has natural simple beauty in every last little finger. She catches my eye, and I feel as if I’ve intruded. She offers a smile, which I take and run.
Samuel Hassler is a performer and writer. He will be contributing to the AXIS Open Dialogue forum on the Venice Bienale. To view the debate go to:
John Cale's presentation for Wales at Venice continues until November 22nd.
For an overview of the Biennale visit