So beautiful I cried: Rachel Whiteread, Jeremy Deller and more on the thrill of the Venice Biennale

Jeremy Deller unleashed a yacht-throwing colossus and Rachel Whiteread hit the streets with a vacuum cleaner six leading artists recall representing Britain at the arts extravaganza

I was Indian and it didnt matter

Anish Kapoor, represented Britain in 1990

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A Wing at the Heart of Things part of Kapoors 1990 Venice Biennale show. Photograph: British Council

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It was the summer before Margaret Thatcher resigned, a very different Britain. The Berlin Wall had just come down, and there was a sense of proper optimism. I was an Indian citizen and it didnt matter. It wasnt an issue. What mattered was that I lived in the UK, was part of the UK art community. Would that still be true? Our psychic state as a country has changed so much.

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A young Anish Kapoor Photograph: Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

The art world was unbelievably different, too, not so market-driven as it is now. This was before the so-called YBAs (Young British Artists); they were just leaving art school. Exposure on this scale, in my mid-30s, was extraordinary. As an artist, you have a certain kind of language you are trying to get into the world. At Venice, I had the experience, for the first time, of people reflecting back to me the work telling me, if you like, what I was doing.

At the pavilion we gave out can you believe it? the first-ever bag with my name on it. It was the first time Id seen such a thing, perhaps the first time it had been done. Now, of course, it is absolutely ubiquitous.

If one were doing it again, would one deal with the current moment? Im not interested in making direct commentary on quotidian questions, political or otherwise. But its a great time to be controversial, perhaps the best time ever, because in politics and elsewhere there are so many entrenched positions. You could stick your finger up at all that and say: Im not playing the game.

I thought: What a bizarre place

Rachel Whiteread, 1997

Visitors
I was unprepared for the circus visitors at Whitereads show in 1997. Photograph: Reuters

It was just after Labour had been elected. There was a bit of optimism, briefly. In my life, there were all sorts of things going on: I was in the middle of a political storm in Vienna as I was trying to complete the Holocaust memorial there, which was a huge deal.

Rachel
Rachel Whiteread. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

The biennale opened in June and I had been to look at the pavilion in February. It was the first time Id been to Venice and I cried it was so beautiful. Then I went to the Giardini, the gardens where most of the national pavilions are, and thought: What a bizarre place this is, with the British pavilion, that imperial building, up on a hill at the end of the avenue.

It was high-stress and what I made reflected my mental state. One work, called Untitled: 10 Tables, was a brutal piece cast from interlocking tables. I also made a library sculpture, directly connected to the Holocaust memorial, which has cast bookshelves as its exterior. I was just trying to get the memorial into the world somehow. We were installing for three weeks, carrying vacuum cleaners on our heads through St Marks Square and things like that fabulous.

When it opened, I was completely unprepared for the circus, but I got to meet the abstract painter Agnes Martin, which was a joy. And Marina Abramovi did an extraordinary performance, Balkan Baroque, where she sat among a huge pile of bones, washing them and singing folk songs a response to the war in the Balkans.

It was amazing to be able to be involved with the biennale at such a young age. It holds some of my fondest memories.

Our pavilion was the only one with toilets. We were a magnet

Mark Wallinger, 2001

Erected
Erected in a storm Wallingers false doorway outside the British pavilion. Photograph: John Riddy

The time we spent installing the show was one of my favourite parts. There was a feeling of camaraderie, with all the other artists in their funny little pavilions. We used to share pizza on the porch. Plus, the British pavilion is the only one around there that has toilets it was a magnet.

Mark
Mark Wallinger. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

The buildings in the Giardini are vestiges of the world order at the end of the 19th century and it was typical of Britain at the time to have put its pavilion at the top of the only hill in Venice. The show was partly about all of that, playing with different kinds of identities and the hoops we go through to feel part of something, the illusions of faith and identity.

The first thing you encountered was my work Facade, a huge trompe loeil photograph, printed on fabric, of the pavilion, which we erected in front of the building. So to enter, you had to pass through the illusory doorway. We had one day to install it, in an amazing storm. It was epic, like putting a spinnaker up in a tempest.

Outside, I flew my Oxymoron flag: the red and blue of the union jack represented in its complementary colours, which make it become the green and orange of the Irish tricolour. The show addressed the particularities of the time, but I didnt want to make it didactic. I hope it was playful, but serious. I like to think the works I showed would still be pertinent.

It was one of the happiest times of my life

Mike Nelson, 2011

Inside
Id still approach it in the same way inside Nelsons 2011 British pavilion. Photograph: Marco Secchi/Getty Images

I spent three months living in Venice with my family making my show, working with assistants, who were also my friends, and a team of Italian builders. It was a fantastic time, a real privilege, living in the city one of the happiest times of my life.

Mike
Mike Nelson in Venice in 2011. Photograph: Marco Secchi/Getty Images

We took the roof off the Italianate, turn-of-the-century British pavilion and rebuilt the interior as an Ottoman caravanserai, inserting the traces of an earlier work I had made for the Istanbul Biennial in 2003. So it was one biennale within another, the Ottoman empire within the British empire, with all the potential implications for the politics of that time the Arab spring was under way. I was very happy with the work, unusually for me.

The opening week was kind of horrific, indigestible, lets say. Id made work at the Venice Biennale before, but I hadnt ever been in the centre of things. It was a bit of a turning point. I realised that the way I had been working, my desire to confound a certain type of consumption both in the art world and the world at large, was being read as spectacle, as an experience. It was being co-opted by immersive theatre, even by pop-up restaurants. It became difficult for people to read it as sculpture. Since then, my work has become more minimal, more sculptural.

If I were doing it again, Id still approach it in the same way its just the ugly boil of the times has risen higher now. Problems dont just arrive from nowhere.

There was a lot I wanted to get off my chest

Jeremy Deller, 2013

Predator
Predator and prey Deller at his installation in 2013. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

I was happy to be the artist representing Britain. There was a lot I wanted to get off my chest about the UK aspects of the country I liked and didnt like. I was interested in making new mythologies. I had giant animals, giant humans, destruction, in the show. As you entered there was a mural of a giant harrier hawk swooping down to take a Range Rover in its claws. There was another mural of William Morris as a colossus throwing Roman Abramovichs yacht into the Venice lagoon. The show was called English Magic. It was important to use that contentious word English.

Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

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