Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Goldoni Theatre 2011-2012 Season & The Hard Rock Cafe(?!)

Teatro Goldoni
Photo: Andreas Praefcke
(Venice, Italy) The Goldoni Theater, home to the Teatro Stabile del Veneto, presented its upcoming season at a conference on Saturday, June 25. Both the press and the general public were invited, and the theater was nearly full on a Saturday afternoon -- a sign of how vital live theater is to Venetians, and how much they love the Goldoni. The meeting got off to a late start. Venetian theater audiences can be vocal and demanding, and don't like to be kept waiting too long. They clap their hands to get things rolling. They holler back if someone speaks too softly. Venetians take their theater seriously because it belongs to them. Unlike the United States, Italy has a Minister of Culture, and the arts and culture are partially subsidized by the government. And you know what? In these difficult times, over the past year the attendance at the Teatro Stabile del Veneto has actually increased!

Allesandro Gassman
Photo: Gianmarco Chieregato
The Teatro Stabile del Veneto "Carlo Goldoni" was founded in 1992 by the Veneto Region, the Comune of Venezia and the city of Padua. Added over the years was the city of Vicenza and the Province of Padua.  Things were rocky for a while, which is usual in the theater business (I have a background in theatre:) but it seems like things have stabilized, and the show will go on! Allesandro Gassman has been the artistic director since January, 2010, and he announced the season. There will be classics like Checkov's The Cherry Garden, and Strindberg's Miss Julie, as well as von Hofmannsthal's Elektra. Venetians love their native son Carlo Goldoni; the season would not be complete without Il Ventaglio

Last year, Gassman introduced something new into the mix. Using some nifty theatre hocus-pocus, he shrunk the formal, majestic 800-seat Goldoni Theatre down into a 150-seat Off-off Broadway (way, way, way off:) type of space, and also put on some dynamic contemporary theatre. Back in May, I was riveted by the powerful, one-woman-show Donna non rieducabile (Woman not re-educable) written by Stefano Massini and starring Ottavia Piccolo about Anna Politkovskaja, the American-born Russian journalist, author and human rights activist, who was assassinated on October 7, 2006 at the age of 48.  Researching Politkovskaja educated me as to the Soviet Union's use of "punitive" or "political psychiatry," a form of torture that the USA also has a history of using against outspoken writers. 

Art by Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones
for Tribute to Venice
In what I can only describe as a stroke of marketing genius, Venezia Marketing & Eventi has actually inspired me to write something positive about the Hard Rock Cafe here in Venice. Don't get me wrong -- I've had some great times in Hard Rocks around the world, especially if I was there with a certain rocker. But the Hard Rock Cafe in Venice had landed like an alien spaceship with dangerous creatures on board. I speak from personal experience. One creature in particular, Olimpia Ubaldo from Naples -- a total stranger before her extremely unpleasant behavior made her a blip on my radar -- was particularly outrageous.

The situation appears to have changed. Not only is Olimpia Ubaldo back in Naples, but the Hard Rock Cafe has an art show inside the Goldoni Theatre! Some of the best rockers in the biz are represented in The Art of Hard Rock. Ronnie Wood made the image you see specifically to auction off to raise money to help restore Piazza San Marco. Ringo Starr, Peter Max, Roger Daltrey, Julian Lennon -- even Alice Cooper has a ceramic mask on display. (Alice Cooper was the very first rock concert I went to back in high school.)

After the presentation of the stagione di prosa, the Hard Rock Cafe provided the nibbles, which were Mexican chips and salsa!!! I am not fond of hamburgers, but I love chips and salsa. This, together with the helpful, courteous and charming staff who represented the Hard Rock Cafe really won me over. Just watching Venetians filling their mouths with Hard Rock Cafe chips and salsa... it was too funny! The Hard Rock Cafe made a genuine effort to fit better into Venice, and I always respect whenever anyone makes an effort like that.

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The World of Art - Art Night Venezia

Merciful Dream (Pietà V) by Jan Fabre
Photo at Contessanally
"I believe in God, Mozart and Beethoven, and likewise their disciples and apostles; 
- I believe in the Holy Spirit and the truth of the one, indivisible Art; 
- I believe that this Art proceeds from God, and lives within the hearts of all illumined men; 
- I believe that he who once has bathed in the sublime delights of this high Art, is consecrate to Her for ever, and never can deny Her; 
- I believe that through Art all men are saved." 
-- Richard Wagner

Lee Yongbaek - Korean Pavilion
Photo at Vogue
(Venice, Italy) The first Art Night Venezia was on Saturday night, June 18, 2011, and it was stupendous. I wish we could have Art Night Venezia every month. Nearly every museum, installation, gallery and hip palazzo in town was open until midnight for free, filling the air with art and music. Colorful people moved through the campi and calli, showering smiles and intelligent conversations all over Venice, and illuminating the Saturday night with human energy. 

Joana Vasconcelos, 'Contamination'
at Palazzo Grassi-Photo at Tate
There are many different worlds in Venice that occupy the same space and time, and intersect at certain points. For me, the World of Art is one of the best worlds in which to live. Because it is La Biennale Art season through November, there is so much art right now in Venice, you would need at least a month to see it all properly. I have lived here for more than 13 years, and still have only caught a glimpse. 

The World of Art has wonderful seasons. The Regular World has seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter, which bring us different food, different clothes, different weather. In addition to the Regular World seasons, in the World of Art sector of the Magic Kingdom we also have the seasons of Carnival, dance, literature, art or architecture, cinema, theatre and music. So the World of Art here in Venice is always filled with different types of creative people, depending on the season -- costume designers, dancers, authors and poets, visual artists and photographers, film people, actors and directors, and musicians, etc., etc., etc., in additional to the somnambulant masses. For example, today, on the street, I ran into Bice Curiger herself, the curator of the 54 Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition. I told her that I had heard only great things about her; all over town everyone was saying how kind and generous she was, and how much they appreciated her energy. 

Anish Kapoor-Ascension
at San Giorgio
I went to Art Night Venezia with my friend, Angela, who creates jewelry. Angela had been sucked into Dark World, which also exists here in Venice -- in fact, Dark World exists all over the planet -- a dismal, evil, violent world filled with liars and thieves. Mortals from the Dark World had also yanked me into their environment and tried to hold me prisoner before I managed to escape back to the World of Art, so I have first-hand experience with these creatures -- in fact, one confronted me just last night! The Dark World runs on fossils, and keeps trying to force their version of reality into existence, even going so far as to attempt to penetrate the World of Art, which runs on starlight. Of course there is natural darkness in the World of Art, there as a tool for artists to use in creation. I am not sure what the Dark World uses for light; perhaps it uses greed.

The King of the World of Art is the spirit of Ludwig II of Bavaria, who disliked wars and gave us Richard Wagner and fairytale castles, a legacy that brings in a tidy sum of money to this day. The Dark World doesn't appreciate the World of Art's power and revenue as much as they should, and the World of Art doesn't comprehend the Dark World's lust for pomp and military might.

Christors Bokoros/Chronis Botsoglou
Illuminated Shadows
King Ludwig got fed up with the entire dark lot of them, and was going to dismiss his entire Cabinet, but the Dark Ones acted first. They conspired and decided Ludwig should be deposed by reason of insanity, then had him declared paranoid without a medical examination. The Dark Ones snatched der Märchenkönig out of his castle, then tried to have him institutionalized -- as they like to do with many creative spirits who don't play by Dark World rules. Ludwig died a mysterious death; he was probably murdered as he tried to escape across Starnberger Lake. Of course, the official version is that he committed suicide...

From Wikipedia:

Ludwig is sometimes also called "Mad King Ludwig", though the accuracy of that label has been disputed. Because Ludwig was deposed on grounds of mental illness without any medical examination and died a day later under mysterious circumstances, questions about the medical "diagnosis" remain controversial.[4] One of his most quoted sayings was "I wish to remain an eternal enigma to myself and to others."[5]
Eye Fairy by Chen Fei & Luo Hui
Abbazia di San Grigorio
Ludwig is best known as an eccentric whose legacy is intertwined with the history of art and architecture. He commissioned the construction of several extravagant fantasy castles and palaces, the most famous being Neuschwanstein, and was a devoted patron of the composer Richard Wagner. Since his legacy of grandiose castles lives on in the form of massive tourist revenue, King Ludwig is generally well liked and even revered by many in Bavaria today.

On Art Night Venezia, Angela and I first stopped at Palazzo Bembo, which was scheduled to stay open until midnight. We arrived a little after 9pm, and entered with a chattering group. We climbed every step of the palazzo, looking for the installation, but nothing was there. The lights of Palazzo Bembo were dim. It was bizarre -- the installation, which featured 28 artists from 5 continents and 12 countries, and organized by the Dutch GlobalArtAffairs Foundation, seemed to be closed -- the palazzo was open, but there was nobody in charge. We arrived back on the ground floor and, poof! the lights went on as we went out the front door... which was open...

The Fall of Meteorites by Bizhan Bassiri
Museo Archeologico 
Over at Palazzo Grassi, however, an audience was captivated by poetry readings with Joana Vasconcelos' Contamination dangling from the ceiling. At the Istituo Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Art's Palazzo Loredan, the 15th generation of Koen Vanmechelen's Cosmopolitan Chicken Project bred happily away. Glass Stress teemed through the rooms of Palazzo Cavalli Franchetti, transporting top contemporary artists into the World of Glass. The Guggenheim has one of the best exhibitions in a long time, ILEANA SONNABEND. AN ITALIAN PORTRAIT, which is dedicated to the art dealer and presents more than 60 works by almost 50 artists; I felt like I had been transported into a slice of New York City inside a mini MoMA. Future Pass over at the Abbazia di San Gregoria blasted contemporary Asian art into the ancient Benedictine abbey. We finished at the cavernous Punta della Dogana, then hopped across the canal to end the night with drinks on the terrace of La Biennale headquarters, Ca' Giustinian, one of the most beautiful spots on the Grand Canal.  Angela was so happy to be back in the World of Art; she had been imprisoned so long that she had almost forgotten how many other dimensions and worlds there are here in Venice.  

ALSO IN VENICE: we just got a new labyrinth, the Jorge Luis Borges Labyrinth over at the Giorgio Cini Foundation! Yes, Venice aka Labyrinth City, has opened a new labyrinth for all the creative thinkers out there to puzzle out. The only ones who will be instructed as to how to execute the labyrinth are those who can read Braille, which will be installed on a hand railing once the hedges have settled in. Only the blind will be able to see. From the Cini Foundation:

To mark the 25th anniversary of the death (14 June 1986 - 14 June 2011) of the celebrated writer Jorge Luis Borges, the Fundación Internacional Jorge Luis Borges and the Giorgio Cini Foundation will present to Venice, one of the Argentinean writer’s favourite cities, a reconstruction of the maze that the British architect Randoll Coate designed in the writer’s honour and originally donated to the Borges Foundation. The labyrinth will be constructed on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore in the area to the rear of the Palladian Cloister and the Cypress Cloister, so as to form a kind of “third cloister”. The aim of the project is to create a garden full of spiritual meanings in memory of Borges and so generate further public interest in his world.

The labyrinth will also be the backdrop for a long-term programme of varied cultural events (research projects, lectures, master classes, workshops, art shows, productions and performances of plays, videos, choreographies and concerts). These events – both educational and artistic – will be inspired by Borges’ work and the epistemological and his torical-cultural issues raised by his imaginary world, such as the relationship between narrative and the fi gurative and performing arts and that between narrative and natural sciences.

I had the great opportunity to execute the Borges Labyrinth myself in complete solitude, accompanied only by my thoughts and the melodies of the birds. And you know what? I only made one small error, which I quickly corrected, and wove my way perfectly through the labyrinth! I don't know if I was incredibly lucky or if the labyrinth is not that difficult, but as I neared the end, I tried to contain my excitement until I was completely out of the maze. Once I realized that I had conquered the Borges Labyrinth on my first shot, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and joy.

I suggest that instead of measuring artists' intelligence by standardized testing, we should install labyrinths in the school yards, and give the "eccentric" creative types an Equal Opportunity.

Xiang Jing
I am 22 Years Old, But without my period
UPDATE June 23, 2011: After I published the above, I received a comment from a reader named Michael that made me think:

"Nice, particularly interested to read greed serves as light. Congrats on the labyrinth victory. Funny to emerge with doubts about the authenticity of the challenge!"

Going over the experience again, I realized that I had, indeed, made many critical decisions while inside the Borges Labyrinth -- even at the start, you must choose one of two entrances. I chose the entrance on the right because that is where the sun was shining; perhaps there is an entirely different experience if you choose the entrance on the left. Apparently Borges believed that you should be able to see over the top of the labyrinth, so the hedges are less than waist-high, not like the labyrinth at Villa Pisani in Stra, for example, where you wander around very tall hedges, unable to see your way out. The Borges Labyrinth allows you to see the maze from another point of view, so you can decide in advance which way you will travel. It also has a clearing that provides a false sense of success -- you arrive in a large, clear zone, and think, ah, ha! I've made it, when that is not the case at all. After you arrive in the clearing, you then realize you are only about half way through, and that you must go back a different way in order to move forward again. 

Jorge Luis Borges went completely blind just as his career began to flourish. Click HERE to read the Wikipedia article. 

"No one should read self-pity or reproach
Into this statement of the majesty
Of God; who with such splendid irony,
Granted me books and blindness at one touch."
Jorge Luis Borges

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, June 5, 2011

54th Venice International Art Festival - Bits & Pieces

The late Christoph Schlingensief-German Pavilion
Winner of the Golden Lion for best National Participation
photo: Andrea Merola/EPA
(Venice, Italy) Christoph Schlingensief did not live to physically accept the Golden Lion for Best National Participation on behalf of Germany, but I think his spirit was there as Aino Laberenz, his wife and long-time collaborator, and Susanne Gaensheimer, the curator, took the stage on his behalf at the awards ceremony yesterday, June 3, at the 54 Venice International Art Festival. The main hall of the German Pavilion is the stage where the powerful Fluxus Oratorio A Church of Fear vs. the Alien Within has been installed, which Schlingensief conceived for the 2008 Ruhrtriennale when he knew he was dying of lung cancer -- the "alien" that took his life just shy of his 50th birthday. In the right wing of the pavilion's two side wings are selected films created by Schlingensief; the left wing is dedicated to the opera village he was creating in Africa, which includes a school with film and music classrooms, a café, a hospital and a central theater building with a festival hall. According to Wikipedia:

In a note to [Schlingensief's] death in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Literature Nobel Prize Laureate Elfriede Jelinek wrote: "Schlingensief was one of the greatest artists who ever lived. I always thought one like him can not die. It is as if life itself would be dead. He was not really a stage director (in spite of Bayreuth and Parsifal), he was everything: he was the artist as such. He has coined a new genre that has been removed from each classification. There will be nobody like him."

This year's jury itself is an international potpourri of characters. The president is Hassan Khan (Egypt), Carol Yinghua Lu (China), Letizia Ragaglia (Italy), Christine Macel (France) and John Waters (USA). The Golden Lion for the Best Artist at the ILLUMInations Exhibition went to Christian Marclay (USA) for The Clock, a 24-hour video work which was called "a masterpiece." It is completely addicting; I had to force myself to stop watching the video and yank myself up off the sofa to write this blog. Click HERE to read Roberta Smith's excellent review for the New York Times; the only thing that is different is that real time has been adjusted to keep Venice time, not New York time. Upon accepting the Golden Lion, Christian Marclay said, "Thank you for giving The Clock its fifteen minutes." 

The Silver Lion for a Promising Young Artist at the ILLUMInations Exhibition went to Haroon Mirza of Great Britain. Two special mentions went to Lithuania for Behind the White Curtain by Darius Mikšys and Klara Lidén (Sweden) for Untitled, (Trashcan).  Lifetime achievement Golden Lions went to the Austrian artist, Franz West, and to Sturtevant, the American artist who is based in Paris. 

On Friday, I had the great honor of shaking the hand of Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who has got to be one of the most beautiful and charming presidents in the world. She was here to celebrate the signing of the permanent Argentine Pavilion in the "Sale d'Armi" of the Arsenal. (She is seated there on the right, together with the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, who is seated on the left, and was here for the opening of Israel's pavilion, the optimistic One Man's Floor is Another Man's Ceiling by Sigalit Landau.) 

The Argentine Pavilion features the work of Adrián Villar Rojas, a young artist from Rosario "who is stunning the international art world with monumental works and unconventional materials." The installation is entitled El as asesino de tu herencia (The Murderer of Your Heritage) and was like being in a grey Alice in Wonderland kind of world, with enormous mushroom-like clay sculptures. It was especially thrilling to walk around the installation in the presence of the President of Argentina; she seemed to embody what Biennale President Paolo Baratta had called, "that mysterious goddess quality: an open view of the world." 

Adrian Villar Rojas
The Murderer of Your Heritage
One of the most riveting and emotional installations was Egypt's 30 Days of Running in Place by Ahmed Basiony. Five screens played videos of Basiony's video documentation of a project he had recorded one year ago, when he was, literally, running in place for a performance piece. Alternating with those videos were videos of the uprisings in downtown Cairo and Tahrir Square that Basiouny filmed with his digital camera and phone camera beginning on January 25, 2011 through January 27, 2011. According to the press information, he was killed by snipers of the Egyptian Police Forces in Tahrir Square on January 28, 2011 at the age of 32. These are the last words on Ahmed Basiony's Facebook page:

Please, O Father, O Mother, O Youth, O Student, O Citizen, O Senior, and O more. 
You know this is our last chance for our dignity, the last chance to change the regime that has lasted the past 30 years. Go down to the streets and revolt, bring your food, your clothes, your water, masks and tissues, and a vinegar bottle, and believe me, there is but one very small step left... 
If they want war, we want peace, and I will practice proper restraint until the end to regain my nation's dignity.

Ahmed Basiony left behind a wife and two small children, Adam, age 6 and one-year-old Salma. Basiony was an electronic musician and video artist, and considered one of the most important Egyptian artists of the new generation. He had received his Masters from Art Education-Helwan University, where he was a teacher. After I visited the installation, I spoke to an 11-year-old boy from Egypt who was seated in a chair where the curator was supposed to be. He said that Basiony did not die right away from the bullets, so he was also run over by a car. 

Cat's favorite installation title comes from the Indian Pavilion: EVERYONE AGREES IT'S ABOUT TO EXPLODE.

I'll leave you with a poor-quality version of Martin Sostre's 2009 satirical video, "Tango With Obama," which is looping inside the Latin American Pavilion through November. I must have watched it ten times by now. I'd like to dedicate the video to Sara Jane Boyers, David Gersh, Steven R. Boyers, Megan H. Jones, William R. Gill, Dottie Wydock, the ashes of my father, Christian Bauer III, the memory of Frank Wisner and the 30,000 people killed by the Soviet Union during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the same week that France, Great Britain and Israel attacked Egypt in an attempt to recapture the Suez Canal. Can someone please name a country whose soul the "United States of America" has not tried to blacken? The USA our Founders created would never behave in such a fashion. Why did we throw the tea in the harbor? Benjamin Franklin is turning in his grave. 

Ciao from Venice,

Thursday, June 2, 2011

ILLUMInations - 54 Venice International Art Festival

The Black Arch by Shadia & Raja Alem
(Venice, Italy) Mecca is a place on Earth filled with Heaven's scent, built by the angels before mankind arrived so we would not be lonely, according to pre-Islamic myth. Mecca is where Adam was finally reunited with Eve after they were thrown out of Paradise and wandered the earth separately for two hundred years. For me, Mecca is another word for the heaven inside us all. Even though we live in a material and dense world, far away from home, we can still feel the vibrations of heaven if we make our own pilgrimage to Mecca. If Adam or Eve is there when we arrive, so much the better.

Last week, I approached the fountain in Campo Santa Maria Formosa to fill my bottle with water before going to work in the Querini Stampalia. Three beautiful women arrived moments before I did, each to wash a peach.* One of the women offered to let me go first, and I declined. We began talking about the water fountain, and the musical sound it made in the square. Throughout the day, birds, dogs, children, tourists, and residents drank and splashed at the fountain. The vegetable vendor and construction workers filled their buckets to complete their chores. It was the center of activity in the square. I told them the water had been shut off a month or two ago for bureaucratic reasons which were not clear; the local population had made a fuss, and the fountain had recently started flowing again.

Shaida &Raja Alem
Photo: Teresa Sartore
It turned out the women were from the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia. Shaida Alem and Raja Alem are sisters who are the artists representing their kingdom for the Biennale International Art Festival this year; Shaida is a visual artist; Raja is a writer, Mona Khazindar is the co-curator, together with Robin Start, who was not there at the fountain. (Nationality/gender clarification: Shaida and Raja are sisters who were born in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. Mona is a woman who was born in Maryland, USA. Robin is a man who was born in London, UK -- a warm-hearted gentleman, actually -- that I met later during La Biennale. And Cat is a woman who was born in South Carolina, USA:) "You are Saudi Arabian women? Where are your burqas?" I joked.

I knew it was the first time that Saudi Arabia was here for La Biennale. I told them I had seen His Royal Highness Prince Turki Al-Faisal when he was in Venice for the Euro-Gulf Forum in October, 2008, and had been impressed by what he said -- he truly seemed to want an international peace based on tolerance, understanding, sound business practices, and the building of bridges between the cultures -- not by imposing one culture upon another, but a creative exchange between cultures. Another member of the royal family, Prince Faisal Bin Salman, had said they were reaching out to the world -- they felt they had been wrongly portrayed and would like to correct the situation -- 'not to please others, but to present ourselves.' He'd also said they realized they had made mistakes when it came to women, and were encouraging female artists to share their perspective with the world.

Now, standing in front of me at the fountain in Santa Maria Formosa, were three women here in Venice on behalf of Saudi Arabia -- the physical manifestation of the princely words spoken nearly three years ago. The synchronicity was magical, and they invited me to see their installation on June 1st.

After the Forum, I had written a blog entitled Men Like Gods. It was one of the most difficult blogs I'd ever written, trying to capture the huge amount of information that I'd seen and heard about a topic utterly foreign to me. I'd said: "Inviting Cat Bauer to a Forum like this was a brilliant idea because I come with very little baggage -- it is like inviting Alice to Wonderland -- and I am going to give you my honest impressions, as simply as I can. First, like many Americans, I have very little sense of geography. To me, the entire Gulf region was a vague black hole filled with scary Muslims."

Yesterday, during the preview for Biennale, when I arrived at the installation for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I found myself standing in front of an enormous black hole.

Shaida and Raja Alem were born in the actual city of Mecca, which, today, is the destiny of the pilgrimage called "Hajj" for Muslim people of all colors and nations. Shaida and Raja's father was a spiritual guide for the Hajj; his work was that of a Moutouef, which is a title inherited by the sons of Judges in Mecca. The role of a Moutoeuf is to host people, and initiate them to the rituals. Shaida and Raja, in turn, inherited that role from their father. It may surprise many of us who are unfamiliar with the Islamic culture, but throughout history, women of Mecca played the role of spiritual guides, side by side with men, receiving the pilgrims in their pavilions and houses.
On the other side of The Black Arch, which is the name of the installation, is a core filled with dazzling colors, mosaics, and 3457 stainless steel spheres, and a large cube balanced on its point at the center of the arch. Shadia told me (and I am paraphrasing) that 3...4....5.... it's all very well. But we must jump to 7, which is the X factor.

From the catalogue interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist:
Shadia Alem: Physically it is simple, everyone will see the elliptical wall when they enter, and this wall is the black; the unknown. But if you cross to the other side you will find several universes. We created this elliptical barrier, like an arch, and behind it you find 3457 stainless steel spheres gathered together and going in circle after circle on the ground. One sphere reflects into the other and the other... and they become an endless mutiplying energy field. And there is a cube, which represents our city of Makkah (Mecca), surrounded by the stainless steel spheres reflected on our city.
Raja Alem: Inside the cube is another black cube, which we relate in a way to the Black Stone of Al-Ka'ba; it's filled with pebbles which are used to throw at the devil during a specific moment in the ritual of the Hajj. But those pebbles or stones are not only stones. They are sculptures, as they have been touched by millions of people and used to stone the negative moments of their lives. And these tons of stones are recycled. Once they are thrown by the pilgrims, then they are picked up and reused by the next group, and the next year the same stones are used. So those stones are sculpted by the hands and by the emotion of those pilgrims. It has a very Sufi like quality. ...There are these stories in our family about these powers my grandfather had, and our family is called Al-alem, which means the one who has the knowledge.

Here is an exerpt from Commissionaire's note in the press kit on the occasion of Saudi Arabia's inaugural pavilion at the Venice Biennale:

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a modern state with a rich culture, deeply rooted in history. The most monumental event in the history of Arabia was the revelation of Islam, a humanitarian message that is proud and respectful of the conviction of others and seeks to achieve peace in the world.

The Venice Biennale has been, for over a century, the meeting place for artists and the showcase of the best art the world has to offer. It is the largest, most influential and most established art event, and this is why the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has chosen it as a platform to bring forth the message of the Saudi people who are confident of their values, and proud of their authenticity. Through our artists and through our work we are keen to interact with other nations through colour, words, voices and artistic endeavour, which represent the elements of creativity as an ultimate message of communication between peoples.

We proudly support our artists Shadia and Raja Alem, who, in the Black Arch, chose their home city of Makkah, a central point of radiance, to embrace Venice, a city of openness, in a connection between East and West. Two voyagers, an Arab (Ibn Batutah) and a European (Marco Polo) perfectly represent each city and the dialogue we encourage between cultures.

The theme of La Biennale di Venezia 54 Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte is ILLUMInations, and after only one day I have enough material to write 1000 posts. There are 28 permanent pavilions inside the Giardini used by 30 owner countries, who are considered permanent participants; the permanent participants can do whatever they like; there is no need to pay attention to the theme so each country is operating on their own, just like little independent nations. However, over at Arsenale, and at various other venues around Venice, there are many more countries who have asked to be invited, and who are equal participants, bringing the total of the Participating Counties up to 89 -- here for the first time is the Principality of Andorra, Saudi Arabia, People's Republic of Bangladesh and Haiti. Others have returned after a long absence: India (1982), Democratic Republic of Congo (1968), Iraq (1990), Republic of Zimbabwe (1990), South Africa (1995), Costa Rica (1993, then with IILA) and Cuba (1995, then with IILA). So, it is sort of like there is a G30 group of nations in one section, and a X59 group of nations everywhere else. (I just made that up, "X59," for Shadia's X factor:). There is an entirely different energy among the X factor nations, which might be called illuminated -- the current is open and flowing, not contained behind definite walls.
Yesterday at the press conference, Paolo Baratta, the President of La Biennale, explained that in 1999, a new form of Biennale Art was introduced, and a curator was nominated to oversee the international Exhibition. Now, in 2011, we are in the 7th year of the new system, which might explain the difference in energy that I am feeling. So, back in 1999, after 116 years, everything changed with the introduction of the curator. This year's curator is Bice Curiger of Zurich. Paolo Baratta: "I mention the importance of the curator's role and the responsibility invested in him (her). The curator must have an open eye, an independent spirit, generosity towards the artists, a strict capacity for selection and great faith in that mysterious goddess quality: an open view of the world. The world recognises these qualities in Bice Curiger. With her, we have gone back to Zurich. We began with Harald Szeemann, in 1999. Some friends describe these twelve years of La Biennale as "the happy journey from Harald's beard to the cherry red of Bice's lipstick."
The year 1999 was also the first year that I started working with La Biennale, so I am like a microcosym of the macrocosym that is Biennale. After twelve years, the energy this year feels like a "glow." Two years ago, in 2009, there was so much destruction and chaos deliberately inflicted into my life that I did not even go to the preview, though I did manage to whiz into the Biennale in July. This year, I feel full of energy and enlightenment. Paolo Baratta said that when a country is facing difficulties they want to be part of the World of Art. He said that Haiti, Chile and Egypt wanted strongly to be with us. He also said that we are proud to have China with us, and has personally written a letter to the Ambassador saying it would be nice to have happy news about Ai Weiwei very soon. In fact, everyone is walking around with bright red "Free Ai Weiwei" tote bags. He said that for the next six months Venice welcomes this great mass of vital Energy that comes with the Biennale, and we are waiting for people from all over the world to arrive in the spirit of pilgrimage to experience what artists bring and give to us.
More from Paolo Baratta: "At a time when art has for some time ceased its emphasis on the provocations of anti-art, we are looking means of communication between the artist's work, our look and our spirit; we want to understand and to feel that added extra that art generously gives us and whispers to us, we want illumination as visitors, as lovers of art, as individuals and as members of the human community.

And let there be Illumination!"
Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog
*I had originally written "each to wash an apple. I must have had Adam & Eve on my mind:) Plus, after I originally posted this, I had to clarify genders and nationalities -- one of the beautiful problems of La Biennale is everyone is so international and without borders that it is often not clear.