Monday, 18 June 2018

The Russians are Coming! Exploring "The Explorers, Part One" at the V-A-C Foundation in Venice

Water door of Palazzo delle Zattere - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) The V-A-C Foundation in Venice just keeps on getting better. Founded in Moscow in 2009 by Russian billionaire Leonid Mikhelson, the non-profit is named after his daughter, Victoria, an art history graduate. Under the directorship of the delightful Teresa Iarocci Mavica, who is Italian, its core mission is to overcome cultural divisions. It is a platform for open discussions, as well as the development and international presentation of Russian contemporary culture.

Personally, I think it's refreshing, and can get lost in there for hours. With all the drama about Russia influencing everything in the world today, visiting the V-A-C Foundation is an opportunity to see with your own eyes how the institution chooses to present itself, and draw your own conclusions.

Last year, V-A-C arrived with a flourish at their Venice headquarters inside Palazzo delle Zattere, which had been restored by Venetian architect Alessandro Pedron, turning the 19th century palace into a space for exhibitions, events and residencies. The palace faces an impressive view of the Giudecca Canal, and now the garden in the back has been transformed into a very cool eatery called "sudest 1401," enhanced by a new installation entitled "Laguna Viva."

Sudest 1401 - Photo: Cat Bauer
I first tasted Hamed Ahmadi's exotic food back in 2013, so I am thrilled that his Orient Experience, inspired by the dishes of refugees, has teamed up with V-A-C to create sudest 1401. Born in Afghanistan in 1981, Ahmadi and two colleagues came to Venice in 2006 to present a documentary at the Venice Film Festival. They received threats from extremists, and couldn't return to Afghanistan, so they sought political asylum in Venice. From a refugee camp on the mainland, Ahmadi decided to organize a festival, and the festival needed food, so the refugees came up with dishes inspired by their journeys. After many years and a lot of hard work, their efforts culminated in the first Orient Experience restaurant. You can read more about Hamed Ahmadi and his fascinating journey at Vice's Munchies.

Sudest 1401 features traditional regional dishes from the Balkans, the Middle East and Sicily, and honestly, I am reluctant to tell you about it for fear that it will become too crowded. The menu "narrates the geographical and cultural journey undertaken by migrants on their way to Italy." It is open every day from 8am to 11pm, and has indoor seating at the rear of Palazzo delle Zattere, as well as outdoor tables in the peaceful garden -- which brings us to Laguna Viva.

Giles Smith & Jane da Mosto of Laguna Viva - Photo: Cat Bauer
Laguna Viva (Living Lagoon) is the first stage of a long-term strategy to enable Palazzo delle Zattere to engage with the complexities of everyday life in Venice. V-A-C Foundation commissioned London based collective Assemble Studio to develop a project for the garden and indoor area where sudest 1401 is located. Assemble asked We Are Here Venice, an independent organization passionate about Venice's challenges as a living city, to collaborate. Based on the successful experiment by Venice resident and WAHV Executive Director Jane da Mosto for the British Pavilion at the 12th Architecture Biennale, Assemble and WAHV have created an enchanting mini lagoon, complete with salt marshes, in two tanks inside the garden. It is really remarkable -- you can have a special meal, surrounded by the tranquility of the Venice lagoon, while actually sitting inside the garden.

You can read more about the project at Slow Words.

And now for the main show, THE EXPLORERS, PART ONE.

Rite of Spring from Marlinsky Theatre clip - Photo: Cat Bauer
I have always been fascinated by the stories I've heard about the premiere of Igor Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring, commissioned by Serge Diaghilev for the 1913 Paris season of the Ballet Russes -- especially because both men are buried here in Venice on the island of San Michele. Choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, it is subtitled "Scenes from Pagan Russia in Two Parts," and famously caused a riot at its premiere, which has been called "the most important single moment in the history of 20th century music."

Nijinsky's original choreography was forgotten by 1920, and was only reconstructed by Millicent Hodson in 1987. It is that choreography performed by the Marlinsky Orchestra and Ballet in 2007 that you can see inside Palazzo della Zattere. I must have watched the two climaxes -- Dance of the Earth in Part 1 and Sacrificial Dance of the Chosen One in Part 2 about four or five times -- I was reading Igor Stravinsky by Jonathan Cross in the next room under the wry eye of Andy Warhol's Cow, and dashed over to see the film when the pounding music compelled me to put the book down. Can you imagine such an environment? It was paradise!

Cow by Andy Warhol (1966) - Photo: Cat Bauer
Two artists and a curator explore masterpieces from the V-A-C Collection in The Explorers, Part One. Lynnette Yiadom-Boakye is a painter; James Richards is a filmmaker; Iwona Blazwick is the Director of Whitechapel Gallery, where the show was first seen in 2014-15. So the artists, who are part of the V-A-C Collection, are curating installations based on other works they found in the V-A-C Collection, and the curator is curating the curators.

And it appears that the V-A-C Collection has a lot of treasures to explore. Yiadom-Boakye's theme is "nature -- natural and unnatural," which is where the Rite of Spring and Cow come in, as well as plenty of other goodies. Within that installation is another video that riveted me, the Estonian artist Jaan Toomik's Dancing with Dad.  Toomik lost his father at the age of nine. As an adult, he visits his father's grave inside an Estonian forest, and lets loose to the wild wail of Voodoo Child by Jimi Hendrix. I was moved to tears.

Dancing with Dad by Jaan Toomik (2003) - Photo of video clip by Cat Bauer
On the second floor, James Richards' installation revolves around a single Francis Bacon work, Study for a Portrait, which he augments with a sound installation, To Replace a Minute's Silence with a Minute's Applause. Iwona Blazwick complements that installation with works by the likes of Renoir, Cindy Sherman and Giacometti.

Study for a Portrait by Francis Bacon (1953) - Photo: Cat Bauer
The V-A-C Foundation is not the only foreign organization in Venice with a dazzling collection to display. We have the French represented by François Pinault with his Palazzo Grassi and the Punta della Dogana, and the United States with its Peggy Guggenheim Collection. One big difference about the V-A-C Foundation is that it is free. There is no charge to enter Palazzo delle Zattere, nor the garden, and the food at sudest 1401 is very reasonably priced. A standard ticket for Palazzo Grassi + Punta della Dogana costs €18; the Guggenheim costs €15. So you can drop into the V-A-C Foundation whenever you like; read a book; sit in the garden; or watch the Rite of Spring over and again.

THE EXPLORERS, PART ONE runs through October 22, 2018. Go to the V-A-C Foundation for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. The V-A-C Foundation in Venice just keeps on getting better. Founded in Moscow in 2009 by Russian billionaire Leonid Mikhelson, the non-profit is named after his daughter, Victoria, an art history graduate. Under the directorship of the delightful Teresa Iarocci Mavica, who is Italian, its core mission is is to overcome cultural divisions. It is a platform for open discussions, as well as the development and international presentation of Russian contemporary culture.

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