Exploring a City Through Art: The Venice Biennale

- Sophia L Pande
Art festivals across the world—from New York to Kathmandu—have moved beyond the four walls of the gallery by placing artistic objects in familiar places, making our home feel adventurous and new

Nov 12, 2017-

The Kathmandu Triennale 2017 (KT 2017), held in March this year, which used our city as its canvas, evolved from its two previous iterations as the Kathmandu International Art Festival (KIAF 2009, 2012). Among other things, by placing artistic objects in familiar places, KT had a way of making our home feel adventurous and new, giving them new perspectives, and invoking fresh ways of seeing and thinking.  


The ideal of art is to open our horizons, and lately, art festivals across the world have moved beyond the four walls of the gallery—From Kochi to New York, Basel and Kathmandu, cities across the globe are trying to mirror the most prestigious of festivals, the Biennale in Venice, which started in 1895, bringing millions of visitors to an already wildly popular tourist destination—a feat that every major city would like to emulate. 


The Venice Biennale this year, titled Viva Arte Viva (Long Live Art), curated by Christine Macel, the Frenchwoman at the helm of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, was an unabashed celebration of art and the artist—a refreshing, purposefully naïve approach to art at a time when everything around us is so very cynical. In many ways it is extremely satisfying to see such a celebration in a city that is practically immersed in all that is beautiful, almost to a point of brain saturation—showing that the curator and the city do not shy away from the immense legacy that the Biennale has to live up to. 


Too vast to describe in detail, the Biennale is split into two major venues, the Arsenale, which is the vast cavern of Venice’s historic, old arsenal storage, and the Giardini, or garden, which houses a central space surrounded by individual country pavilions in a lush garden that runs parallel to the coast of the Venetian lagoon. As with all major festivals, the artists and shows on offer are mind-boggling, infuriating, unnerving, good, bad, ugly, beautiful, and everything in between—walking away with even one or two installations that speak to you amid the brainstorm should render us grateful. 


But it is not just the art that Venice offers—with the help of the Biennale we are given the opportunity to discover a city again and provides another version of this storied city for the novice. Possibly one of the most dreamy cities in the world, it is enhanced, but also brought to earth by the work of hundreds of artists from around the globe.


It is no wonder then that people are now so enamored by  the art festival’s form. In addition to opening up yet another market space for the commodification of the arts, it is also a massive revenue earner for the city itself, by bringing  together of art, artists, and art lovers from around the world. 


There has been no comprehensive impact survey of what our local art festivals KIAF, KT and Photo Kathmandu—another brilliant crowd-drawer—have brought to the Valley, but even an eyeball estimate can show how much interaction they have created between locals, the larger community, visitors, tourists, and artists from in and outside the Valley. 


We have become more mobile in terms of real travel, but aided by the power of social media, we have become more and more insular, gradually drifting towards the solipsistic lure of our devices. Lost in our own constructions of identity, we hardly look up to see the world. 


While both Venice and Kathmandu have their fare share of selfie-sticks and selfie takers, here in our Valley, we also have age old storied repository of Buddhist, Hindu and Animist cultures, and have much to offer to the visitor who comes searching for the transcendence that art can provide if we choose to engage.


Funded by sweat and tears of the organisers, KT and Photo Kathmandu are free and open to the public. Since Venice brings 20 million visitors annually, the Venice Biennale can charge what they please, but asking people to pay to view art in the Valley would hinder the widespread impact that the organisers desire.


We reap benefits from these festivals, but our challenge is to further invest in them—so that we continue to learn from them, while also using the festivals to improve tourism in the city. Over time, our own art community can progress and give back to the people that come to visit us, and for us, with every festival we can visit places that we may never go to otherwise–sustaining a phenomenon that was engendered by that first art festival, which will hopefully continue over the coming decades.  

Published: 12-11-2017 10:17

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