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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 June 2005, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
Stellar art at Venice festival
By Charis Dunn-Chan

Du Wenda and his UFO
Du Wenda's UFO refused to fly
Venice at night shines across its lagoon like a star in the Milky Way.

So it was somehow fitting that artist Olaf Nicolai has set his Biennale art in the sky. His work, Welcome to the Tears of St Lawrence, is an invitation to watch summer meteor showers.

Nicolai's booklet gives times and locations for the Perseids - also known as the tears of St Lawrence, in honour of the Roman saint's fiery martyrdom.

There is no need to visit Venice to see this show in the sky. German-born Nicolai gives times to watch the meteors from Pyongyang to San Francisco.

On the ground, the China pavilion was the star turn.

Home-made UFO

This year is the first time the People's Republic of China has officially sponsored its artists at the world's largest art event. The Italian culture minister was there to welcome their presence.

The artists on show offered works from traditional geomancy to a backyard-made spaceship.

The press went to watch the launch of the UFO, which had been assembled in the garden of the pavilion area by a group of farmers from China's Anhui Province.

Much was made in speeches of how this UFO could be seen to represent the trajectory of the Chinese economy in the 21st century.

It was worrying to think about the symbolism of the machine not making lift-off. It failed to fly, but the blades whirred, and there was great gust of noise.

Kao Chung-li with one of his animations
Kao Chung-li's animations have a strong political flavour

Elsewhere, national pavilions were also noisy.

Ed Ruscha in the USA pavilion and Gilbert and George in the UK venue drew long queues.

Ruscha's work was a double series of spare canvases depicting industrial and post-industrial landscapes.

London's Gilbert and George had taken images of the gingko leaf and patterned it across distorted visions of themselves.

The Korean pavilion featured 15 artists with different takes on an Asian society in transition. Miniature landscapes could be viewed a through a magnifying lens. A giant inflating and deflating fabric lotus flower nestled under trees.

The Czech pavilion offered interactive art - silver balls to kick around.

Political cartoons

The German pavilion had a scary moment for all with fake museum attendants circling visitors shouting in English: "This is all so contemporary."

The Hungarian artist Balazs Kicsiny was a total star. Modest, soft-spoken and utterly connected to his roots in a Hungarian mining community, his work was elegant, intelligent and visually enticing.

Out beyond the national pavilions there was much to see. Every venue was crowded with individual and groups of artists displaying their work.

Taiwan has a strong group of artists in Venice. Their theme, The Spectre of Freedom, was an interesting concept for a small island squeezed out of its international identity.

Kao Chung-li's hand-drawn cartoons poked fun at the big-power tactics of others in their various guises.

Lotus flower
A giant inflating Lotus flower was is one of the Korean highlights

Talented, humane and witty, Kao offered a strong political view through deceptively simple animations.

Word-play in his Chinese titles gave the game away.

A non-Chinese speaker needs to know the word beautiful in Chinese is also the word used for the name of the USA.

Anti-beauty in the title, with an image of a man looking at a cross and drawing a bomber, was one of the Biennale's most subtle critiques of great-power warmongering.

His fellow countryman, Tsui Kuang-yu, offered mischievous video works on how to survive in what he said was a "compressed environment". Golf in a public space perhaps? Or a chequered flag for commuters at traffic lights?

Night sky

The Arsenale offered the stunning spectacle of a chandelier made from tampons in shiny wrappers. The chandelier, a construct of 14,000 tampons, is the work of the Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos.

Overwhelmed by modern sensibilities, the only solution was a retreat to the past with a visit to the Gesuiti church in the Canareggio district. Here in the quiet, you can see Titian's masterpiece "the Martyrdom of St Lawrence."

The dark canvas shines. St Lawrence lies dying under a night sky on a grill of fire. His hand is raised to the light of the heavens.

Late July is when you can start to see his fiery tears.

The Venice Biennale runs from12 June until 6 November.


SEE ALSO:
In pictures: Venice Biennale
15 Jun 03 |  Photo Gallery
Ofili leads UK in Venice show
13 Jun 03 |  Entertainment
Art row mars festival debut
11 Jun 03 |  Wales
Dark visions at Venice Biennale
17 Jun 01 |  Entertainment


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