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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 June 2005, 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK
Art goes digital at Venice Biennale
By Gareth Mitchell
Go Digital presenter

The BBC World Service's flagship technology radio programme, Go Digital, goes to the Venice Biennale for the latest in cutting edge digital art.

Skyline of Venice
Venice is playing host to cutting edge contemporary art
Fisherman Alberto Garbizza, a giant of a man opens his enormous lungs in a backstreet in Venice and spontaneously bellows out a serenade that could probably be heard the other side of Milan.

It is one of my more surreal moments as presenter of Go Digital and luckily our quick-fingered producer, Colin Grant, switches the recording machine on just in time to catch Alberto's inspired performance.

Singing fishermen, people dressed as space aliens improvising poetry over trance music and games arcades paraded as art are all part of Venice's Biennale International Art Exhibition.

The first Biennale took place in 1895 and since then, it has run every odd year, occupying a large chunk of land around Giardini in the east of Venice.

This week we have taken Go Digital to the Biennale to cover the ever increasing influence of technology in art.

Guide with a twist

Our friendly serenading Venetian fisherman opens the programme. He lives in the Arsenale region, one of the areas where the Biennale takes place.

Festival goers wishing to find out what goes on in Alberto Garbizza's neighbourhood in the months in between exhibitions can listen to him and other local characters talking and singing about their home on a multimedia tour.

Only, this is a tourist guide with a technological twist. Visitors are despatched with mobile phones equipped with Bluetooth and GPS.

Charming hand drawn maps on screen complement a colourful commentary interwoven with anecdotes and meditations from Alberto Garbizza and Arsenale's other charismatic residents.

The navigational technology on the mobile phone means that the guide structures itself around the route you choose to take as you walk around the area.

Manipulated images

We spent the weekend checking out the art at the Biennale. South African artist Candice Breitz's piece takes clips from famous Hollywood movies and shows them on a series of 12 screens in two rooms.

Go Digital presenter Gareth Mitchell
Gareth Mitchell is the face of Go Digital
The backgrounds have been blacked out, with just the actors' faces visible. The excerpts have been remixed, manipulated and mangled to produce a work of disjointed sentences and noises that oscillate between cacophony and near silence.

It is a great example of how the latest editing software offers artists a tool for creating work that would have been impossible in the pre-digital era.

Nearby, German artist Thomas Ruff's work, Jpeg consists of around 15 blown-up images from digital cameras.

From a distance you can just about make out what the images depict. Some are woodlands, others are cityscapes.

But move in closer, and you see how Ruff has deliberately produced very pixelated photos, drawing our attention to how computers construct digital images. Ruff invites the viewer to critique the modern era of digital images.

Technological challenges

Is all this stuff really art? Or just playing with technology for technology's sake?

That is all up for discussion in this week's Venetian special of Go Digital. We recorded the programme as live on Monday from a rooftop in Venice overlooking the Santa Lucia station, via satellite to Bush House in London.

It should have been a delightful way of doing the programme whilst enjoying the late afternoon sun.

But we had technological challenges of our own. A large clock tower blocked the signal from the strongest satellite.

In the end, we just about got a lock on another satellite and spent much of the programme keeping our fingers crossed that the link would hold up for the full 23 minutes.

Tune in and download our podcast to find out whether we got away with it and to join us for an artistic and technological guide around the art pavilions, canals and characters of Venice.

The Venice Biennale runs from12 June until 6 November.

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