Thinking about things that compel us as humans in one way or another – the work ethic, the need for order, physical survival, lust and greed, mythology and religion, spirituality, humanity and identity.

Having heard Antii Laitinen talk about his Venice Biennale project a while back it was great to see it in the flesh.

Antii Laitinen

Antii Laitinen

All his work takes hours of patience, these woodblocks have hundreds of nails hammered into the surface.

In 2011 at the Venice Biennale a large tree fell on the Finnish Pavilion. This disaster has given inspiration to this years exhibition ‘Falling Trees’.

Antii Laitinen

Antii Laitinen

Laitinen felled 100sqm of forest, tore the roots from the ground and removed the covering layer of soil from the area. After this, he started to sort the materials into constituent parts and finally to assemble the material into a carefully composed area for photography.

Antii Laitinen 'Forest Square'

Antii Laitinen ‘Forest Square’

Inspired by the philosophy of Piet Mondrian  – “I construct lines and colour combinations on a flat surface, in order to express general beauty with the utmost awareness. Nature (or, that which I see) inspires me, puts me, as with any painter, in an emotional state so that an urge comes about to make something, but I want to come as close as possible to the truth and abstract everything from that, until I reach the foundation (still just an external foundation!) of things… I believe it is possible that, through horizontal and vertical lines constructed with awareness, but not with calculation, led by high intuition, and brought to harmony and rhythm, these basic forms of beauty, supplemented if necessary by other direct lines or curves, can become a work of art, as strong as it is”

Sorting the forest and the layer of peat in a factory hall took several months. The sorted forest takes exactly one hundred square metres of space, just like the original patch of forest.

The process of photographing the composition proved challenging, and the final work of photography consists of over 60 photographs needed to show the smallest of details. The two other images in the triptych show the forest area before and after the clearing.

This work characterises Antti Laitinen work through it’s craftsmanship, concrete thinking, repetition, the coexistence of exhausting persistence, the transience of the blink of an eye and tragicomedy. The viewers find themselves questioning the rationality of both their everyday use of time and the society around them.

Outside the pavilion is a small Frankenstein forest. Laitinen has himself felled and chopped a number of trees into small logs which he then fits back together into a tree with hammer and nails. The construction of the  trees is both performance and installation.

Antii Laitinen

Antii Laitinen

“The working method is like when you’re putting a puzzle together and can’t find the right pieces, so you force them in place anyway. Fun and comedy are important in my work. There isn’t always much sense in making the work, but I do it anyway”  Laitinen.

Antii Laitinen at Finnish Pavilion

Antii Laitinen Finnish Pavilion

Norays Kaspar also looks at work and purpose, exposing the human cost of a life spent in effectively futile labour.

Norays Kaspar

Norays Kaspar ‘What is to be Done?’

The exhibition “Steel-Lives, Still-Life” is inspired by the remnants of post-Soviet industrial legacy in Armenia.

It attempts to give form to the loss of relevance of both machine and man. Vast expanses of desolate and abandoned buildings trace the tale of a once vibrant industry. Inside those still surviving factories, are the portraits of workers, in age-old canvas uniforms, still tending to the odd machine in dim light and textured shadows of rust and grease.

Pawel Althamer made an impact with a cavernous space peopled with life size sculptures, sitting, standing, not really interacting – like a railway station concourse frozen in a Pompeii moment of destruction. These bodies are shredded yet the faces remain intact, eyes closed in repose.

Pawel Althamer 'Venetians'

Pawel Althamer ‘Venetians’

They are the faces of the city cast in plaster, Venetians rendered grey and mummified.

Pawel Althamer 'Venetians'

Pawel Althamer ‘Venetians’

Human frailty of another kind is explored by Vadim Zakharov for the Russian Pavilion.

This is all about seduction – lust and greed –  and the corruption of money.

Russian Pavillion

Russian Pavillion

A young man sits astride a saddle on a beam high up in the eaves, shelling and eating peanuts and disdainfully tossing the husks to form a growing mound on the floor.

Vadim Zakharov 'Danae'

Vadim Zakharov ‘Danae’

We women re-enact the seduction of Danae as we enter a darkened space and look up to the heavens to be showered with gold coins while the men survey us from the balcony.

Under the protection of an umbrella we collect handfuls of coins and place them into a bucket which is drawn up and emptied onto a conveyor belt to send the coins on their cyclical journey skywards to cascade once more.

Vadim Zakharov 'Danae'

Vadim Zakharov ‘Danae’

Zakharov aims to demonstrate the contemporary relevance of mythological personifications.

Sex, greed and the corruption of money are still at the heart of our failings. Our gods haven’t changed.

Russian Pavillion

Execution chair of love

Robert Crumb has produced work on a biblical scale. He has spent 5 years illustrating all fifty chapters of the book of Genesis and turned it into a graphic novel.

Robert Crumb

Robert Crumb

Overwhelmed by the number of illustrations on display coupled with the vast array of other work in the Central Pavilion to be viewed in a limited time mega work doesn’t get the attention I would have liked to have given it.

I would like to have the time to follow the story through, it would be relevant to my thoughts at the moment about the origin of religion.

Prabhavathi Meppayil’s work is al about surface, quiet and calm and the human touch of tradition and craft which can inspire meditation.

Prabhavathi Meppayil

Prabhavathi Meppayil

Copper, silver and gold wire is embedded in thick gesso giving a cool look of stone revealing flashes of shine like seams of precious metals or water rippling, gently breaking a still surface.

Akram Zaatari presents ‘Letter to a refusing Pilot’ for the Lebanon Pavilion. This is a moving story about justice, nationalism, belonging, rebellion and humanity explored through film and video.

1309 Akram Zaatari 2

What the artist grew up believing to be an urban myth turned out to be a true story and he was able to meet the figure of local legend 40 years after the event.

Akram Zaatari Letter to a Refusing Pilot

Akram Zaatari Letter to a Refusing Pilot

There are parallels to the story told in Lucy Kirkwood’s play Chimerica about ‘tank man’ the anonymous lone hero who stood for justice in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square. The tank driver refused to shoot the protester and lost his own life as a result and ‘tank man’ was shot anyway. The identity of  those involved at Tiananmen Square was never discovered but in Lebanon through a series of chance encounters over many years the pilots identity is revealed as Hagai Tamir. In 1982 he was an Israeli pilot sent on a bombing campaign to Lebanon but when he saw the target for his bombs was a high school he passed over the building and dropped the bombs in the sea. Unfortunately a colleague followed up and bombed the school anyway rendering Tamil’s refusal futile yet still resonant for its humanity.

I thought the writing of Santu Mofokeng in The German Pavilion at the Biennale was interesting, about ancestors and memory.

‘Who needs ancestors? This is a question of belief and of religion, one is compelled to suppose – but is it? Marx’s remark about “opium for the masses” resonates. Religious extrusions are everywhere on the landscape, both virtual and real. Ancestors lived here once and their signature masks and accoutrements are sometimes preserved and coveted to attract tourism. Marx notwithstanding, many people will tell you that you are nothing without a past, or that you are not “together” without belonging. Another issue is the matter of national and quasi-religious holidays and monuments and memorials and anniversaries, so coveted by governments and politicians to dust up waning popularity and to mesmerize crowds.

I write elsewhere that nothing forces a backward glance like a threat. The Chinese say that our body is the memory of out ancestors. This is an omninous proposition since apartheid is an impossible ancestor, inappropriate and unsuitable. Whenever we come under threat we remember who we are and act accordingly. The word “remember” needs elaboration. Re/member is a process by which we restore to the body forgotten memories. The body in this case is the landscape – on whose skin and belly histories and myths are projected – which is central to the forging of national identity.

When I see air turbulence my sister sees a snake. As a photographer I hunt for things ephemeral, such as shadows, in order to creat things. Interpretation I leave to the beholder.’

Sakti is an understanding of Hindu origin which has become integrated into Indonesia’s local cosmology, it denotes a strong creative energy, it is divine and indestructible.

Indonesian Pavilion

Indonesian Pavilion

This basic creative principle is the capacity for achievement beyond mere human ability.
Artists Albert Yonathan Setyawan, Entang Wiharso, Eko Nugroho, Rahayu Supanggah, Sri Astari and Titarubi have contributed to the theme of the Indonesian Pavilion.

Some work I have on the go at the moment touches on these ideas of compulsion – things we are drawn irresistibly towards.

I have added a beam of light with a relief plate to a collagraph from the garage gates series.

1309 Compulsion

Moths to a flame. Drawn towards the light. Not necessarily the safest option.

1309 Moths

These moths will be transferred onto fabric and appropriately burned on to the collagraph surface.