Given that this is the season on sparkly lights, it seems timely to remind myself about Joana Vasconcelos’s Trafaria Praia, the Pavilion of Portugal at the 2013 Venice Biennale. Part art installation, part ferry, this was an unusual space even for Venice. Vasconcelos transformed a Lisbon ferry into an installation that made regular tours of the lagoon. The boat was moored close to the exit of the Giardini – one of the two main Biennale sites and home to many national pavilions – but those who timed their visits right could take a short trip around the lagoon on the Trafaria Praia.
Given more time, I suspect I’d have enjoyed the trip well enough but the pressure of trying to see everything I want to at biennale is such that time based works are inevitably tricky and this is a city where being on land is the novelty so my visit to Trafaria Praia was restricted to visiting the boat at its mooring point. Until I boarded the boat I’d kind of forgotten about the excess of Vasconcelos’s work but, even if it’d been really fresh in my mind, nothing of hers I’ve seen before would have quite prepared me for this.
Cerith Wyn Evans, S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E (‘Trace me back to some loud, shallow, chill, underlying motives overspill’), 2010
Going back to work that transforms the space in an unexpected way, thinking about Martin Creed’s Work No. 227: The lights going on and off made me think about Cerith Wyn Evans’s S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E (‘Trace me back to some loud, shallow, chill, underlying motives overspill’) which I first saw at White Cube Mason’s Yard a couple of year ago and again recently in a somewhat pared down form at the extraordinary De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill in Sea.
The installation is a series of columns made of lighting filaments running though glass tube. The columns both form obstructions in the room and alter the light levels within it. More interestingly though they generate a huge amount of heat. And, as you may have guessed given the mention of Creed’s installation, they go on and off.
The whimsy of Noble and Webster’s use of shadows is witty enough but ultimately – for me at least – the work is unsatisfyingly slight. I enjoy it well enough at the time but the work never really gets under my skin. But shadow is a powerful force and it’s one that Mona Hatoum uses to really good effect.
In installations like Current Disturbance – which I saw at the Whitchapel Gallery in 2010 – Hatoum uses shadow as a meaning force. The bare lightbulbs fade in and out and the crackle of an electric current gives a sinister edge to the changing light levels. The gridded structure – reminiscent of the cages occupied by battery hens perhaps – feels prison-like. The installation has an architectural feel, but if this is a city space it is a densely-populated and uncomfortable one.
The relationship between art and technology is a long and complex one and not something I want to explore in any depth today. In these works the means of production is there for all to see so I’ll use the simplicity of the work as a space for contemplation of the possibilities offered by low technology, in this case the humble overhead projector.