GIARDINI by STEVE MCQUEEN, British Pavillion at the Venice Biennale.
A review by Rebecca Bell.
Amongst the many national pavilions of the Giardini is the British Pavilion, whose entrance sits at the top of a flight of steps between heavy neoclassical columns. When we arrive the steps are filled with people waiting to see the hourly screening of Steve McQueen’s film Giardini, inspired by the area of Venice where the Pavilion is situated. Official War Artist to Iraq, McQueen is known for his recent feature film Hunger. We are weary from a day of walking the pavilions, and the dark warm room is a welcome relief. The film begins with a rhythmic dripping of rain on pebbles apparently interspersed with damp confetti. McQueen filmed the gardens in mid-winter – the clean, sunny walkways we have just left filled with art tourists and expensive temporary cafes, is now shown in its off-season garb. The national pavilions – Israel, Venezuela, Spain – are boarded up. Lamps are hazy amongst grey trees, wild dogs scavenge in packs. Solitary men move about in the dusk and black of night. An Italian male profile is seen waiting, smoking a cigarette. A cruise ship passes in the background – we will see one just like it later in the day, a city on water, dwarfing Venice as it heaves its bulk to the mouth of the Grand Canal. Then, three quarters through the film, two men embrace in the darkness. We are left wondering what clandestine liaisons take place in these gardens, before we walk out in to the sparkling sun and camera laden Biennale visitors, dedicatedly following their maps in the name of Art.