Still pushing the boat out: The Venice Art Biennale is the wackiest cultural show in the world

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

But in an age of austerity many of the works have a serious side. David Lister on politics and partying at the pavilions.

Remember the paradise island of Tuvalu, the small Commonwealth territory where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge danced in native costumes during the Jubilee tour last year? Tavalu's entry for the Venice Art Biennale next week will see artist Vincent J F Huang raising awareness of the climate crisis engulfing the island with his massive oil pump interactive/slaughter machine. People fill up for "petrol" while simultaneously "guillotining" Barack Obama's head.

William and Kate must regret missing a sneak preview of that one. Or maybe not.

Eat your heart out, Jeremy Deller. Whatever the former Turner Prize winner gives us as Britain's representative is unlikely to be quite as stomach-turning, sorry, artistically challenging, as that. Deller's work, like most of the national entries, is being kept under wraps until next week.

But enough can be discovered about some of the national pavilions to give a flavour of what is generally the wackiest, wildest and at the same time most political cultural show on Earth. It's hard to know whether the New Zealand pavilion is political. Its artist Bill Culbert will have an installation that includes second-hand tables and chairs – seemingly being lifted and spun through space – each one pierced by a single fluorescent light bulb. Perhaps it is the fact that they are second-hand that is the political statement. Age of austerity and all that.

A genuine insight into the age of austerity will be offered in the Greek pavilion. The artist Stefanos Tsivopoulos has made a film showing how the economic crisis has affected ordinary people in Greece, leading on to an exploration of the role of money in the formation of human relationships.

His film includes an African immigrant who wanders the streets of Athens pushing a supermarket trolley and collecting scrap metal to sell, and an art collector with dementia, who, living alone in a museum-like house, is consumed with creating origami flowers using euro banknotes. It is likely to offer a poignant and introspective look at the national psyche, though thankfully not as introspective as the American pavilion a few years ago when video artist Bill Viola showed a film of his good self in the shower, on continuous loop.

Only slightly more grotesque is the Macedonian pavilion this year, in which Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva will present an immersive installation using 907,000 silkworm cocoons, 700 albino rat skins and four live rats to reflect on the movement, migration and impact of medieval plagues through Western Europe and contemplate current concerns about international migratory diseases.

Great attention will be focused on the Chinese political dissident Al Weiwei who will have an installation in Venice. But the Venice Biennale has always been highly political, from the revolutionary art of the Sixties, which is still talked about, to the fact that in the 1930s the Biennale was run from the office of Sgnr Mussolini, which is never talked about.

The Biennale has long been acknowledged as the most important anywhere for identifying new trends in art, and the countries that are leading the field. It will also see the not always very dignified sight of the art world at play with numerous parties, receptions and a frenzy of networking. On top of this there will be more discreet soirées in beautiful palazzos where leading gallery directors, including the Tate's Sir Nicholas Serota, have in the past wooed wealthy patrons, and will no doubt do so next week.

That is a sign of the times, even if the setting of the Biennale is rooted in a different time, indeed in a time-warp. It has taken place for more than 100 years in national pavilions in the Giardini, vast gardens a couple of vaporetto stops from St Mark's Square. Enter these gardens and you enter a different century.

For the way the pavilions are laid out reflects the world of more than 100 years ago. Thus, the British pavilion is splendidly sited at the top of the Giardini, while the American pavilion is out on the edges. China doesn't get into the park at all. The British can hold their heads up in Venice every other June. Mind you, with Scotland and Wales both mounting exhibitions outside the Giardini, the use of the word British in the British Pavilion is increasingly questionable.

Wales's Bedwyr Williams's will take over a 16th-century church to pay homage to the world of amateur astronomy and personal heroes such as Phil Shepherdson, who built his own telescope out of baked-bean cans. Scotland will also celebrate national talent with three fine artists, who have all studied at the Glasgow School of Art, Corin Sworn, Duncan Campbell and Hayley Tompkins.

They and Deller will certainly not be the only British artists with work to be seen in Venice. A major exhibition will celebrate the work of Sir Anthony Caro, Britain's greatest living sculptor, in the historic setting of one of Venice's most celebrated museums, the Museo Correr. The exhibition will include seminal large steel works such as Red Splash (1966), Garland (1970), and Cadence (1968), as well as more recent sculptures. And for those with stronger stomachs, Marc Quinn will have a site-specific installation specially adapted for the island of San Giorgio titled Evolution – a series of 10 monumental flesh-pink marble sculptures representing foetuses at different stages of gestation.

The Biennale will throw up its imponderables that become must-sees. It's not entirely logical that the Nobel prize-winning South African novelist JM Coetzee should be co-curating the Belgium Pavilion, but the sculptures of Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruyckere combine a poetic beauty and brutal realism, which means that the work will be likely to make for rewarding viewing.”

But who can pretend they are just going for the art? There will be parties galore, There may not be one to rival that put on by Bloomberg a few years back, when the magnate simply bought up an uninhabited island near Venice, ferried guests out in a boat laden with champagne, and watched their jaws drop as they disembarked on the island with fairy lights illuminating the way across it. The Americans usually hold their party at the Peggy Guggenheim museum, a wonderful venue where you can step on to the rooftop terrace and see the view that Canaletto saw.

But, as it happens, one of the hippest shindigs next week well be that thrown by Wales. Entertainment will be provided by synth-pop duo Neon Neon – Gruff Rhys, of Super Furry Animals, and the producer Boom Bip. They will be joined by another local hero, singer Cate le Bon and... an Italian yodeller. As one tends to say quite a lot at the Venice Biennale, "don't ask."

Venice Art Biennale (labiennale.org) 1 June to 24 November

Arts and Entertainment
Tate Modern chief Chris Dercon, who will be leaving to run a Berlin theatre company
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Tasos: 'I rarely refuse an offer to be photographed'
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Girls on the verge of a nervous breakdown: Florence Pugh and Maisie Williams star in 'The Falling'
Film
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence