Naked displays of nationalism at opening of Venice Biennale

Steve McQueen makes waves as Britain's representative at arts festival

Ever since the Venice Biennale was launched more than a century ago it has become the world championships of the art world, with purpose-made pavilions built by nations to showcase their best works in a bid to win the top prize, the Golden Lion.

Yesterday, the most nationalistic art competition was back in town with a bang; the Danish pavilion was a gay haven filled with pretty men, graphic pornography and a mocked body of a middle-aged art collector floating face down in a swimming pool outside; The French had transformed theirs into a giant prison cell with flags; the Germans had filled theirs with kitchen furniture and a cat sitting on the top (courtesy of the British artist, Liam Gillick), while the New Zealand pavilion was opened by a Maori tribe replete with menacing grimaces and warrior attire.

But Steve McQueen, 40, the artist and award-winning film-maker representing Britain for the Biennale, which is administered by the British Council, offered the public a glimpse of the seedier side of the central garden where the competition has taken place since 1895.

In his 40-minute film shot in the middle of winter, called Giardini, McQueen depicts the Venetian gardens – normally awash with the glamour and glitz of cutting-edge art – as it is when the Biennale is not in town.

It depicts a derelict wilderness with abandoned buildings, scavenging dogs, overgrown fauna and a possible gay 'cruising' hang-out by night. McQueen said he wanted to show the other side of the Giardini, especially its illicit, nocturnal "happenings".

"When you go back in the winter, the Biennale site is like an abandoned graveyard. It's a parallel existence ... with its nocturnal happenings, maybe its drug dealing, and the other illicit things that happen in a public space," he said.

His film captures the American pavilion as a shabby looking building with its fire alarm going off, while he filmed scavenging dogs outside the Israeli pavilion and a gay cruise ship.

In showing this dark side of the biennale, McQueen said he wanted to explore the idea of nationalism that abounds in the biennale as 77 nations vye for the top prize.

He said of his filming of the American pavilion, which yesterday unveiled sculptures of disembodied heads and hands by Bruce Nauman: "[In the film] the American pavilion looks like a real façade, it was not particularly solid, it had boarded windows, there was a siren going off. It was derelict. But see it now (at the biennale) and its all new and shiny," he said.

But he denied the film was an outright attack on nationalism. "These lines are always blurred. The idea of nationalism is imposed on us. At certain moments, these lines are blurred, and sometimes they don't exist."

This is the first film McQueen has made since he won the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival last year – one of the film festival's biggest prizes for a debut feature film. The film, Hunger, was about the IRA hunger striker, Bobby Sands.

His work created one of the biggest waves at the biennale along with the Danish offering. This year, countries offering up their first shows are the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

For more information, see

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
‘The Late Late Show’ presenter James Corden is joined by Mila Kunis and Tom Hanks for his first night as host
Arts and Entertainment
Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat and Blackberry Wine, wrote a blog post attacking the app and questioning its apparent 'strong Christian bias'
Arts and Entertainment
Leading light: Sharma in London

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
Brooke Magnanti believes her reputation has been damaged by the claim
Arts and Entertainment
A large fire has broken out in London's historic Battersea Arts Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Orla Brady as Anne Meredith, MyAnna Buring as Elizabeth Quinn and Joanna Vanderham as Katherine McVitie in Banished
tvReview: Despite the gritty setting, this drama is as fluffy and soppy as a soap opera
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and co-director Richard Glatzer, standing, on the set during the filming of ‘Still Alice’ in New York
Arts and Entertainment
Great British Sewing Bee finalist Matt Chapple
tvReview: He wowed the judges with an avant garde dress
Arts and Entertainment
Driven to the edge: 'Top Gear' producer Oisin Tymon is said to have had a row with Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Nazi officer Matthias Schoenaerts embarks on an affair with married French woman Michelle Williams in 'Suite Francaise'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Prime movers: Caitriona Balfe (centre) and the cast of Outlander
Feasting with panthers: Keynes
Arts and Entertainment
Strung out: Mumford & Sons
Arts and Entertainment
Avant-garde: Bjork
Arts and Entertainment
Despite a decade of reform, prosecutions and convictions of rape has remained consistently low
arts + entsAcademic and author Joanna Bourke in warning to arts world
Arts and Entertainment
Electro Velvet, made up of Alex Larke and Bianca Nicholas, will represent the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
    Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

    Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

    A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
    Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

    Election 2015

    Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May
    Countdown to the election: Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear as the SNP target his Commons seat

    Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear

    The Chief Secretary to the Treasury didn’t forget his Highland roots in the Budget. But the SNP is after his Commons seat
    The US economy is under threat because of its neglected infrastructure

    The US is getting frayed at the edges

    Public spending on infrastructure is only half of Europe’s, and some say the nation’s very prosperity is threatened, says Rupert Cornwell
    Mad Men final episodes: Museum exhibition just part of the hoopla greeting end of 1960s-set TV hit

    New Yorkers raise a glass to Mad Men

    A museum exhibition is just part of the hoopla greeting the final run of the 1960s-set TV hit
    Land speed record: British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

    British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

    Bloodhound SSC will attempt to set a new standard in South Africa's Kalahari desert
    Housebuilders go back to basics by using traditional methods and materials

    Housebuilders go back to basics - throwing mud at the wall until it sticks

    Traditional materials are ticking all the construction boxes: they are cheap, green – and anyone can use them
    Daniel Brühl: 'When you have success abroad, you become a traitor. Envy is very German'

    Daniel Brühl: 'Envy is very German'

    He's got stick for his golden acting career and for his beloved restaurant - but Daniel Brühl is staying put in Berlin (where at least the grannies love him)
    How Leica transformed photography for ever: Celebrating 100 years of the famous camera

    Celebrating 100 years of Leica

    A new book reveals how this elegant, lightweight box of tricks would transform the way we saw life on the street and in fashion, on the battlefield and across the world