james debate
james debate

Sunday 26 June 2022

Are you surrounded by water? Is the sun shining? Does the year end in an odd number? No... but, let's pretend that it does. It can only mean one thing. It's time for the Biennale!

ephemeric venice biennale 2022 art
Every two years, or three in this most unusual of circumstances, the Venetian Lagoon becomes the centre of the artistic community for six months. Quite why it was determined that the intense lagoonal humidity made an ideal setting for enjoying fine art in large crowds is lost to time, but it doesn't matter. All the big names in the world of art are here. So, after a late morning cicchetti and a quick vaporetto from the Zattere, we find ourselves at the Arsenale.

Superyachts line the canal as we approach the Giardini. Every corner of this town is burnished with special exhibitions and installations during this period, but it is here that one finds the main event: the national pavilions, permanent structures owned and managed by each of the participating nations, each housing the representative artist chosen by that nation's ministry of culture. 

There is much to see, more than can reasonably be done justice here. These are the highlights of what La Serenissima has to offer this year.

Republic of Korea

venice biennale korea 2022

Top of everyone's must see list at the 2022 Biennale is the Korean pavilion, exhibiting the work of Yunchil Kim. It's easy to see why, comprising a dazzling array of creations and machines that harmoniously blend the mechanical and biological. The centrepiece is Gyre (pictured), an undulating, mechanical snake-like contraption covered with articulated panels of iridescent fluid that honestly needs to be seen in motion to be appreciated. Other installations include a chandelier of liquid canisters, pistons and tubules that pumps Venetian water, a cascading tower of lights that reacts to subatomic particles, and a kaleidoscopic series of light-bending panels that uses special lenses to create a beautiful pattern effect around the movement of fluids. Korea's pavilion is a marvel both of engineering and aesthetics, a room of living, breathing sculptures that is everything a Biennale installation should be.


france biennale venice 2022

Taking a very different approach is Zineb Sedira's French pavilion. An ode to the activist filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s, the pavilion is transformed into a film set, an editing room and a screening room, with cameras even set up to allow guests to briefly appear on screen. As an immersive setting, this is quite interesting to explore, albeit somewhat undermined by the many thousands of other Biennale guest cluttering all of the show spaces, occupying what interactive elements exist.


malta biennale venice 2022

Another one that really needs to be seen to be appreciated, Malta representatives Arcangelo Sassolino, Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci, and Brian Schembri have created an installation that utilises induction technology to create a shower of molten steel droplets falling into cold water, before hissing and fizzling out of existence. This is, believe it or not, intended to be a kinetic reimagining of Caravaggio's The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. As a visual effect it is quite eye catching and oddly haunting, although I wonder if it would still be so without the ominous music playing over the room's speaker system.


venice biennale hungary 2022

This one you either love or hate. In this solo exhibition, Zsófia Keresztes uses tile mosaics to create some truly unique images. Moulded surrealist sculptures with an organic feel to them representing metamorphosis of the body. It's like someone tried to bring the imagery of Dali and Kafka to life in a Gaudi-esque form. Some people react with revulsion, others with fascination. In either case it's certainly worth seeing.


venice biennale austria 2022

With Austria's pavilion, Karola Kraus explores body consciousness through the imagery and tastes of our pop cultural history, drawing on the aesthetics of television, fashion and music to create a psychedelic dreamscape that. For something a bit lighter and more ironic, this is worth a look, as well as for its clear visual charm.


venice biennale uzbekistan 2022

Uzbekistan's pavilion is likely to fly under the radar somewhat, due in part to its location away from the main event space in the Giardini, but their Garden of Knowledge, created by Charlie Tapp and Abror Zufarov stands out to me as one of the more visually memorable spectacles. Floral sculptures and a fully reflective stainless steel floor create the illusion of walking on water in this most serene exhibition space (no shoes allowed though). There is something sublimely refreshing about this room, so long as you can get over the immediate sense of vertigo one gets from looking down.


venice biennale italy 2022

No round up of the different national pavilions can be complete without a mention of the home-team, Italy. By far the largest exhibition space, Gian Maria Tosatti has used the pavilion to reflect on the state of the nation and economic ennui. Divided into two sections, the first allows guests to explore a series of dusty warehouses filled with disused machinery and operational spaces, evoking the economic depression and stagnation that has become endemic. "The rise and fall of the Italian industrial dream". The second then turns to the balance of humanity and nature with "the destiny of comets", a dimly lit space filled with harsh, mechanical sounds astride a seemingly endless corridor of water, with the only visual landmark a series of moving, twinkling lights. Obtuse? Sure, but interesting.

The Central Pavilion

venice biennale central pavilion 2022

Of course, no visit to Biennale is complete without seeing the central pavilion, an expansive gallery space that features hundreds of different artists spread across multiple buildings. There's something for everyone, from fluorescing flowers to digitised cosplay that expertly blends computer and practical effects to create scenes that become difficult to separate reality from imagination. Precious Okoyomon has turned one gallery space into an expansive butterfly garden. Bogota-based artist Delcy Morelos turns another into maze of soil and farming equipment as a representation of cocoa and cinnamon farms. Most bizarrely, one room consists of a giant strange of what looks like human hair that fills the room. This one made me uncomfortable, not going to lie. The content here doesn't always succeed, but there's enough spectacle and ambition to justify the price of entry and make for an entertaining day out.


venice biennale other anish kapoor 2022

But Biennale extends far beyond the boundaries of Giardini and the Arsenale and worthwhile exhibitions can be found all over Venice. My pick this year was British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor, known for his ambitious, often surreal installations. This year he has taken up space in his own workshop at Palazzo Manfrin, as well as some gallery space at the Gallerie dell'Accademia. There are some old Kapoor favourites here. His wax catapult (unfortunately inactive here), his room of mirrors, and all manner of mind-bending optical illusions including recessed carvings that look to be floating and sculptures that appear 2D from some angles and 3D from others. Always worth a look.

So there you have a whistle-stop tour of this year's Biennale. This is, of course just a sample of all that there is to see around town this year. But for now, I need to find a place to cool off with a drink and some gelato. See you in two years' time!

Saturday 18 June 2022

So much noteworthy new music, so little time. Looking for a new jam? I hear you buddy. The summer is now upon us, and as such we will be doing the Spring Music Round-Up, a rough and ready summary of some of the most interesting new releases of the recent past.

Specifically we will be looking at the new albums from Arcade Fire, Father John Misty, Beach House, and Kavinsky. Let's dive right in.

"We - Arcade Fire" Album Review
Genre Rock

arcade fire we new album 2022We represents something of a comeback for Montreal alternative rockers Arcade Fire. That is not to say that their last album, Everything Now was bad, but when your discography to-date consists almost entirely of seminal, genre-defining records, expectations can be high.

If We doesn't quite achieve the heights of albums like Neon Bible or The Suburbs, it is definitely a step in the right direction, musically. My biggest criticism of Everything Now was that it seemed to be an album that put its concept on too great a pedestal, at the expense of the music. We, by contrast, is more melodic, more sincere in its songwriting. This is still Arcade Fire, so of course it is going to be political and full of social commentary. But for the first time in years, Arcade Fire seem to have tapped into that multi-instrumental musical talent that made their early work so iconic. Prime example being Lightning I, II, a song that sounds like it could easily have come from a Funeral-era Arcade Fire album.

Ostensibly written as a reaction to the pandemic and the current state of detachment we feel from society, to the extent that the album is even structured as two separate segments, I and We. It's possible that We may be trying too hard to be loved. The lyrics are clunky and lacking in subtlety, a complaint in common with their previous album. A great example of this is End of the Empire I-III, not a bad song by any means, but one which gets its point across in a rather artless and obvious fashion.

There is plenty to enjoy with We, and certainly you are unlikely to find a more ambitious rock album in 2022. But while the music is memorable, conceptually this album still feels like a bit of an imitation of Arcade Fire's more celebrated work.

"Chloë and the next 20th Century - Father John Misty" Album Review
Genre Jazz-folk

father john misty chloe and the next 20th century new album 2022Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty, has had quite a journey in recent years. From the side project of a Fleet Foxes band member, to hipster darling, to bona fide superstar. 

Tillman shows no sign of slowing his roll here, with Chloë and the next 20th Century, an ambitious genre-mash of an album that sees Tillman blend his usual folk stylings with some vintage-flavoured jazz and big-band. 

With Father John Misty, Tillman has always walked a fine line in songwriting between being brutal and raw, versus arch and satirical. He finds himself in funny form again here with dense and witty lyrics that meld the music's ostensibly mid-century trappings with contemporary subject matter; issues of race, women's rights, classism.

The vibrant Hollywood trappings make for an easy listen throughout, but particular mention needs to be made of the opening track Chloë, a delightful Cole Porter-esque jaunt about unrequited love, or the luscious Funny Girl. But if there is one standout track it has to be Q4, an irony-laced critique of the art-for-profit industry that skips along with its rolling harpsichord track.

It all reminds us of why we love Father John Misty and his music. The comedy, the tragedy, it's all here and with new musical experimentations, inventively composed. Definitely not one to miss.

"Once Twice Melody - Beach House" Album Review
Genre Dream-Pop

beach house once twice melody 2022 new albumBaltimore dream-pop duo Beach House are a band that have achieved a fair amount of notoriety in the indie music scene over the past decade. Known for their easy listening style and lush, intimate soundscapes, Beach House has followed in the well-worn tracks of those that came before, like a Stars, Broken Social Scene or Au Revoir Simone for the 2010s. They've had some hits. They've always been a pleasant, inoffensive group. With new album Once Twice Melody, Beach House are launching themselves into the stratosphere.

Once Twice Melody is their grandest vision yet. Bold, epic and "big" from the very first track. The music retains their dreamy, ambient style but with an added drive that allows the music to sink its teeth into the listener in a way that their earlier work rarely did. It's a work of far greater ambition that we've seen to date and one that establishes them firmly among the upper echelons of musicians working today.

Divided into four parts with 18 tracks total, this is also a longer album that we are used to seeing from bands in recent years. Yet it never feels long, so consistent is the stream of strong, memorable tracks. The duo of title track Once Twice Melody and Superstar is an opening salvo that any band would envy, and it follows quickly with RunawayOver and Over, and possibly the most impressive track on the album, New Romance. It's a remarkable string of music.

This is an album worth listening to, with great tracks, great variety, and consistency throughout. Top notch work and another reminder of why this band is so highly regarded.

"Reborn - Kavinsky" Album Review
Genre Synthwave

kavinsky reborn new album 2022 outrun zenithThere aren't many artists who can be credited with having invented a genre. But while it would be a stretch to say that Kavinsky truly invented the synthwave genre (he still owes much to his French House forebears, notably Daft Punk) his music has so come to typify the genre that the name of his first album, Outrun, is often used as an umbrella term for music and other media connected with this aesthetic.

For a while, it looked as though Kavinsky would take the iconic status of his debut and ride off into the digitised sunset (Outrun came out almost a decade ago at this point). But in recent years he had been teasing a return and in 2022 that has finally come to fruition with the release of Reborn

Fans of Kavinsky will certainly recognise the staples: a slickly produced paean to the music and film of the 1980s, cinematic in scope and content. But while Reborn is clear on its influences, it is by no means stuck in the past; often experimental in form and with a digital quality that is as futuristic as anything in the genre. 

But where Kavinsky's debut felt like a relentless livewire of energy, Reborn often feels somewhat more measured. The sound is fuller and more polished, but also slower and more introspective, sometimes bordering on balladic. At its finest moments, Reborn dazzles, but at other times it can come off as surprisingly bland and mainstream. Certainly there is nothing wrong with an artist trying to evolve his style, but Reborn is still very much at its best when it captures that energy, as with lead single Renegade and title track Reborn.

But the absolute highlight of this album is Zenith. Billed as a spiritual sequel to Kavinsky's most famous hit, Nightcall, this is the one track above all others that manages to successfully marry the new introspective approach with the wild exuberance of Outrun. An instant classic of brooding intensity and white hot saxophone solo. 

Kavinsky returns in strong form and with a level of polish that leaves us excited for what the future holds. While the album as a whole may not leave the indelible mark of its predecessor, it does contain some absolutely fantastic tracks that are not to be missed.

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