On Tuesday, Fiona Hall was announced as the Australian representation at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015. Eleanor Zeichner had a chat with her about making work for the new Pavilion building, and what she enjoyed at this year’s exhibition, which concluded on Sunday.
What are you most looking forward to in making work for Venice?
FH: When you’re offered the opportunity to be in an exhibition your mind starts to get to work, sort of spontaneously, on not only the conceptualisation of what you’re going to do, but the emotive aspect of what you’re going to do. I think the thing that I’m most looking forward to is actually getting to an end point where I feel I realise that in the physicality of the installation.
I think any creative person lives with their work fairly intensely. In the nature of something like this, where it’s an installation and especially where in my case it’s made up of a number of different works coming together and be configured to interact with each other, although they could be separated out again as individual works, and to get to that end point is important.
And like I said, the emotive potency of it, as well as the conceptualization, you do live with it really intensely to get to that point.
You’re using the new pavilion, which is an unknown or speculative space, in a way. How do you feel about the opportunity of coming in fresh and working in that space, which you’ve described as ‘the square’?
FH: I love the square. I love seeing the square on the plan. I also love seeing the new space at the MCA here in Sydney, which is not quite but almost identical … I’ve been in there a couple of times briefly recently and that’s been good, because I pretty quickly had some ideas in my mind about how I might structure the interior, going in there with a mental tape measure and seeing how the work will sit in the space.
I’m not fazed by the fact that the space does not yet exist. It’s a very simple design, and it’s based on a very pure form of geometry – the square – and it’s an easy space therefore for me to have in my mind. So often when one is invited to have an exhibition somewhere the space is largely abstract, even though the space exists it’s maybe not where you are. When I was in dOCUMENTA last year, I had a little house in a park, and I chose the dimensions of this little hut, but it was still a fairly abstract space.
I think as a visual person, I think artists are quite good at having the imagined space that they can work with.
I didn’t realise that you hadn’t been to Venice before…
FH: Except for 1976 when I did the grand tour in a decrepit Volkswagen van!
So will your experience of the city and of the Gardens be informing the work you make for the Pavilion?
FH: Not in any major way, there might be a couple of minor references. Nothing where you walk in and say, ‘This is responding to Venice!’ Looking at a few different strands of interest that I have, to do with of ways of engaging with the world, and of course Europe is a part of that mix and Venice being in a European country, but not specifically related at all.
And what were the things you liked at this year’s exhibition?
FH: I loved the curated show. I love so-called outsider art! There was some really powerful stuff there, very potent work. The two pavilions I really liked were the Belgian Pavilion, and the English one. Those were the two I found to be visually and conceptually very articulate. They were very different to each other but very resonant with the things they had to say. I responded very well to that. I loved the Fortuny museum also, and I’ve heard from other people that the previous exhibitions during the time the Venice Biennale is on were also fantastic.