Particular Rooms, Particular Moments

Posted by Helen Lloyd, Senior Educator Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

With my departure to Venice imminent, I’m trying to decide what I’m looking forward to the most. Memories of previous visits have flooded back and I’m excited to be reconnecting with the city. As a British art student, my first experience in 1989 fell a little flat. It was mid-winter, just at the close of the annual festival Carnevale, and Venice greeted me with biting cold, wet confetti-stained streets and cafes full of tired Venetians wearing dishevelled 18th Century wigs. My second visit in 2003, (New Zealand’s artist was Michael Stevenson with This is Trekka) came courtesy of the Whitechapel Galleries’ enlightened staff travel policy, and was a roller coaster ride of art-fuelled emotion: my first experience of the overwhelming cultural avalanche that typifies the Venice Biennale.

Reflecting on curatorial practice and the context a gallery space can evoke, the Tate’s Sir Nicholas Serota once wrote: “Our aim must be to generate a condition in which visitors can experience a sense of discovery in looking at particular paintings, sculptures or installations in a particular room at a particular moment”. The unique context provided by Venice and the intriguing architecture of its exhibition venues shape the experience of viewing work at the Biennale. The relationship of artwork to site is pertinent to Bill Culbert’s presentation in Venice, and I am eagerly awaiting my chance to experience it. These specificities of place and time, combined with our own particular perspective at any moment, make every experience of an artwork delightfully unique.

My last visit to Venice was in 2007, when I saw the sculptural installation, Aniwaniwa, by Brett Graham and Rachel Rakena, which was included in the Biennale collateral events. I viewed the exhibition from my northern hemisphere perspective. Issues of flooding and cultural loss dealt with by the work resonated with me and I felt them palpably within the context of Venice, the canal lapping at the door. A few months later I immigrated to New Zealand and was surprised to find myself reacquainted with the work in my new role of Educator at City Gallery in Wellington. It felt strangely like I had followed the work here to New Zealand. Newly appreciative of the local context for this collaborative piece, and its relationship with New Zealand’s cultural history, I was able to enjoy a different experience of it.

I return to the Biennale in 2013 as a New Zealand permanent resident accompanied by memories of my previous visits, and a long-term admiration of Bill Culbert’s practice. I wonder what this new personal perspective, combined with the particularities of time and place at the Instituto Santa Maria della Pietà will bring to my experience of Front Door Out Back?

Image credit: View of the Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal Venice. Photograph by Helen Lloyd 2007.