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Reflections on Venice


Over the past week, SCAN’s director Clare Harris has been to the Venice Biennale to support the opening of Charlotte Prodger’s new work with Scotland + Venice. Here she reflects on the visit and what the experience brings home about contemporary art in Scotland.

There’s something mind-blowing about the sheer volume of art on offer at the Venice Biennale. It’s the world’s first biennial art festival, and is still widely considered the most prestigious global gathering of contemporary visual art. Hundreds of thousands of visitors attend each year, between May and November. Among the opening week crowds, the iced espressos and the high-end sunglasses it was heartening to find Scotland; a beacon of collaborative working, genuine welcome and of course, brilliant art.

Scotland’s presence at the Biennale is made possible through a partnership between Creative Scotland, The National Galleries of Scotland and British Council (Scotland), The partnership has commissioned new work for Venice since 2003, with Zenomap, a ground-breaking project featuring new work by Simon Starling, Clare Barclay and Jim Lambie, and a host of events and activities by other artists, curated by Francis McKee and Kay Pallister. Since then, work from some of Scotland’s most influential artists, including Cathy Wilkes, Karla Black and Rachel Maclean, has been showcased at Venice, to significant acclaim.

This year, Scotland + Venice presented SaF05, a new single-channel video by the Turner Prize-winning artist Charlotte Prodger. The work was curated by Linsey Young with Cove Park. It is an ambitious and compelling film; its presentation was a culmination of months of hard work from the artist, but also from all of the people who helped to bring the event together. By the time I had left Venice, 2,000 visitors had already visited the Scotland + Venice site, in a new and accessible venue, in a former boatyard not far from the main Arsenale venue of the Biennale. Being there really brought home how vibrant and interconnected Scotland’s contemporary visual art community is; as the artist said on the opening night, it felt like ‘a wedding, only better’.

My takeaway from Venice was the strength, not only of the quality of contemporary visual art originating in Scotland, but of the community that produces it. But we know that this community is under a lot of pressure. It’s vital that we continue to work together to support the roots of this amazing output and that visual artists working in Scotland feel valued at all levels – at home and abroad.

Read more about SCAN’s partnership with Scotland + Venice’s Professional Development Project to support two exhibition assistants to attend the Biennale later in the year.

Charlotte Prodger’s film SaF05 is touring across rural Scotland this summer, from Stornoway to Shetland premiering at The Tower Digital Arts Centre in Helensburgh, Argyll & Bute on Thursday 27 June. See all the dates here