I’m feeling very sophisticated while I sup my beer in the sunshine beside a canal contemplating art installations. While the rest of the ArtWorld ™ are lording it up in Venice for the start of the 54th Biennale this week, squeezing onto overcrowded vaporetti and dodging the rain, I’m in the relatively civilised Northamptonshire countryside nailing some details for a vast installation I’m doing here as part of Flow in the summer.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Venice biennale. I love the crowds and chaos of opening week and never-ending supply of parties. For an artist who spends most of their time tucked away on the side of a mountain, it’s a unique opportunity to meet and mingle with other artist and curators from all over the world. There’s a lot of art there, and by the law of averages, some of it is actually quite good, but on the whole it’s all about networking – meeting new people, seeing new artists as well as catching up with random people you never get round to hooking up with back home. Everyone’s there – or so it seems.
Two years ago I was in the heart (and heat) of it with another installation spread over the lagoon. Although it nearly killed me, was about the most painful project I’d ever done (so no link) and it wasn’t really the piece I wanted to do, if I’m honest, I’d probably still do it again. It’s not the city that’s the draw – there are far better cities in the world. It’s the doors that doing something there for even a week in June can open up like no where else. If it wasn’t for an Arts Council curators’ trip in 2005, most of the big pieces I’ve done since probably wouldn’t have happened. And that’s not an exaggeration.
Still, back in Northamptonshire I’m getting there with the installations. Originally the piece – NeneNine – was to be in the river Nene for a couple of weeks as part of the Flow programme. However, things are seldom as easy as they seem and for technical reasons we’ve had to delay the install until September and reduce the time to just 4 days – and even those are weather dependent. That’s left a big hole in the programme for August and a shorter exhibition period. Then up steps the wonderful British Waterways who have offered the canal network in the county as a venue with lots of enthusiasm. Not wanting to show the same piece twice, I’m now devising a new version of the Nene piece specifically for the canal. It’ll still be based on the Spires of Northamptonshire, but a little more ‘narrowboat’ in build and overall aesthetic. Besides, canals here are only 3ft. Deep and hardly flow at all. With less logistical issues I can spend more time developing and refining the piece. So much easier to float an artwork on our lovely canals than the river Nene or even the Venetian Lagoon.