Wu Jian’an in Venice: Taking a river boat to the China Pavilion

TEXT:Sue Wang    DATE: 2017.5.10


It is the first time for Wu Jian'an to come to Venice, he arrived in the city and searched for accommodation during a rainy midnight, and he was very worried about falling into the sea because there are no railings and even now he still has a lingering fear. The world profiteers are all bad. His first breakfast in Venice was deceptive, which has made him brood. However, Venice is beautiful in general, because there are art from around the world, hundreds of years of precipitation of history and culture, and also the social humanity which is difficult to see elsewhere, for example, the “river boat” is the main bus system. Now we will follow Wu’s footsteps starting from his residence going to the China Pavilion in Venice.

Wu Jian’an is entrusted by CAFA ART INFO, to serve as the front journalist, and he will continue to send back front-line stories happening in Venice...


Venice is really a water city

Came to Venice …

On April 27, 2017, I took a flight to Venice to participate in the installation of the exhibition from Beijing, and we arrived in the middle of the night local time. The city of Venice has a typical Mediterranean climate, but it rained that day, I was so tired as I tried to find my accommodation in the heavy rain. It is the first time I had come to the city and I find the alleys were much narrower than I imagined, and the houses all looked the same, so it was difficult to separate them at night, and the Italian words were so long to spell, so with difficulty we finally found ourresidency at 12 midnight, it is a place called “Volunteer Night”.

It is one thing that I find very difficult to understand as to why Venice is a water city, but there are no railings around the shore, so it is too dangerous to walk around at night. People say that the water level will rise in the winter, and cover the shore and then this city is really covered by water.


There are no railings on the shore, so that it is easy to fall into the sea.

We live in the vicinity of Piazza San Marco, which is not far from the China Pavilion and I walk to the pavilion in just ten minutes, which is quite convenient, there is not a car in this place, vehicles burning petrol are basically used for transport and people mainly travel by boat or bicycle.


Naval History Museum in Venice

This little yellow building is the place where I live, and in fact the accommodation conditions are very good, especially as I can see a bay from the window and it is interesting to enter the building, the little alley on the right is very narrow, which is probably only one-meter wide, along with this little alley, the stairs to the upstairs are really narrow, and the narrowest place is even smaller than the palm of my hand.


Tap water on the street can be drunk

On the ground floor there is a little restaurant, and my first breakfast in Venice was deceptive as at this restaurant scrambled eggs cost twenty euros, which makes me brood. When I told the restaurant next door about this, they said it was evil, and expressed sympathy for me.


I live in a little yellow building, and I was deceived by a little restaurant on the ground floor, as scrambled eggs cost me 20 euros.

Taking a boat in Venice is like taking a bus in China, it is also composed of a few lines and these river boats are very smooth and steady, which might be because there are a large number of islands, which does not make a stormy sea and it is even safe for the elderly boarding and getting ashore. Of course, there are water taxis, but they are particularly expensive, and the starting priceis fifty euros.


River boats in Venice

Go to China Pavilion...


Map of the pavilions


It is a relatively wide alley at the entrance to the arsenal thematic exhibition, the China Pavilion, the Italy Pavilion, and the area seems to contain some other national museums, which I can’t figure out, because we are next to the Italian Pavilion, I often visit it and learn about it.


It is the entrance to the thematic exhibition, China Pavilion and Italy Pavilion.


At the entrance we have to pass an inspection, and exchange a passport for a work permit. I take a yellow work permit, which is for the staff of the national pavilions, while blue work permits are for the thematic pavilion, which are separated.


Opposite the entrance of the arsenal there is the Macao Pavilion and Hong Kong Pavilion.

We walk through this long alley every day, all of these exhibition spaces are made up of red bricks, while some are heavily weathered, we feel they are at least two or three hundred years old, so they are really cultural relics, and the size of these bricks are a little bigger than ours.


Long alleys


The China Pavilion was originally the place for storing oil, so there is a big tube,and more than 100 meters apart from our pavilion there is the sea wall, and I do not understand why the arsenal is close to the sea, if the enemy warships fire, it suddenly hits the oil depot?


The walls in Venice

It is a kind of sea wall with the same structure of crenel, which is similar to the Great Wall. But it is just a wall, it is impossible for people to patrol and defense, if one really wants to go up, he needs a long ladder, so I am not particularly sure what the function of the sea wall is, at least it isn’t engineered for defence like the Great Wall.


The buildings of arsenal are really old, but this ageing is different from our old temperament. We will refurnish it when our house is as old as it, but the old buildings retain a special feeling, and people try to protect this state of aging in Venice.


After passing through this thematic exhibition hall, the ground becomes another form, with a thin road covered soil, which is covered by detritus, when people walk around they will kick away the detritus, so they regularly re-pave it with new detritus. It might also be a special requirement for this place, because it often rains, it often seeps down.


Workers began to pave the road with detritus, in order to improve for the opening ceremony.


I think it is an interesting place, and I daily pass this way, but I still do not know whether it is a thematic pavilion or a national pavilion. On the wall there is a beautiful stone lion head as decoration while also using white stones to make an arched window frame, with very thick steel bars creating a support structure in the interior, to reinforce the wall in this way, maintaining it. In fact, there is only a little room on the left, if the wall falls down, the whole road will be suppressed, so it is dangerous.


Walking along the dangerous road, it becomes open, there is a small port, where a female artist who started working here when we started, she is not old, and her works are balls grinded by huge stones, which are like celestial planets, and under the balls there is a strange voice. At the beginning, I thought that the stone balls were able to turn, and I also asked her whether they could turn, but she said: “Oh, it is thing that I should consider for the next step”.


It is also an interesting building structure, and also on the road to the China Pavilion, as it is close to us. This place may have originally been a shipyard, now an artist installs some stones in it, which look like floating on the surface of the water, but it is different, sometimes, the waves move seaweed and other things to the coast, and these stones are covered in seaweed, while part of the residual seaweed remains on the stones. I have been in Venice for some time and suddenly I find that there are few wild dogs or wild cats, but many pigeons, and some water birds that look like trumpets, I see them pecking and eating small crabs in this place.


It is the entrance to the China Pavilion, and our door faces an open sea. Outside the garden of the China Pavilion there is an artwork, and I don’t know whether it is a work for the biennale or for the previous show, a lot of the brooms arestanding on the ground, next to the brooms, green grass grows, which is very interesting, I don’t know whether the artist also thinks that no matter how one industriously sweeps the ground, grass still grows under your eyes, which causes a vibrant effect.


Wu Jian’an, participating artist of China Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale

Text and photo by Wu Jian’an, translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO