Sunday, August 17, 2014

Dublin Biennial vs Florence Biennale score: 7 : 5

Ireland: 7
Florence: 5
In the second Dublin Biennial I was one of over 50 artists from 20 countries, compared to 450 artists from over 50 countries in the humongous 2013 Florence Biennale.  

Dublin was much more intimate, with activities focused upon the artists and ideas, and less on the event administrator, judges and awards.  The panel discussions also seemed better at Dublin.  This may be simply due to language:  In Italy almost all of the speeches, talks and discussions were solely in Italian, with no translators.  Plus, I gave a short talk and was a panel member in Dublin (i.e. a little biased) and the smaller audiences fostered more informal panel audience conversations. 

Dublin: 1, Florence: 0.

Two months ago, in June, it was sunny and warm in Ireland.  (Contrast to a wet and cold visit two decades ago when we cycled and free camped the length of the country-you have no idea how nice the first hot shower in Scotland felt!). 

Italy in December 2013 was bitterly cold and damp.  

Dublin: 2,  Florence: 0.

Both used a combination of invitation and selected from applications to create the group of exhibition artists.

Perhaps due to its smaller scale, the Dublin exhibition appeared artistically superior.  

I don't think any curators can really meaningfully ensure high artistic standards across 450 artists from 50 countries and dozens of languages, cultures and styles, and the Florence Biennale suffered for it.

Dublin: 3, Florence: 0.

The Florence Biennale organisers claimed that over 10,000 tickets were sold, but this vast audience number was inflated by many school and university group tours.  The Dublin organisers had neither the resources or past experience to organise this sort of thing.  Also, I saw a lot more media photos and stories about the Italian event.  

Dublin: 3, Florence: 1.

Art critic response to both events was difficult to find after the events, as neither organisers provided any copies of media and critic responses.  I only found a singular, mildly critical review of the second Biennial online.

Dublin: 3, Florence: 1.

Online artist criticism ignores the fact that many commercial galleries more discretely ask for an upfront fee, and/or high commission on all sales.  Similarly, given the number of artists invited and  that were involved over the many years in the Florence events, the number of online criticisms was quiet small.  Those who criticise it, without going, may also be rationalising their inability (due to resources and time) to participate.

The cost of hiring a space in any Art trade fair in Australia is similar.  However, when adding on airline tickets, hotel accommodation and lost income back home, both events were expensive.  However, to find new audiences, and to build global artist-to-artist networks, face to face contact is essential.  Only online interaction is a poor substitute, but a good complimentary activity.

Dublin: 4, Florence: 2.

What both have in common, apart from being biennial/biennale, is they are predominately artist initiated and funded, as opposed to government art bodies organised and funded events.  This makes them more artistic-centric rather than nationalistic contests.  Participants are obviously international in focus, well resourced, often PC and "art speak" incorrect, and all with a certain "fire-in-their-belly".  For someone like myself, who have spent decades within the warm comradeship of the ceramic making and exhibiting community, it is great to experience a similar ethos in a much wider art event.   

Dublin: 5, Florence: 3.

Perhaps the singular, most important benefit of these two events is the affect it has on your studio work.  To invest so much time and resources into presenting your work, provided me with the motivation to push my studio work much further and harder, than ever before.  There is a risk go "over-cooking" it, but for me the increase in size and other challenges I gave myself, resulted in an acceleration in its development.  The resulting work is quiet different and quiet exciting/scary.

Dublin: 7, Florence: 5.

 (apologies, this was written months ago but I neglected to post it immediately on my blog)

Crazy Creatives?

Vincent van Gogh, Self portrait with bandaged ear. 1889

I'm not convinced that great art requires madness, or, if you'll feeling crazy, then you will automatically become a great artist.

Both Aristotle and Shakespeare have the archetype of the mad genius.  Since then many have reinforced this idea, so it has now become a stereotype.

According to Nancy Andreasen, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist who has studied creativity for many decades:

"One possible contributory factor is a personality style shared by many of my creative subjects. 

These subjects are adventuresome and exploratory. 

They take risks. 

Particularly in science, the best work tends to occur in new frontiers. 

(As a popular saying among scientists goes: “When you work at the cutting edge, you are likely to bleed.”) 

They have to confront doubt and rejection. 

And yet they have to persist in spite of that, because they believe strongly in the value of what they do. 

This can lead to psychic pain, which may manifest itself as depression or anxiety, or lead people to attempt to reduce their discomfort by turning to pain relievers such as alcohol."

This is why I am intensely interested in the social networks in the arts, for social support reduces the psychological burden of constantly working at the cutting edge, on topics or areas of research which are either not supported or acceptable to the general public or government of the day.

Personally, I have actively sought to base my studio within an active artists studio, and a large community of visiting artists and studio class students (see

For a full history and empirical research into the perceived link between mental illness and creativity, I strongly recommend that you click on and read the complete article below: 

("Vonnegut’s brains tell us about genius and insanity" By Nancy Andreasen, The Atlantic June 28, 2014 )

(image source: 17/8/15 9:30am)


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