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Ai Weiwei: Art, Activism, and Technology

On April 5, Ai Weiwei: According to What?—the IMA’s latest featured exhibition—opened to the public. A major retrospective of the artist’s work, this not-to-be-missed exhibition includes examples from the broad spectrum of the artist’s practice, which encompasses sculpture, photography, video, and site-specific architectural installations, as well as the design for the “Bird’s Nest” stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Walking past some of the works in the show, visitors may be inspired to learn more about the man who created these pieces and the circumstances that drove him to do so. In conjunction with the exhibition, the IMA is employing new in-gallery technology to facilitate these inquiries and help audiences engage with the work of this extraordinary artist.


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Behind-the-Scenes at the U.S. Pavilion: Interview with the Athletes

We are now a few months into the Biennale and the Gloria installation at the U.S. Pavilion has maintained a consistently high level of attendance, with over 250,000 visitors since the opening.

Working from Venice for the past two and a half months, I had the chance to assist with the performances and meet some of the athletes. Two of them, Sadie Wilhelmi and David Durante, have kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about their experience at the Biennale.

Dave was a member of the USA Gymnastics team for six years, including a participation in the Olympic games in Beijing.  Sadie is a gymnast with extensive dance and circus background. Before coming to Venice, she performed as a freelance aerial artist with a company in New York and took part in other dance and choreography projects.

Here is what they have to say about their experience at the Venice Biennale:

How did you get involved in this project?

Dave: The IMA and USA Gymnastics are both in Indianapolis. When the project was selected, I was asked to participate based on my background and experience with the U.S. team. Besides performing myself, I am the athletes’ coordinator for the whole project and in charge of the logistics, including finding the performers and runners. I worked with the choreographer and performers who were selected to create the routines. We trained in New York for about four months before coming to Venice at the end of May.  I’ll be here in Venice for the entire run.

Sadie: I got involved through my friend Olga Kaminsky, who is good friends with Dave.

 How long did it take to create the choreography?

 Dave: The choreography took a little bit of time. Initially we did not have the sculptures, so we worked with mats and foam blocks.  Rebecca Davis, the choreographer, was instrumental in putting it all together and bridged the gap between the gymnastic and the dance world.  The performers also had input here and there.

 Sadie: It took us months to put this together. We started in January of this year and it came together during lots of hours of training and rehearsal.

 How many people have performed these routines since the opening of the show in early June?

 Dave and Sadie: We’ve had three guys and three girls for the gymnastics, as well as five runners.  At the opening, we also had Chellsie Memmel, who was part of the team in Beijing, and world champion runner Dan O’Brien.

 Were the artists involved in the choreography?

 Dave and Sadie: They gave us some guideline parameters to work with. They wanted gymnastic movements that one could see during a routine at the Olympics.  The real challenge for me was to take gymnastics and push the limit on what is physically possible on these sculptures, while staying safe and not get injured.

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Venice Cinema Biennale

Silvia is currently doing research for the IMA from Venice, Italy.

The Ides of March, a political thriller directed by George Clooney, opened last week to good reviews here at the 68th edition of the Venice Film Festival. The Film Festival is part of the Venice Biennale, an umbrella organization which also includes the major international contemporary art exhibition, which saw the participation of the IMA this year, an international architecture exhibition, and a festival of contemporary music, theatre and dance.

The 68th Venice Film Festival.

Just like the art exhibition, which displays works from over 65 countries, the Film Festival also has an international focus, with films hailing from the U.S., France, Italy, the UK, Israel, Japan, Greece,  etc. Most of the films in competition this year are more or less commercial undertakings representing different genres, from the political thriller (The Ides of March), to the spy story (Tinker, Sailor, Solder, Spy, based on the John le Carré novel of the same name), to the period drama (Wuthering Heights directed by Andrea Arnold and A Dangerous Method by David Cronenberg, based on the turbulent relationships between psychiatrist Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, and patient Sabina Spielrein), as well as a number of films that dissect and criticize contradictions and idiosyncrasies of our modern society such as Carnage by Roman Polanski and Dark Horse by Todd Solondz.

One of the most eagerly awaited film at the festival this year is Shame, by British contemporary artist Steve McQueen, who exhibited one of his artwork at the Venice Art Biennale in 2009. Shame, which is a compelling examination of the nature of need, how we live our lives, and the experiences that shape us, is the second feature film by the artist after Hunger, which won the Camera d’Or award for first-time filmmakers at The Cannes Film Festival in 2008. Steve McQueen is not the only contemporary artist to have successfully tried his hand at another artistic genre. Julian Schnabel, for instance, who directed intense films such as Basquiat, and Before the Night Falls and who won the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007 for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, was present this year at the Venice Art Biennale with a retrospective of his work.

Another example of how the distinction between genres is becoming more and more blurred in today’s artistic world is seen in Vivan las Antipodas!, a movie by Russian director Victor Kossakovsky, which was screened yesterday evening out of competition. Part film, part documentary, part visual artwork,  this movie chooses not to follow a specific narrative but rather suggests, through a series of breathtaking and stunning shots, the wonders and contradictions of nature and people in the world’s rare inhabited land-to-land antipodes.

Given the high number of premieres in and out of competition at this year’s Venice Film Festival, as well as the quality of the films shown, my hope is that they’ll be coming to Indianapolis soon.


About Silvia Filippini-Fantoni

Job Title: Manager for Online Engagement
Interests: Cinema, Contemporary art, Travellng, SCI-FY
Favorite Movies: Memento, The Usual Suspect, Fish Tank
Favorite Music: Adele, Florence and the Machine, Heather Nova
Favorite Food: Sashimi
Pets: not big on pets.....
Something you should know about me: I am not a morning person......

Silvia has written 3 articles for us.