Venice Update: Claudia Friend & Asten Holmes-Elliott

Artists Claudia Friend and Asten Holmes-Elliott are currently in the final week of their ‘a space’ arts funded Research Fellowships with the British Council. Over the past four weeks they’ve been invigilating the Cathy Wilkes exhibition at the British Pavilion as part of the Venice Biennale. They’ve also had the opportunity to develop their own practice through a research project during that time. We recently caught up with them both to find out what the experience has been like.

What are you seeing?

CF: Cameras, phones, bridges, canals, vaporettos, cruise liners, suitcases over the cobbles, masks, bridges, steps, plaster, peeling plaster, courtyards, cats and dogs – lots of dogs, sunsets, exhibitions, graffiti art, street art, faces, faces on the walls, exhibition visitors – at 12,000 people after 12 days invigilation. Rucksacks, artworks, boats, boats carrying concrete mixers and cranes, sunshine, washing on the line, washing on the line, pizza, pasta, hand written directions from everywhere to St Mark’s Square, everyone walking, crumbling brick, shutters, doorbells, churches, slices of sky, scaffolding, rope, warship, old ship, restaurant pirate ship, rooftop view of the grand canal, distant petrochemical plant, fly-posted flyers – against the cruise liners, for climate action, for language lessons, tango – balconies, venetian flags, sailors, flowerpots, fish, jellyfish, aperol, chandeliers, cruise liners, white exhibition walls.

AHE: Neon, neon, NEON! Which obviously I”m loving. Seems it’s the medium of the moment.
I really wanted to see John Akomfrah’s new three-screen video installation ‘Four Nocturnes’, which is in the first time Venice Biennale Ghana Pavilion. In fact I ran through the whole curated exhibition to watch it first, and it was amazing. I was also really looking forward to seeing Kahlil Joseph, he is one of my favourite filmmakers, and didn’t realise he had a piece at the Biennale until just before I left! It is called ‘BLKNWS’, and it is my favourite piece here, I go and watch it again and again during my lunch break from the British Pavilion. I’ve discovered Tavares Strachan while I’m here, who’s themes of looking at invisibility and representation really relates to my own practice. Also neon and space pops up in his work a lot, so I’m obviously hooked.

Who are you meeting?

CF: So many people…. visitors to the Cathy Wilkes exhibition, invigilators and curators from all over the world working in other pavilions. Locals working for the Biennale and others from the university. Potters, boat builders and horticulturalists who I have happened across on my walks across the city. People concerned with the lagoon environment and Venice as a living city.

AHE: I’ve been meeting so many people from all over the world here while working at the Venice Biennale. One of the areas, the giardini, holds a lot of ‘pavilions’ which are permanent buildings acting as exhibition spaces owned by certain countries, and so it’s like a microcosm. Either side of the British Pavilion are the French and Canadian Pavilions, with the Australian Pavilion nearby. On one of my first shifts I did a tour for visitors from The Australia Council for the Arts, and was invited to a party they were throwing hosted at the New Zealand Pavilion.

There were many artists/arts professionals from their Venice Biennale Professional Development programme, and I met the amazing April Phillips. I learnt so much from her, and loved hearing about her practice and her processes to keep the arts accessible to communities that are geographically placed away from museums and galleries. She gave me a lot of links to follow up while here in Venice. Of course I immediately beelined for the Scottish Pavilion, and coincidentally met all the queers in the world. Part of the senior team is the gorgeous Thomas Abercromby, who apparently has worked with the film festival I help found in Glasgow! (SQIFF) He has also had some amazing projects encouraging accessibility to the arts, and it seems thankfully this is an important aspect to the practice of people I’ve been meeting at Venice.

What are you eating?

CF: Regulation pizza, pasta and gnocchi. Cooking at home, cicchetti (bread based snacks), cheese and honey, coffee – sometimes decaff, ‘bruttiboni’ (meringue and nut biscuits) – which have become something of a post work habit. Tiramisu, torta capresa, good bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. And… ombra – which is a small glass of ‘house wine’ (white or red) – which usually costs one euro – and has that name, as the saying goes, at least among the local locals, because the wine was kept cool in the shade of St Marks Basilica… I will have an ice cream before I leave.

AHE: To be honest, not a lot! I’m running around so much that haven’t had time to get into the food properly. But an Aperol spritz at the local osteria hasn’t gone a miss!

On Friday 31st January God’s House Tower will host a Venice Fellows sharing event where all three of the ‘a space’ arts supported Research Fellows will share more from their time there.