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For three weeks across September and October of this year I worked for Cymru yn Fenis Wales in Venice as an invigilator for Bedwyr Williams and The Starry Messenger at the Venice Biennale.  The invigilation programme, run by the Arts Council of Wales, provides professional development opportunities for artists and curators as part of Cymru yn Fenis Wales in Venice.  The aim of the programme is to enable artists and curators working in Wales to have access to current international contemporary visual arts practice, to experience the Venice Biennale and provide support to the delivery of Wales’ presence at the Biennale.

Old TippingGarnet Earth Black OldBronze Santos Newton Medium I applied to be an invigilator for a number of reasons.  I hoped to experience Wale’s presence on an international platform; develop a network with other artists, invigilators and curators to explore ideas around the import and export of art/artists; gain broader professional experience of working within the contemporary art scene and of course, experience current international visual arts practice at the Biennale, the longest-running, most prestigious international art biennial in the world.

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The application process took place before Future Producers, however I found the programme through the jobs and opportunities section of the ACW website.  My research for the interview considered Bedwyr Williams and his previous projects, the Venice Biennale, contemporary Welsh artists and the previous artists that have represented Wales at the Venice Biennale.  I also attended a performance by Bedwyr Williams of an extract from ‘The Astronomer’ at The Amateur Convention in consideration of Wales in Venice 2013.  The research that was most useful in terms of understanding the role and what to expect from being in Venice as an invigilator, came from other people who had been on the invigilation programme in previous years.

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An average day as an invigilator for The Starry Messenger:

  • Newton Medium TippingGarnet Earth OldBronze Black Old Santos Open the exhibition at 9:30am: turn on the lights, observatory laptop and sound, smoke machine, pool lights and sound, the corridor sound, the sound in the rocks room, the film and headphones, the sounds in the courtyard and the sounds and lights in the janitors cupboard.
  • Medium Newton Santos OldBronze TippingGarnet Old Black Earth Put out the sign and open the doors at 10am.
  • 10am – 6pm: welcome visitors, assist visitors to navigate the exhibition (particularly through the terrazzo curtain and through the very dark starry corridor) and engage visitors in conversations about the artist, the exhibition and the arts in Wales (sometimes explaining the Biennale and where to find other exhibitions and often with lots of gestures and emphasis on single words if you don’t share the same language as the visitor).
  • Regularly check exhibition artworks and technical equipment, report any problems back to ACW
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  • 6pm: close the exhibition
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  • [Sunday] Report back to ACW and Oriel Davies with visitor figures, rotas, condition reports and petty cash figures

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Santos OldBronze Black TippingGarnet Old Earth Medium Newton As part of Invigilator Plus, each invigilator also undertakes a project during the time when not invigilating (I worked 4 days a week).  My project is about international engagement and I engaged in conversations with other invigilators, artists, curators and arts professionals to collect ideas and responses to the theme of international engagement.  I’m currently in the process of transcribing these conversations and will soon feed back my report to the Arts Council of Wales (and post parts of it on here).  The starting point for this research was a session which questioned the lack of focus on the coming together of Welsh and international artists at the ACW Open Space event in Cardiff, titled ‘What kind of creative Wales would you like to see by 2020 and how do we get there?’.  My aim is that this research will collect together ideas and experiences from across the world that will help to continue this conversation on an international level.

Earth Santos TippingGarnet OldBronze Black Old Newton Medium Personally and professionally this project was a fantastic reason to meet people.  I had conversations with artists and curators invigilating at the Latvian Pavilion, Arsenale, Belgian Pavilion, German Pavilion, Australian Pavilion, Polish Pavilion, American Pavilion and also with professionals not invigilating.  I met Emma Gifford Mead, a Curator in the Visual Arts Department at the British Council and the curator of the British Pavilion at the Biennale; Deborah Duffield, part of the Draw Inc artist collective in Australia who is hoping to make links with Wales and also Paolo De Grandis, President of PDG Arte Communications, curator and consultant who conceived the first collateral events at the Biennale.

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My time at the Biennale invigilating for Wales in Venice was without a doubt one of the best experiences I have ever had, both personally and professionally.  I was surrounded by contemporary art, I worked in a brilliant exhibition (review to come soon) and I met so many incredible people who work in the arts; some who are at the same stage as I am and others who are much further along their career paths and who were able to give great insights into what they do.  Meeting people was perhaps one of the best things about being an invigilator at the Biennale.

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Santos Old Medium Black Newton TippingGarnet Earth OldBronze I’m still disseminating everything that I’ve learned and experienced; I’ve seen so many exhibitions at the Biennale, in addition to visiting the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Museo Fortuny and Fondazione Prada.  With regards to my project, I have numerous conversations still to transcribe and process.  An important thing I did learn, was to look for international opportunities to develop my experience and involvement with the arts.  I have so far been quite narrow with what I’ve been looking at, but meeting people from around the world has showed me that I need to look beyond the UK.  I’ve also been considering an MA for some time and both Emma Gifford Mead and Paolo De Grandis recommended studying an Art History MA, which is something I’m going to now research into.  Venice really was the most incredible experience and I would recommend anyone to apply for the Biennale invigilation programmes in 2015.  Scotland, Ireland & England all have similar programmes.

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