The Venice Biennale is the oldest biennial in the art world, and many regard it as a critical bellwether for contemporary art. It’s absolutely monumental. The main exhibition is split into two parts: a curated show in the Arsenale, and dozens of buildings designated by country in the Giardini. Each of those portions can be viewed in a long, intense day. Then, in addition, there are satellite shows and happenings throughout the city.
The Biennale doesn’t tend to have an environmental focus. But among the works that most caught my attention this year was a resolutely environmental exhibit by Judi Harvest. The show was off-site, on Dorsoduro well up the canal from the main scene, near Campo San Stae. As we entered the church, the first thing we noticed was the smell of beeswax. Absolutely overwhelming, but in a really good way. The space was filled with Harvest’s 2-d work, and dozens of glass blown into biomorphic, hive-like vessels that Harvest made on Murano working with master glassblower Giorgio Giuman. On the shelf by the check-in desk were tiny jars of honey.
The work is definitely visually engaging. But I am as captivated by the back-story as by the objects. Murano, the famous glass-blowers island in Venice is (like much of Venice) largely bereft of trees and other greenery. It provides an inhospitable environment for bees. But beside the studio where Harvest created the glass for this show, she created the other “part” of the show. She turned an abandoned lot into a Honey Garden. She brought in topsoil, sourced fruit trees and other plants from other islands in the Veneto, and created a beautiful and inviting place for bees.
And came they did. The tiny jars of honey for sale at the show are the first harvested by Harvest.