Work in Progress: A Q&A with Venice Biennale representative Dane Mitchell

Selected to represent New Zealand at the 2019 Venice Biennale, here we talk to acclaimed and enigmatic artist Dane Mitchell about his groundwork for the world’s most important art showcase.

How did it feel realising you had been accepted? I was excited, of course. It’s a lot of work simply making an application for Venice — I think to make a strong proposal you have to imagine actually making the project. So by the time it is submitted, you feel very invested (whilst for your own sake, assuming you never will get in!).

We’ve heard your piece will include ‘a physical sculptural object and sound transmissions which viewers can tune into around Venice’. Can you tell us any more about it? I can’t say too much at the moment, but things will slowly be revealed throughout the year. What I can say, hopefully without sounding too mysterious, is that at the centre of the work is an exploration of the sculptural possibilities of invisible transmissions (for instance radio or WIFI). What particularly interests me is that these invisible forces we interface with every day are conducted through a physical material which allows them to be ‘seen’. Along this train of thought, my project will have both visible (physical) and invisible manifestations; it will give form to things that have vanished or disappeared, through spoken word, or ‘speech acts’.

How far along in the preparations are you? Has your piece evolved from your submission or does it need to strictly adhere to the brief? At its heart, it’s the same, but of course, the piece certainly evolves, in particular, because the venue determines the experience of the work to a great degree. Venice is such a particular context, so the project needs to be adaptive.

Creating an artwork of this scale, do you feel any pressure about how it will be perceived? I think the project and its themes are timely, so I hope it will resonate with audiences. It’s my intention for the work to push outwards from the pavilion itself — the project extends out across the city — transmitting from the pavilion to points throughout Venice.

Being represented at Venice seems a bit like a holy grail for artists, would you agree? It’s a huge honour that’s not lost on me. New Zealand has been participating in the Venice Biennale since 2001, so there is an incredible history of strong projects by New Zealand artists presented there. It’s a privilege to be part of that history and to have the opportunity to work at this scale, in this context.

What is the best thing about the process/experience so far? It would have to be thinking about the particularities of the context: both Venice and the Biennale as contexts offer such wildly specific experiences for both me as an artist and ultimately for the audience.

Stay tuned with Mitchell’s progress by signing up to the e-newsletter, becoming a patron (by emailing leigh@ artandobject.co.nz), or simply following the project on various social media platforms (@nzatvenice).

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