Photo: Dirk Hoyer

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Crowds, Pavilions and Totem Bags

“What is a totem? It is as a rule an animal (whether edible and harmless or dangerous and feared) and more rarely a plant or a natural phenomenon (such as rain or water), which stands in a peculiar relation to the whole clan.”

-SIGMUND FREUD (Totem and Taboo)

Today at 10 the gates at the Giardini opened for the people with an invitation for the preview. Given the “selected” crowd it was even more surprising that at 11:30 the whole Giardini area was already overcrowded with guests. In some pavilions watching art meant rubbing shoulders. The atmosphere was closer to what happens at the Ferovia (the main train station in Venice) in the early afternoon. Masses. They only difference: most of the people at the Giardini were obviously far more elegantly dressed. It was a showcase for the outfits of the visitors as much as a showcase for the art. In average most of the people stayed for less than three minutes the Pavilions.

Fast-forward previewing. Two pavilions were so popular that the cues were almost a hundred meters long: the Russian and the American Pavilion. In the art world 2015, these countries are the superpowers. Another pavilion attracted also a lot of immediate attention. Great Britain demonstrated with a three meter high yellow penis erected at the entrance of its pavilion, that they actually serious about being a great. The good news: everyone could partake in Britain’s greatness by getting a yellow tote bag (yes, the same color as the penis). After a few hours the amount of “penis yellow” bags on the Biennale ground were striking. Undoubtedly also because the penis yellow matched the mostly black or dark blue outfits of the visitors marvelously.

Altogether it became obvious that the (mostly white) tote bags became an object of desire, The queues at the tote bag stands were as long as the cues In front of the artworks . For non-journalists the penis yellow Sarah Lucas bag was 10 Euros, the German Pavilion went for a discount option, their black tote bag was half-prized. The Nordic Pavilion gave them away for free. In the end of the day most people got their share of bags (some even five or six) and in honor of its real signification the tote bag should be renamed (hello Sigmund Freud): totem bag. The Venice Biennale totems are not plants (although there were surprisingly many trees or plants in some Pavilions) nor animals (forbidden on the Biennale) nor natural phenomena (no rain today) but 40x40 cm pieces of cloth (with the right kind of print on it, bien sur): the totem of the art clan. Welcome to the Venice Biennale!

Text & photo: Dirk Hoyer