Graham Fagen, Scotland + Venice 2015 (4 stars)

Graham Fagen, Scotland + Venice 2015

Fagen fills the Palazzo Fontana with a melancholic, reggae-inspired reinterpretation of Burns’ elegy

The melancholic sound of Robert Burns’ ‘The Slave’s Lament’, played by the string orchestra of the Scottish Ensemble and sung by the reggae musician Ghetto Priest, drifts gently towards you as soon as you enter Graham Fagen’s show at the Palazzo Fontana for the Venice Biennale – the 56th international art exhibition.

On the first floor of the grand 16th century palazzo, ‘Rope Tree’, a tall bronze sculpture in the centre of the room’s sloping floor, seems almost to grow and stretch up towards the ceiling, creating a strong visual connection to the rest of the space. The sculpture, cast by Powderhall in Edinburgh, acts as a starting point on a journey that leads the viewer through four rooms in the ambitious Venetian palazzo on the Grand Canal, a change of venue for the Scotland + Venice team that was selected by Fagen.

Following the music into the second and third rooms, a strong sense of narrative develops. ‘Scheme for Lament’, a series of Indian ink drawings based on the artist’s own teeth, fills the second, while in ‘Scheme for our Nature’, in the third, metal branches support sculptures of gold, silver and clay that allude to exterior physical forms.

It is in the fourth and final room, however, that the power of Fagen’s first solo biennale show, which has been curated by Lucy Byatt from Hospitalfield Arts in Arbroath, is fully felt. In a collaboration with the musicians as well as composer Sally Beamish and music producer Adrian Sherwood, the source of the drifting music can be found — a five-channel audio-visual installation showing a performance of the artist’s reinterpretation of Burns’ elegy.

The music fills the palazzo room, which produces an elegant backdrop for the powerful visuals on the four screens. Each focuses on an individual musician, a bow drawn slowly across an instrument’s strings or the tiny movement of a finger, creating an intimate performance that mesmerises and enchants.

Palazzo Fontana, Venie, until Sun 22 Nov

Graham Fagen: Scotland + Venice

Graham Fagen, fresh from the Venice Biennale, talks about his new work.

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