The Venice Questionnaire #11: Bill Culbert

By ArtReview

Bill Culbert, Crayfish, 1987, plastic containers cut in half, fluorescent tube. Courtesy Laurent Delaye Gallery, London Bill Culbert, Voie Lactée, 1990 and Tournus, 1990. enamelled jugs, fluorescent tubes, electrical cable. Courtesy Collection FRAC Corse, Corsica.

ArtReview sent a questionnaire to a selection of the artists exhibiting in various national pavilions of the Venice Biennale, the responses to which will be published over the coming days. We spoke to Bill Culbert who will represent New Zealand. The pavilion is at Istituto Santa Maria della Pietà.

What can you tell us about your plans for Venice?

I’m working in eight connected spaces in the Istituto Santa Maria della Pietà, right by the lagoon. I’m using fluorescent light tubes and pieces of domestic furniture, which become stoppages and transporters for the light. There’s the iconoclasm of putting objects like that in this space, which has the air of the church and history. But especially I want to introduce an energy and simplicity, and have a kind of celebration of phenomena.

Are you approaching the show in a different way to how you would with a ‘normal’ exhibition?

There are no rules. Every situation is different. You just go with or against the given situation in the simplest way possible. I think the important thing in Venice will be the subtlety of the work. That’s where its usefulness will be. Making it bigger won’t make it more important. Making it more expensive won’t make it more important. I think to be modest but in some way thorough is not a bad way to go.

What does it mean to ‘represent’ your country? Do you find it an honour or problematic?

Certainly it’s an honour and a compliment. But you can’t worry about “representing.” The work has to stand for itself. Sometimes my work is made in New Zealand. Sometimes it refers to New Zealand. Often it is shown there.

What audience are you addressing with the work? The masses of artist peers, gallerists, curators and critics concentrated around the opening or the general public who come through over the following months?

It’s for people, interested people. And if people who are not interested go and find themselves interested – all the better.

What are your earliest or best memories of the biennale?

Visiting in the late 1950s with a friend from Canterbury School of Fine Arts in New Zealand. We camped on the mainland and went over to Venice like daytrippers. The Biennale was mega. I’d never seen anything quite like it.

You’ll no doubt be very busy, but what else are you looking forward to seeing?

There will be things to see. It’s about finding them.