The Venice Questionnaire 2015 #24: Graham Fagen

Representing Scotland at the 2015 Venice Biennale, Graham Fagen answered our short questionnaire

Graham Fagen and theatre director Graham Eatough, The Making of Us, 2012 Courtesy of the Artist

ArtReview sent a questionnaire to artists and curators exhibiting in and curating the various national pavilions of the 2015 Venice Biennale, the responses to which will be published daily in the lead-up to the Venice Biennale opening.

Graham Fagen is representing Scotland as a collateral event. The pavilion is in the Palazzo Fontana, Canneregio, 3829 (Strada Nova).

What can you tell us about your exhibition plans for Venice?

I will be exhibiting in the Palazzo Fontana off Strada Nuova, which has never been used for a Biennale exhibition before. I have four rooms and will be making new work for each of the rooms, full of sculpture, drawings and an audio/visual installation. My subject area could be described as the social and political history of trade.

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


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

It is definitely an honour to ‘represent’ Scotland at the Venice Biennale. You can’t apply to do such a thing. You are invited. So to be recognised and invited is indeed an honour.

How are you approaching the different audiences who come to Venice – the masses of artist peers, gallerists, curators and critics concentrated around the opening and the general public who come through over the following months?

I don’t make artwork for people of particular backgrounds or professions. Any audience at any sort of event is made up of lots of different interests and backgrounds. If I tried to address the type of audience who make up the Biennale I would make bad art. So, I guess, my approach is to make my art in the manner that I would normally make it, by concentrating on what is relevant and important to my thinking.

What are your earliest or best memories of the biennale?

A favourite memory was being called a ‘rich cunt’ by Damien Hirst and Keith Allen.

My favourite Biennale artwork was A Piece of Wood Sculpted by a Dog, Painted by a Human. A Piece of Wood Sculpted by a Machine, Painted by a Human by Jimmie Durham, which I found at the back of the Arsenale at the end of a long, hot day in 2003 I think.

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

Joan Jonas at the American Pavilion and Okwui Enwezor’s Parliament of Forms exhibition.

Joan’s work expands what is possible in the visual arts and I believe Okwui and I think about art in a similar way. Our titles are very similar. I’ve made a ‘Parliament of Rooks’ for my work ‘Theatre’ and I’ve a work called ‘Former and Form’. He talks of a ‘Garden of Disorder’ and I’ve made a work that has the words ‘Come into the Garden and forget about the War’. We are interested in similar subject areas such as history and counter history and we also have an interest in other mediums and collaboration.

How does having a pavilion in Venice affect the art scene in your home country?

I think it has a very important effect in Scotland in terms of curation and education.

Scotland + Venice is organised by a partnership between Creative Scotland, National Galleries of Scotland and British Council. For each Biennale they look for new curating proposals, which is a very healthy model of curation. This year Hospitalfield in Arbroath, northeast Scotland, were selected to curate the exhibition.

The exhibition is then invigilated by 21 students selected from seven art and design colleges from across Scotland as part of the Scotland + Venice Learning Programme. They are joined by seven graduates selected from the Hospitalfield Graduate Residency Programme from 2013 and 2014. The students act as information assistants to greet visitors and provide information during the exhibition.

Read all responses to the Venice Questionnaire 2015 edition published so far

Read all 30 responses to the Venice Questionnaire 2013 edition

Online exclusive published on 4 May 2015.