Setting up in Venice

Article Detail

Thursday 20 June 2013
Jennifer French

Bill Culbert’s Front Door Out Back is installed through a set of six interconnected spaces that run along the side of the church of La Pietà. The technical team have been working on the installation of the works in Venice since the beginning of May, and by the time I arrive with my 16 kilos of gear ready to photograph the exhibition they have finished most of the install. Out the back of the venue is a temporary ‘situation room’ with Wi-Fi, and a cluster of laptops and phones where the team is located. On the wall there’s an imposingly complex chart with an hourly breakdown of the days 27–31 May. Everyone looks settled in, even when they’ve only been there a few hours longer than me, so I find a spot and plug in my laptop, assorted battery chargers and phone, and hook up to the Wi-Fi. 

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Bill Culbert, Bebop (2013). Photograph by Jennifer French

After a quick orientation of the show with Bill Culbert and curator Justin Paton, I dive into the photography, starting at the Front Door section – the works called Drop, 2013 and Bebop, 2013. These works are large ceiling suspended clusters of furniture and fluorescent tubes that span the entire length of the room. All the scaffolding used to install is now gone, and there are only a couple of ladders to move so I can begin to photograph it. I’m impressed that the works are so complete by the time I arrive. The predictions from Terry, Sean, John and Rae are that absolute completion will most definitely occur at 6pm Saturday 25 May, give or take an hour.

So on my first day I finish the shoot in the Bebop room, and begin to move through to the work installed in the corridor, called Strait, 2013 – a horizontal set of Anchor milk bottles bisected by a florescent tube. Everything is going well, and my lens choices made in New Zealand are all working out fine, now I’m actually in the spaces. So far so good. It’s raining and windy outside where the two wardrobe works Walk Reflection, 2001/2013 and Walk Blue, 2001/2013 are installed, and they have protective blue tarps tied over them, so I can’t shoot them yet nor the views around them to the connecting spaces. 

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Bill Culbert, Daylight Flotsam Venice (2013). Photograph by Jennifer French

The large work Daylight Flotsam Venice, 2013 in the main room out the back is illuminated and looks amazing in the dull weather’s low light. I get some shots done in there, looking out towards the canal and Level, 2013 but can’t do any wider shots or views through to anything else. There’s still rubbish in the view outside to HUT, Made in Christchurch, 2012, and the entire install team is outside in the rain reworking its installation. Bill is rethinking Bebop’s final configuration. I can’t get near the room containing Where are the other two?, 2013, an artwork that I think has one of the best titles I’ve ever heard. There is a pigeon, yet to be evicted from one corner of the room, and tools all over the place. But the work looks good glowing away to itself, with the sound of water taxis and delivery boats side wash against the building as they pass by.

So far I’m feeling confident with four days before my deadline for the initial media images. I’ve shot as much as I can, so I begin the downloading of image files. It’s wonderful shooting 36MP images, but it’s clear that when they unpack to 100MB per image that life is going to slow down little. So I churn through the first day’s image files, bit by bit.