Venice Biennale: Helen Sear's exhibition from Wales

By Huw Thomas
BBC Wales arts and media correspondent

Media caption,
Watch a time lapse of Helen Sear's Stack being installed in Venice

The Welsh fine art photographer Helen Sear has welcomed the first visitors to her show at the world's largest exhibition, the Venice Biennale.

Sear, who is the first solo female artist to represent Wales in Venice, uses large-scale video and stills photography at her venue in the Italian city.

The trees near her home in Monmouthshire form the subject of much of her exhibition.

Sear also draws inspiration from the famous Andrea Mantegna painting of St Sebastian.

The title of her show, The Rest Is Smoke, is taken from an inscription on the painting, which is housed in Venice.

Image source, Helen Sear/Creative Commons
Image caption,
Caetera fumus ('the rest is smoke') which is on a LCD lightbox is inspired by Andrea Mantegna 15th Century painting of St Sebastian
Image source, Helen Sear
Image caption,
Numbers painted by forestry workers on trees in Monmouthshire were part of Helen Sear's inspiration
Image source, Helen Sear
Image caption,
This is a still from the video installation, The Company Of Trees
Image source, Helen Sear
Image caption,
The video shows the woodland near her home through the seasons
Image source, Helen Sear
Image caption,
A female figure can be seen walking among the tree trunks
Image source, Helen Sear
Image caption,
The numbers count down from 83 to one during the video
Image source, Helen Sears
Image caption,
In the video the images are show in rapid movement

Sear's show is in a former convent.

She told me: "I'm really thrilled - I've been here three weeks installing, which hasn't been without its problems but now the doors are open it looks effortless which is how we wanted it to look."

Sear said there was a different journey there and back through the exhibition.

"What's important to me is how the work affects the audience, so there's not one particular viewing position," she said.

"The camera whether it's a moving image or a still prioritises the eye over all the other senses. What I really wanted to do is bring the whole body back into the act of viewing, so I'm trying to displace a single point perspective so as you move across the work it alters in various ways."

Media caption,
Helen Sear has been inspired by tree markings

Critics, gallery owners and influential figures in the art world descend on Venice for the Biennale every two years. The event runs from May until November, and features the best art from around the world.

The Arts Council of Wales is responsible for funding and selecting the Welsh exhibition, which costs £400,000 over two years.

As well as the team working with Sear, the project also includes opportunities for Welsh artists and students to travel to Venice to work as invigilators, and to develop their own contacts among the influential crowd.

Cardiff-based artist Rabab Ghazoul is also displaying her work in Venice. She has been selected as one of several artists to be shown at the Iraq pavilion.

Ghazoul, who left Iraq when she was 10, uses video installations featuring members of the public listening to, and analysing, Tony Blair's evidence to the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War.

"I've taken elements of the text and footage of that testimony and engaged local residents in Cardiff to respond in different ways," she said.

While press and invited guests are visiting this week, the Biennale officially opens to the public on Saturday 9 May and runs until 22 November.

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