Art, Style and Sewing at the Venice Biennale 2017

When I’ve been to the Venice Biennale in previous years, I’ve always observed a glamorous mix of both art and style. This year, not so much on the style front. The art was as thought provoking as always but I saw less in the way of good fashion to report on. No idea why. After snapping this tonally-coordinated couple below – reminding me of Bonpon501 – at the entrance, my hopes were raised. Instead, low-key casuals and the odd brightly printed sundress were all I saw.

Luckily, the art more than made up for this. If you’ve never been to the Biennale, it’s a cultural coming together of all the countries in the world to celebrate their most interesting artists. The Giardini area has country pavilions where (usually) one artist takes over the space and creates original work. This year migration and political upset dominated the stories behind the work, including the brilliant Phyllida Barlow’s work Folly, at the British Pavilion.

Phyllida’s work always inspires me. With Folly, her massive sculptural forms squish into and spill out of spaces in a dynamic way, making you feel unsettled and nervous. Will these overbearing structures fall over and crush you? Is it safe to walk through? That heart-in-the-mouth jittering is balanced out with a joyful use of colour as a reward, once you do make it to the other side.

Phyllida said she felt anxious about world events as she was thinking about what to create for the Biennale, which filtered through to the work she made.

On the style front, I loved the easy elegance of the tailored casuals above, you can’t beat a great white shirt and everyone needs a woven hat and basket this year…

We enjoyed all the pavilions, even bad art is worth looking at, if only to give you something to rant about and really, everything is inspiring. If you get bored with the art, the pavilions themselves are often interesting, the Danish one, above and below, had a rather lovely idea for garden paving this year. Inspiration for Margate?

This year the Biennale, entitled Viva Arte Vive, has an overall theme of humanism, translated via art as ‘acts of resistance, liberation and generosity against domination by the powers that govern world affairs’. The very fact that we can come together as a world to support and observe such mixed cultural richness seems, currently, something that we should cherish.

Wide printed trousers turned up everywhere, I loved these black and white ones, they seemed very cool in the bright sunshine.

The Arsenale area, where there is a mix of country pavilions and curated work from other global artists, is where I discovered The Mending Project, a wonderful performance installation by Lee Mingwai. Lee sat at a table and – with brightly coloured threads – repaired or embroidered clothes that you could donate to the project yourself.

While he worked you were encouraged to sit and share stories with him, highlighting how the humble act of mending could start a conversation and encourage quiet connections.

Once he’d finished the mending, each item was added to a pile on the table and the still attached thread was connected to the wall of spools.

It was uplifting to see sewing celebrated in this way. Anyone who sews knows that when it’s going well, working by hand can be a calming, sometimes meditative  affair.

I think because it’s seen as a domestic act, often done by women, it’s rarely viewed as ‘serious’ as an art form. And yet it can be wonderfully expressive and it was a joy to see Lee’s work, there were queues of people wanting to participate. I wonder if it would have been taken as seriously if Lee was a woman? What do you think?

Artist Franz Erhard Walther saw sewing as an innovative means of expression back in the late part of the twentieth century, enabling him to create something half way between a painting and  a sculpture. I loved the bold, bright sculptural forms, particularly the ones that merged clothes into the architectural structure.

Textile art was very strong throughout the Arsenale, which was great to see. Below is Michele Ciacciofera.

Perhaps the most out-there outfit I spotted were these tiered, cropped khaki harem pants, artfully teamed with burgundy.

And finally the artwork that made me smile – and had everyone reaching for their camera phones – was by Michel Blazy, who turned pairs of skanky old trainers into miniature gardens. They looked rather charming, demonstrating how nature can reclaim anything and make it look like art. For more art from the Biennale, including the Damien Hirst installation, check our Instagram feed. More information on the event can be found on the website






  • Jan says:

    Thank you for these super pictures. I’ve visited the Biennale twice in the past and like you would hugely recommend it. I also spent a great deal of time visiting the fringe events which are staged in various venues all over Venice outside of the main showground and they are, or were, free.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *