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June 1, 2011 

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Is that vague lonely feeling due to the post-Memorial Day blues, or is it the result of everyone being in Venice? Yes, the Venice Biennale 2011, June 4-Nov. 27, 2011, has begun its official previews, with some corollary exhibitions getting a jump on the fair proper by launching on the last few days of May.

The temperature in the City of Light is forecast in the moderately steamy low 80s, while the June 1 opening preview was marred by a strike by the operators of the city’s vaporetti, or water buses. That means more trudging than ever for visitors to the biannual fest -- and visiting all the pavilions in the Giardini, not to mention the countless corollary exhibitions (way more than ever before), is about trudging first and art second.

In the digital age, of course, it’s all online. For those of you chained to your computers, herewith, a selective survey of some of the odder highlights of Venice 2011.

* British artist Mike Nelson, known for his faux interiors that seem to be sets for moody historical narratives, has done a full-on installation for the British Pavilion, an array of spaces including a darkroom, living quarters and a 17th-century Istanbul streetfront, all incredibly contained within his country’s late-19th-century pavilion in the Giardini. Dubbed I: Impostor, the work was fashioned by the artist working on the spot since March.

* Christian Boltanski fills the French Pavilion in the Giardini with "Chance," curated by Pompidou Center honorary director Jean-Hubert Martin and featuring a new stage in the artist’s work: the shift from a focus on disappearance and death to one featuring photographs of newborn infants, representing the accidents that determine the directions of the unfolding of life. A game based on the installation is online here, which allows visitors to "be chosen by fate and, if luck smiles upon him or her, win one of the works in the exhibition."

* At the Polish Pavilion in the Giardini, Israeli artist Yael Bartana -- the first non-Polish national to represent Poland at the biennale -- presents her trilogy of films about the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland, a group that urges Jews to return to Poland. The exhibition is titled, appropriately enough, ". . . and Europe will be stunned."  

* Artist Oksana Mas presents at the Ukrainian Pavilion at the Chiesa di San Fantin in San Marco a vision of the Ghent Altarpiece constituted of wooden eggs painted with traditional Ukrainian decorations by a range of collaborators, from intellectuals to inmates in women’s penitentiaries. A website is here.

* The Iraq Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, hosted by the Gervasuti Foundation in the Castello, takes up the theme of "Wounded Water" by six Iraqi artists: Ali Assaf, Azad Nanakeli, Walid Siti, Adel Abidin, Ahmed Alsoudani and Halim Al Karim.

* Mike and Doug Starn’s Big Bambú, last spotted on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum during the summer of 2010, goes up in Venice in the courtyard of Casa Artom (the Venice home of Wake Forest University) on the Grand Canal next to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. The Starns and a team of 11 rock climbers are on hand, continuously modifying the structure, which stretches 50 feet skyward and includes a 20-foot-wide lounge at its peak. Big Bambú remains on view through June 18.

* "Commercial Break," June 1-5, 2011, is a show of short digital works by over 100 artists, organized by curator Nevile Wakefield and sponsored by Moscow’s Garage Center for Contemporary Art -- and taking place both on a giant digital billboard in Venice and on the iPad via POST magazine. Participants range from Aaron Young and Adam McEwen to Marilyn Minter (pictured) and Zhou Xiaohu. For the YouTube trailer, click here.

* Hyperrealist painter Richard Phillips has already torn up the internets with the debut of his 90-second vid of Lindsay Lohan. That film is included in "Commercial Break" (see above) and is joined by a second Phillips film, this one devoted to porn star Sasha Grey, shot at the John Lautner Chemosphere House near Mulholland Drive and focusing on her "expressive and psychological transformation into a cinematic actor" from her previous career as an adult film artist.

* Prague-based artist Federico Diaz’s robot-assembled work -- untouched by human hands -- titled outside itself, is a computer-programmed constantly morphing structure of thousands of black spheres, fabricated and assembled by a pair of robots. Installed at the Arsenale Novissimo, the show is organized by Alanna Heiss for the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague.

* Italian artist Alessandro Librio presents Palermo in Venice, an audio and video installation of the "sound landscape" of Italy’s most polluted city -- bringing to Venice the one thing it doesn’t have: the sound of traffic. This blessed event, sponsored by EB&Flow of London, lasts for 24 hours only, starting at 5 am on June 4. Plug into the event via your computer, if you dare, by clicking here.

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