After visiting the Biennale Arte in 2015, University of Melbourne Master of Art Curatorship student Mary-Louise Carbone returned to Venice this year as one of our Venice Biennale 2019 interns. We asked Mary-Louise to share her impressions of Venice and her experience working with the Australia Council Venice project team.
Why did you apply to be an intern for the 2019 Venice Biennale?
I completed my undergraduate studies in Fine Arts, so I’ve always known the Biennale to be somewhat of a holy grail for artists. In 2015, I visited Fiona Hall’s Australian Pavilion exhibition and was blown away by not only the prestige and quality of art on show, but particularly by the calibre of Australia’s representation. I was so proud to see Australian art showcased to the international community in such a way. When I decided to move to Melbourne to pursue further studies, I was drawn to the Master of Art Curatorship at the University of Melbourne because they offered the opportunity to intern at the Biennale as part of a professional development program. I knew how valuable it would be to experience and be a part of the production and delivery of such a large-scale international art project and I relished the opportunity to re-visit the Biennale as part of the Australian team. Never mind the fact I’m also a big fan of Angelica Mesiti’s work, which was an even greater impetus to apply for the internship in 2019.
What was a highlight from your internship?
Getting to meet the artist, Angelica Mesiti, and curator, Juliana Engberg, was such a privilege. They are incredibly talented practitioners and it was wonderful to see them work as an artist-curator team. Cheekily, I must also say being able to see all the national pavilions during the VIP preview openings was quite a treat. It was quite surreal being able to view these exceptional displays of art before they were officially opened and all the crowds came through.
It was really eye-opening to see the depth and reach of the project beyond the physical exhibition. I never quite realised how extensive the Professional Development Program was and the efforts Australia Council makes to forge connections with established curators visiting Venice, in order to enrichen the learning experience of the Emerging Arts Professionals.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you did on the internship?
As an intern, you get to do a bit of everything which is so exciting. Prior to the opening of the exhibition, we helped with gallery preparation and any final install touches. We also got to assist with a lot of events during the opening week which included many of the Champions Program (Australia Council’s Venice donors) events, professional development workshops and media meetings.
During the opening of the Australian Pavilion it was all-hands-on-deck for most of the team, as extremely large crowds were coming through to view the exhibition. We spent a lot of this time invigilating, introducing visitors to the exhibition and helping with the distribution of exhibition material. It was great being able to sit in on preparatory meetings and discussions about the exhibition, and then be present in the space to see visitors interacting directly with the artwork.
Did anything surprise you about your internship, or the way the Australia Council manages the Venice project?
It was really eye-opening to see the depth and reach of the project beyond the physical exhibition. I never quite realised how extensive the Professional Development Program was and the efforts the Australia Council makes to forge connections with established curators visiting Venice to enrich the learning experience of the merging arts professionals.
There was also a great sense of camaraderie between national pavilions, which was really heartening to see. I was expecting a high level of competition and reticence between pavilions, but Australia was supportive and encouraging of other teams. The Australian team was happy to help other pavilions in need of assistance or those who did not have the facilities that we were fortunate to have.
What did you like most about being in Venice?
Venice is a hot bed for international contemporary art and a mecca for any art-lover. It has a magical way of bringing together and situating the contemporary within a historical context and landscape. Being able to wander the city on foot and to continually come across art wherever you go is such an inspiring experience that can’t be replicated elsewhere. And – of course – the food!
How have you benefited from your experience as a Venice Biennale intern?
Being able to closely observe and work on such a large-scale international project has given me a great deal of insight into all the elements and components of exhibition-making. I was so lucky to be able to work alongside a talented and dedicated team and see how each role and step in the process is pivotal to a successful outcome for the artist and all those invested in the project, including the Australian public.
Do you feel you’ve made connections or learned skills that will help you and your career in the future?
I can’t begin to list the skills and connections I’ve gained over the course of my internship. I am grateful to have been introduced to so many artists, arts practitioners and curators, from such diverse backgrounds. Prior to the internship, I was struggling with discerning a clear career pathway from the skills that I had. However, being able to talk to so many people, and learn so many new skills has really clarified the direction I want to take in my career and given me the confidence to pursue areas that I would never have dreamed of previously.
Mary-Louise Carbone’s internship was made possible with the support of the University of Melbourne.