Hi, and welcome to Venice. This is one of the first preview days, and the crowds are all arriving. It’s a very hot ticket, and perhaps the hottest of all in the international art world calendar. This year, of course, there is a recession. Things have been a bit tricky, in fact, and some of the collectors are really having a bit of a hard time, like this one over here. The dead guy in the pool, looking a bit like Norma Desmond out of Sunset Boulevard is a collector, and in fact, although this looks like the Scandinavian pavilion in the Giardini, it is in fact his house. There he is, face down in the pool, his cigarettes and watch drowned in the bottom. It’s part of an installation by Scandinavian artists Elmgreen and Dragset, and not only have they taken over the Nordic pavilion, but also the one next door, which belongs to Denmark, and they’ve both been decked out as private houses. The pool isn’t usually here, and the whole thing is an utter fabrication by Elmgreen and Dragset. And it’s one of the star events, one of the star turns of the national pavilions in this year’s Biennale. We’re in the German pavilion, but I’m looking at you through a kitchen hatch, and that’s pretty much the exhibition, is kitchen cupboards. In fact, by a British artist: Liam Gillick. The idea of the unit, repetition, a kind of relationship to minimalism, but also to ergonomics, to domestic hygiene, a kind of easier way of life, are all kind of brought together here. Why, you ask, is a British artist in the German pavilion? Well, why not? And I have no problem with Liam Gillick being here, except he is such a dull artist! This is Le Grand Soir, by French artist Claude Lévêque in the French pavilion. It looks like a disco gaol, doesn’t it, or one of those dark rooms that you get in some kinds of clubs. But actually, let’s not talk about that! At the four corners… or three of the corners of this space, there are, behind bars, flags flapping in an indoor wind. I think it’s got something to do with the French Revolution. And of course, the flags being black makes one think of anarchy. Not much chance of anarchy in here, I don’t think. Timed entry. The Giardini was laid out at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and it’s full of mature trees and lovely bushes, and of course most of the time it’s abandoned, the Giardini. There’s nothing happening here at all. And that’s exactly what Steve McQueen has focused on in his film. But also, so has the Czech artist, Roman Ondák. So here we are in this big national pavilion, but the outside has come inside, and the building itself seems like just a shell that’s been placed over the garden itself. And of course this is a completely fabricated bit of wilderness, but it’s got the same trees and the same bushes, and the same leaf-mould, and the same old what-have-you everywhere else in the Giardini. It’s a kind of a one liner, isn’t it, but it’s also rather beautiful, and it’s fun. We’ve left the Giardini now, and we’ve crossed a couple of little canals, and we’re at the Arsenale. This is a huge, immensely long building where the ropes were wound for the ships that Venice built; and it’s full of Making Worlds, the Keynote exhibition for the Biennale, curated by Daniel Birnbaum. The corner here is full of art, and there are sound works, interactive works, installations, videos, paintings, sculptures, drawings – pretty much too much to take in. And you’ve got to keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out. There is a cabinet full of bread over there. I don’t know why. The knitting circle takes place every afternoon in this corner. Here’s a work by the American artist Paul Chan, and it’s a kind of silhouette projection, and it’s based on the Marquis de Sade, with lots of people jiggling about. They just seem to be humping the floor at the moment. Here we are in a hall of smashed and spoiled mirrors. In fact it’s the aftermath of a performance by the veteran Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto, who has worked with mirrors on and off ever since the 1960s. The Venice Biennale, a lot of it is about vanity and narcissism and self-reflection. Well, in the broken mirror, everyone sees, maybe, the truth. And you also might wonder which side of the looking glass we are on. But this wonderful room of old broken and wobbly mirrors is a great kind of metaphor for the Biennale as a whole. This is the work of a British artist, Ceal Floyer, who lives and works in Berlin, and it’s a photograph of a tree; but it’s not like the ones we saw back in the Giardini. This is in fact a Bonsai tree, a tiny tree that she has projected and blown up to what we think as normal size. It’s a bit like a metaphor for the art that’s here. You know, what’s big, what’s small, what’s important, what isn’t. It feels like the end of a journey, really, but beyond the wall behind the tree the national pavilions start again and go all the way through the Arsenale. But personally, I’d like to sit under the tree and have a bit of a snooze now.