Helen Sear, Welsh Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2015

Review by Robert Mills | 29 Jun 2015

The Wales in Venice representative Helen Sear does an effective job of linking the two countries together in her exhibition ...the rest is smoke, which is located within Santa Maria Ausiliatrice, a church and former convent in Castello.

Filling the exhibition with natural motifs of Welsh woodlands, leaves and trees and working with photography as a sculptural object, her stacks of tree logs, tree stumps and natural elements that she visually explores and collects almost come as ready made sculptures. It's not hard to see where the Welsh roots come through and inspire her. There are also many references to Venice scattered around Sear's mysterious show; her practice often working with layers and between media, it leaves viewers of the show with the ability to dig for more information.

… the rest is smoke comes from an inscription in Mantegna's painting of St. Sebastian. Nihil nisi divinum stabile est. Caetera fumus. Nothing is stable if not divine. The rest is smoke. References to this painting are made again in her piece Caetera Fumus in which a glorious photograph of a yellow field has been crumpled and then smoothed out with red branches and twigs placed over the top, the position mimicking the location where the arrows pierce the body of St. Sebastian. Rephotographed, there's a level of depth that wouldn't have been captured otherwise.

A hypnotic and mesmerising video installation, Company of trees, is another part of the show. A woman in a red dress circles numbered trees in a ritualistic way, with intermittent images of leaves and woodlands. There's something oddly soothing about it, as the escalating speed and the build up of sounds lures viewers into a trance-like state before being brought back to reality with a sudden silence.