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Pioneer of the use of electric light in art Bill Culbert represents New Zealand at La Biennale
Bill Culbert, Strait (2013). Photo: Jennifer French.

VENICE.- Culbert shows site-specific works for the New Zealand Pavilion at the Istituto Santa Maria della Pietà (La Pietà). The lagoon-facing venue offers various exhibition spaces, including an outdoor courtyard and a spacious corridor where Vivaldi once taught violin. For the first time the main entrance is on the Riva degli Schiavoni.

“Step into Bill Culbert’s Front Door Out Back and you enter a living space of an unusual kind, a sculptural meditation, played out through eight connected spaces, on shelter, habitation and dwelling,” says curator Justin Paton.

“On arrival the visitor is confronted with Bebop, a 15-metre-long work suspended from the ceiling of the historic corridor, where 34 second-hand tables and chairs seem to have been lifted and spun through the space, each one pierced by a single bolt of fluorescent light. In another key work, Daylight Flotsam Venice, Culbert feeds 150 fluorescent tubes into a densely packed field of recycled plastic bottles creating a carpet of colour, seen against the backdrop of the canal beyond.”

As Paton says of the exhibition, “this house-load of objects is both unsettled and energised, thwarted and animated, by an unstable force—light”.

Culbert (b. 1935) is a pioneer of the use of electric light in art, making works that harness the qualities of this most intangible of mediums from as early as the 1960s. Over a career spanning almost six decades, he has pushed the frontiers of art through a rigorous, inventive and economic use of materials. Light is both medium and subject matter in his sculptures, installations and photographs, the means of mounting a philosophical enquiry into the art object and its materiality. Culbert's sculptural installations make striking use of found and new materials. From suitcases pierced with fluorescent tubes, to chandeliers of repurposed furniture, through to arrays of reclaimed plastic containers, his artworks illuminate the qualities of common things and their surrounding environments.

The curator of the exhibition of the New Zealand Pavilion is Justin Paton, Senior Curator, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu.

Culbert's extraordinarily diverse career relates to many different aspects of contemporary art, among them Constructivism, Op Art, Kinetic Art and Conceptualism. His importance is indicated by his participation in a number of major group exhibitions, including Sixties Art Scene at The Barbican, London (1993); Un siècle de Sculpture Anglaise, Jeu de Paume, Paris (1996); the Op Art exhibition at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, Germany in 1997; and a survey of British and Brazilian Concrete Artists at the Centro Brasileiro Britânico in São Paulo, Brazil (2012).

Culbert has had more than 100 solo exhibitions since 1960, showing across New Zealand, England, Europe, the United States, and Australia. His work is owned by numerous public and private collections around the world. Culbert is based in Provence, France and London, England.

New Zealand has exhibited at la Biennale di Venezia since 2001 with exhibitions by Peter Robinson and Jacqueline Fraser (2001), Michael Stevenson (2003), et al. (2005), Judy Millar and Francis Upritchard (2009), and Michael Parekowhai (2011).

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