It was Iceland (not the pavilion, which I’m sorry I didn’t manage to see), and that sailing boat with its haunting brass; that and the way the country came up all the time in talk. Had you been there? How about the heat and the cold right next to each other; the blue of the glaciers, the pink dawn over the mountains, that caff in Reykyavik with the lobster soup to die for, the frozen waterfalls, that novelist who was at this very moment writing the next great one in some hut in the glow of a hot spring. Bits of the land were being born as we spoke; it was the very newest place, perched right on the edge of the tectonic plates. And it had survived the 2008 crash with wonderful knobs on, cocked some sort of a snook at the rest of us old, tired world, had women in power, for god’s sake, was right up next to the threatened arctic and so cool it just ached to be visited and clucked over with super possessive joy.The new sublime is Iceland bottled. Fresh, new, full of promise and adventure, new frontiers, new edgelands, new starts. That clash of heat and cold, that unspoiled landscape. Not heroic. Not at all. Not grand in the old Romantic sense. Smallish, human scale– but above all, strange. An odd place where we might all get a go at it again. Something we might not, this time, spoil. We might even have learned something from the mistakes we made last time round and be careful.
In Venice there was the idea of going back to learn from history and the past (the German pavilion – swapped with France); of remixing stuff to make something new (France); of making new lamps out of old (the whole of the Arsenale). There was understanding of decay and renewal (Australia) and how we might go forward from that with delight in the beauty of light and darkness (south Korea). There was human warmth coming out of extreme distress (Iraq) and human destruction (Ireland via Congo). Above all, it was modest, humble even. It was hopeful.