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51st Venice Art Biennale Various venues in Venice until 6 November Everyone travels to the Venice Art Biennale in search of some form of enlightenment - collectors looking for their next discovery, curators looking for the must-see piece, journalists looking for the hottest story (or hottest party). The idealist is hoping to find a summing up of the art scene as it is now; a state reflected in the title of the show in the old naval buildings of the Arsenale: 'Always a Little Further'.

The reality is a highly diverse collection of different generations and genres. Strongly edited, and very visitor-friendly (outdoor seats and espresso bars abound), this year's biennale is far removed from the 'Death In Venice' incarnation of 2003, with its unbearable heat.

Each pavilion in the Giardini is a microcosm of the country it represents: an island. In the German one, the tall doors, and even the door handles, feel familiar from trips to that country. Each nation seems to have brought all its own materials, from screws to floor products, to create its pavilion interior. This stimulates different sensations and memories and creates a total experience of the country. You can recognise where you are by a combination of smell and the style of the trestle table. The viewer becomes a tourist in many countries, but all within one city.

Inside the air-conditioned perfection of the Neo-Classical American pavilion, Ed Ruscha holds the fort with paintings that present a bleak but quite wry view of a generic post-industrial world - a kind of lost vision of a capitalist country. Lost dreams recur in Sergio Vega's 'Modernisimo Tropical' in the Arsenale - an exhibition of works inspired by Antonio de Leon Pinelo's 17th-century theory that placed the Garden of Eden in South America. Vega travelled to Brazil in search of Pinelo's legendary paradise, but what he found was the present-day country, with all its blips and flaws. His multimedia essay creates humorous juxtapositions of Brazil's post-industrial and pre-modern realities.

The Israeli pavilion presents Guy Ben-Ner and his brilliant Treehouse Kit installation, which consists of a tree made of dismantled furniture and a video in which the artist appears as a sort of Robinson Crusoe character.

Discovering that the tree meets all his furniture needs, Ben-Ner can make his island a domestic paradise, as he combines the idea of the 'readymade' with a sense that objects have a hidden life, beyond what is immediately visible.

Gregor Schneider's proposed replica of Mecca's sacred shrine, the Ka'ba, which would have been in St Mark's Square, was disallowed for political reasons. Instead, a video of his model and the story of its cancellation are showing in the same building in which Rem Koolhaas presents another story of cancellations: seven art galleries that he will now not be building, from the LA County Museum to his proposed extension of the Whitney in New York.

The idea of paradise returns in Olafur Eliasson's project, Your Black Horizon, in the windowless pavilion designed by Adjaye Associates on the island of San Lazzaro.

Eliasson collaborated closely with Adjaye in the creation of this temporary structure in the grounds of the Armenian Monastery.

You enter it through an area interrupted with slatted light and then proceed into a blacked-out room, where a thin horizontal line, directed through a narrow gap at eye level, is the primary source of light.

Based on recordings taken over a 15-hour period from sunrise to sunset, this light constantly changes colour and intensity, running through all the variations of a day in just a few minutes. Here, Eliasson creates the brief moment of sensual paradise that his work always seems to achieve.

Many contemporary art spaces are built as a form of spectacle, art paradise or artwork in their own right.

The curator then has to come to terms with their complex forms and interiors. However, Adjaye and Eliasson's pavilion is a building with a specific purpose, where environment, landscape and concept meet to drive the architecture's agenda.

'A new condition is created, whereby the art, architecture and landscape must complement one another, ' says Adjaye. Away from the chaos of the Arsenale and Giardini, San Lazzaro is the island of enlightenment I was looking for in this biennale.

Emma Thomas is a partner in APFEL (designer of the new AJ) with Kirsty Carter. For more information on the biennale, visit www. labiennale. org

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