IT has been 16 years now since Scotland became independent – albeit only at the biggest visual arts festival in the world. In 2003, Scotland+Venice staged its first show as a separate entity from the UK pavilion, with work by Claire Barclay, Jim Lambie and Simon Starling to the fore, and now, it seems the Venice Biennale of art would be a little less vital without it.

Organisers say Scotland’s show at the bafflingly huge festival this year, an intense and memorable film by Turner Prize winning, Glasgow-based artist Charlotte Prodger, is very unlikely to be the last: especially as Scotland once again begins to consider its own place in the world in the wake of Brexit.

The 39-minute film, SaF05, has been unveiled this week in the canal city, as dozens and dozens more are shown by countries in old palazzos, in the voluminous industrial space of the Arsenale, in rooms and yards, gardens and official pavilions.

Charlotte ProdgerSaF05

There is also an extra level to Scotland’s participation this year: the UK Pavilion’s show, which is run by the British Council, is the artwork of Cathy Wilkes, the Glasgow-based artist, represented by Glasgow’s Modern Institute: a first. This year, unusually, the Prodger art work, produced with Cove Park, is to tour Scotland at the same time it is shown at the festival. One of its key backers said it is more relevant than ever for Scotland to be at the festival.

Amanda Catto, the head of visual art at Creative Scotland, which backs the Scotland+Venice project, said: “It is more than 15 years, but I think it is even now more important that we are here.

“If you look back, every show has been pretty remarkable, and people have memories of those exhibitions. It feels like that it is very important.

‘‘And it is a particular moment isn’t it, in the politics of the country, and the thinking about who we are and where we are, so for me, Scotland+Venice still feels relevant.”

She added: “There is this desire to be connected internationally.

‘‘I think it is a fundamental part of artist’s practice, with curatorial practice ... so to not be here, what does that say?

“There are 90 countries participating, and 21 collateral [unofficial] events, and you imagine that you would not have Scotland within that mix?

“I think that would be a very poor position to be in.

“And as long as we have the calibre of artists as Charlotte and all of the others we have shown, then why would you not? We don’t have a shortage of the quality of work, and this is one of the major international arenas we could be in.”

Charlotte Prodger

Prodger’s work – an intense and affecting film which takes in a maned lioness, memories of growing up in Scotland, and powerful images of footage shot around the world – is being shown in a boatyard venue in the Arsenale area.

The tangible benefits of being in Venice at this time, Catto said, are real.

She said: “The work gets taken into collections, then seen multiple times in multiple locations: it has that legacy, and I think for the artist it has that: with Graham Fagen, an outstanding work [shown at Scotland+Venice in 2015), that has never stopped touring.

“There is a massive legacy from the work. I think after 15 years, you can build up and see the evidence of that.”

Speaking whilst sitting in the outdoor area of the Scotland show, Prodger said she was still “digesting” the double honour of winning this year’s Turner Prize, and being the artist chosen for the show.

Prodger said that the lioness, which lives in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, should not be read as the be-all of the film: and indeed, it only appears in the first scenes, involving meditation on intimacy, relationships, identity and time.

Charlotte Prodger

She noted: “I should say, the work is not about her. She’s more of sub-current that runs through it, and in the end there is not much about her in it.

“She is more of a thing, for other things to reflect off. But she is definitely in it. But I have been researching her for a while, and having the resources for this project, I have been able to do more actively, and speak to conservationists to find out more about them.”

The stories she tells, subtly and beautifully in a voiceover, in the piece – queer sexual encounters in Glasgow and Aberdeen, stories of loss, an early experience of religion in Aberdeenshire – she noted, were real.

“I don’t write fiction, although I would like to. Even if I did, it would still be drawing upon experiences I have had in the world, like a lot of writers and artists do.

“They are real, all of them. I don’t make things up: I just cannot, for some reason.”

The show was one of the most popular in its opening days, and this year Scotland has chosen an unusual but accessible space to show the work, a working boatyard in the Arsenale area, close to but not part of the main Giardini zone of national pavilions, with a large forecourt and a placid view over a bridge and canal.

PRODGER has said she did not make the work any more “Scottishy” than if it had not been for the Scotland+Venice show, and added: “I just feel very lucky to be making my work with these resources and in this space. It is also amazing to be doing with with Cathy [Wilkes, at the UK Pavilion] and Laure [Prouvost, the French artist], it does feel like a very exciting time to be doing it.”

Charlotte ProdgerWork by Cathy Wilkes

As there are nearly 100 national show at the festival, it is hard, or perhaps dangerous, to draw a single theme from the overwhelming overload of sensation generated by the simultaneous opening of so many art shows.

But there seems to be a greater appearance for grand technology this year.

At the festival’s own main show, May You Live in Interesting Times, which is spread over two main venues, the Giardini pavilions and the nearby Arsenale, there are exhibits which feature holograms, VR technology and a piece with a huge industrial robot hand, Can’t Help Myself, by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. The robotic hand seems to have a life of its own, smearing a blood-like substance around a vast glass box.

The VR work in the Arsenale, by Dominique Gonzales-Foerster, involves several participants in a windowed box, experiencing what seems like out-of-body experiences, while the visitors look on.

There are other shows you can interact with: Ireland’s playful and beautifully made Eva Rothschild show features large blocks, which you are encouraged to climb on (reader, I did), while the vertiginous trick, and virtuosity of the Philippines show, by Mark Justiniani, urges the visitor to stand on glass platforms over extraordinarily deep shafts which seem to have been drilled into the Venetian soil.

It’s like stepping out on to the beams of a half-built reversed skyscraper.

The US show goes for big burly sculptures by Martin Puryear, one of which is a huge stag head entitled Hibernian Testosterone.

Across the gritty main avenue of the Giardini, the Venezuelan show lies empty, with no art being shown this year.

Perhaps the most entrancing of the shows in the national pavilions is the extraordinary Laure Prouvost show, Deep See Blue Surrounding You, which combines an eerie and disturbing film with elaborate, gothic and arcane sculptures, seas of mist, and some (I counted two) real doves. Whether live animals should be used in an art show? It’s certainly worth questioning, although the last Biennale did feature dogs as part of the German pavilion.

Another urgent theme is the environment, appropriately for a city, and its delicate lagoon, which seems to some to be under siege by mass tourism.

The austere Nordic show, the Denmark exhibition (with a post-apocalyptic film by Larissa Sansour), and Switzerland (with a charged political film by Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz), among others, reflect the crisis in both the environment and world politics.

It is not a new issue, of course, but this year the We Are Here Venice campaign is hoping to bring into a sharper focus, with poster displays, and report, highlighting the ecological effects of the festival and tourism on the city.

THE Biennale by itself attracts more than 615,000 people to the city, and in a new report, We Are Here Venice says: “While the Biennale might draw the world’s gaze to Venice, it is of vital importance to investigate how this serves the interests of the city and its residents.

“Exhibitors clearly benefit from the extraordinary backdrop and visitors never tire of the pleasures of spending time in Venice, but the serious threats to both its historic urban fabric and future as a living city tend to remain in the shadows ... The question is not whether Venice should host the Biennale: it is a significant reality. “But should Venice be getting more from the Biennale, and vice versa?”

For the future, Scotland looks set to return in 2021.

Catto said, though, that changing venues and keeping the presentation fresh and different is key to the country’s contribution.

The national tour of the Prodger film is key to that, she added.

It will screen at The Tower Digital Arts Centre in Helensburgh, Argyll & Bute on June 27 and will then tour six cinemas and art centres across Scotland’s west coast, highlands and islands ending in Aberdeen at Belmont Filmhouse on November 21.

She said: “We feel it is really important that the film is touring – for every single edition of Scotland+Venice we have thought of audiences in Scotland, because the project has multiple layers of benefit, but it has to have meaning for audiences in Scotland.”

“This is a bit of a gift, because we had talked about touring after Venice, but then we thought: why not do it at the same time?

“That is a very democratic way of thinking about it, and Charlotte is very generous in that way. I think it’s exciting to say to audiences in Scotland: come and view this – film makes it possible, you cannot do this with every single show.

“Because we are nomadic here, every time we search for a new venue, we have to keep being alert to every opportunity – that is the best thing about it, if it was just formulaic and we just did the same every time, that’s when being relevant would be an important question. It being different is why it works.”