The 4 unmissable Pavilions of the Biennale di Venezia

Germany : Faust

The Biennale has just opened with an endless line outside of the German pavilion. For her Faust, the whole concept of which is a performance, Anne Imhof was awarded the Golden Lion of the 57th contemporary art Biennale di Venezia.

Around the building two young Dobermans, their ears and tails still untouched, quiver behind a several-feet-high wire meshed gate. They yelp while playing with pet toys with enough enthusiasm to scare away the adventurous few or the distracted strollers. They seem harmless but one can never be too cautious. 

It turns out humans are wilder than animals. An army of performers with icy faces on androgynous bodies evolve both in the inside and the outside spaces, climbing up fences, perching.

The pavilion’s brilliant scenography puts the spotlight on voyeurism. Glass is the main component of the premisses including a false floor, podiums and culminating platforms. The performers subtly navigate the space under people’s feet and up in the air across three different rooms. A corridor connects the main room to its two annexes where fire hoses, soap and towels lay on the floor. In a corner a black leather mattress, some knives and harnesses can be found.  


Androgynous icons, part gothic, part SM, part sportswear, actors are elevated to the rank of idols. Each of their single move -often sudden and abrupt, gives rise to a wave of excitement and admiration in the room. The master to slave relationship shows in the hand to hands, a savvy dosage of love and war making. A girl with a deep voice sings to a piano melody. 

The movements of the crowd are as fascinating as the performance itself. The human tide moving up and down becomes the piece.  

It turns out humans are wilder than animals.

Beyond voyeurism, the project questions the objectification of men. The watcher becomes the watched, exposed and photographed. The observer becomes the subject without knowing. Smartphones scrutinize the crowd taking unwelcome shots and videos of stranger faces. Below the see-though floors, the professional photographers taking millions of pictures may or may not be part of the show. The performance erases the notion of the spectator as we know it. One has to be ready to become the subject of a live experiment anywhere anytime. But are we really up for it ?

The audience’s behavior highlights another societal phenomena known as Fear Of Missing Out or FOMO. Ironically in Faust, the best strategy probably is to stay in one spot. The experience is then amplified by enhanced observation and goes way beyond just looking. Through its constant movement, the piece forces the viewer to position themselves. Seeing everything in a click of the mouse or the slide of a thumb is impossible. The visitor with this standpoint will only be frustrated, stressed and ultimately evict themselves. To appreciate is to make choices. 

Greece: Laboratory of Dilemmas

With a classic yet efficient plan, video artist George Rivas turns the Greek pavilion into a smart allegory of today’s scientific, geopolitic and demographic issues with a clear allusion to migratory flows. 

Buried in a dark yet extremely circumscribed environment, the visitor encounters retro video tapes and audio recordings. The premise of the installation, a well-known technique, is that a series of documents related to a secret research on hepatitis cells dating back to some unspecified long time ago is finally uncovered and introduced to the public. Starting from the paradigm of the king’s dilemma in Aeschylus’ play Iketides (the Suppliant Women), the piece is asking whether one should save the natives or welcome the newcomers.

The Laboratory of Dilemmas relies on a double deck maze of screens and recordings punctuating each angle. On the first floors, films, on the ground floor, sounds, in the exiting room: THE film. The public follows the peregrinations of the research team like a mini TV show. Upon discovering the molecule that should eradicate all forms of hepatitis forever, the scientists realize that the new cells, the product of their experiment, can only survive if they cannibalize the stem cells. From then on they are faced with a cornelian choice: extract the new cells and breed them separately with nearly no chance of success, or let them kill the stem cells, thus throwing away years of research. 

In the corridor one can hear the advocates of pros and cons debating. « If we kill the original cells, we just throw away all those years of research » then « we should give this new form of life a chance! ». Can the old and the new live together? Do the tradition, the familiar and the known have to make way for progress and its compulsory share of uncertainty? 

When faced with change, one gets carried away by two opposite streams: the Ancient has to go causing some incompressible pain whilst the New asserts itself bearing the promise of something better. The hardship of giving up customary comfort adds to the mourning of past accomplishments. In Laboratory of Dilemma the scientist in charge of the experiment is torn and desperate. « I cannot personally make this decision! »

The hardship of giving up our customary comfort adds to the mourning of past accomplishments.

The last room is a short film about the last executive committee’s meeting. Gathered around a rectangular wooden table presided by Charlotte Rampling, the stakeholders argue about the experiment’s outcome. Whilst the finance guy standing for the capital insists on showing the investors reassuring figures, the president shifts the debate down to the individual:  « Our objective when we started this experiment was very specific and cannot be altered. (…) You cannot personally make the decision to change the world ».

Counterbalance: The Stone and The Mountain

The Korean pavilion is hard to miss with its huge neon billboard Venetian Rhapsody, a combination of American motels, Las Vegas and contemporary urban Korean landscape inspiration. Its claim: « Pole Dance, Free Video TV, Free Narcissistic People Disorder, Free Peep Show, Major Credit Cards, Free Orgasm ». What a heavy schedule. 

Brilliantly designed by artist Cody Choi the place is a burlesque mausoleum echoing the Korean war in which 200 000 soldiers died. Packed with postcards, small altars, prayers, objects such as a pair of latex slippers that used to belong to a 100 year old lady, medallions, identity pictures and family portraits, press covers of president Kim’s death, the walls call for intimacy. 

The place is undoubtedly a tribute to the dead of Korean’s no man’s land viewed though the lens of today’s contemporary culture. Cody Choi, known for his acid-kitsch pop aesthetics, furnished it with toilet paper sculptures, embedded nude photographs and a lonely pole dance in a red light looking as though it’d just been dug out in an archeological search, just like its nearby companions, an old couple of TV monitors on top of each other. 

Welcome, Pole Dance, Free Video TV, Free Narcissistic People Disorder, Free Peep Show, Major Credit Cards, Free Orgasm

This half museum half curiosity lab contrasts with the proposition made by Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho two years ago, all in futuristic immersive video installations. It lacks neither intelligence nor humour nor depth. 

Japan: Turned Upside Down, It’s a Forest

Plastic artist Takahiro Iwasaki showcases an abstract of Japanese culture in line with his work on the way we look at objects and symbolism. Turned Upside Down, It’s a forest is an ode to wood and obsession to detail. His temples hanging up in the air reveal their hidden half, as if their reflection on water was made tangible. It looks as though a fairytale had unveiled its psychology with some extra care for miniaturist things and particularities. 


One walks in like in a sacred place, disturbed by the pile of clothing shaping a well to the floor below. The visitor is invited to glance at the installation from under, with their eyes at feet level casting an astounded glance behind the scenes.

Somewhere in an angle, an oil slick awaits to be wiped out by the neighbouring detergent and broom.

Opposite is an altar where books pile up, a summary of Japanese culture through litterature from spiritual to erotic to manga.

This vernacular immersion is less spectacular, maybe less poetic than Chiaru Shiota’s odyssey two years ago, whereby hundreds of old keys were tied to hanging red fishing nets, but it is not less noticeable.

La Biennale di Venezia, Giardini, until Novembre 26th 2017, Venice, Italy. 

Images © Araso & Mathieu Dochtermann

Carte Blanche César Vayssié à la Ménagerie de Verre: Volmir Cordeiro, Julia Perazzini, Raphaëlle Delaunay et Dominique Gilliot by Araso

The happy marriage of art and technology as celebrated by César Vayssié

Cocking a snook at the electoral holograms in the last runs of the French presidential race, César Vayssié’s carte blanche at the Ménagerie de Verre, of which he is an associate this season, is a select apéro with handpicked friends. Its symbol is the Spritz, with its ice cubes and orange slices calling out for summer.

Dancers and non-dancers, performer/storyteller and actress engage in à deux or groups silent conversations through live screens. This is exalted generation Y, a larger than life snapchat or skype.

Carte Blanche to César Vayssié at the Ménagerie de Verre: Volmir Cordeiro, Julia Perazzini, Raphaëlle Delaunay and Dominique Gilliot by Araso
Carte Blanche to César Vayssié at the Ménagerie de Verre: Volmir Cordeiro, Julia Perazzini, Raphaëlle Delaunay and Dominique Gilliot by Araso

Volmir Cordeiro’s long silhouette plays hide and seek with a hoody, Raphaëlle Delaunay in mini-short and multi-coloured pants moves in a slow-motion kind of hip hop, Julia Perazzini, with her red lips and her trickling hair embodies melancholy with grace and Dominique Gilliot brings in some comic relief at the mike. Meanwhile, host César punctuates the show with out of sync interventions, either in a tuxedo or a t-shirt whilst appearing pregnant with a balloon.

A sublime light design enhances the primary colours, flashing greens, flamboyant reds and intimate blues giving to the party, besides a hangover after-taste, its population of lonely souls looking for a new kind of collective harmony.

Carte Blanche to César Vayssié, performance seen at the Ménagerie de Verre on April 21st 2017, with Volmir Cordeiro, Raphaëlle Delaunay, Julia Perazzini, Dominique Gilliot and César Vayssié.

Illustrations © Araso

Another distinguée: La Ribot’s pagan High Mass

Another distinguée is one of La Ribot’s wild escapes, the Distinguées, which the Madrid-born choreographer has taken around galleries and museums for the past 23 years. In this powerful sample, images explode in voracious desire, hungry for flesh and colors.

It all begins with the blind walk-in of a disoriented crowd pacing mechanically to the sound of transe music.

In the dark, the audience gets the notion of some vague mount covered in ugly tarpaulin. Two bodies, then a third come out of nowhere, their faces masked with black nylon, dressed-up in hugging black vinyle outfits covered in nude nylons, which they fanatically rip apart with insatiable snips of scissors. Bodies randomly crash into the crowd as they come, too bad for the voyeur whose eyes happened to be to close from the flying blades. A victorious La Ribot, the gladiator in the arena, uncovers her face and sways about before attacking her next victim.

La Ribot, Another Distinguée, illustration © Araso
La Ribot, Another Distinguée, illustration © Araso

The cutting is the red thread of if this itinerant black mass. Bodies marked with red and black felt pens, pieces of clothing chopped directly on the skins, La Ribot in an upside down position with her head buried in the tarpaulin recall the Chinese Revolution when the « extravagants » were chased down on the streets and their clothes ripped apart on the spot. For the victim: shame, often suicide. In Another Distinguée instead, bodies engage in a pas de deux for three rag dolls fucking whilst looking into emptiness.

The last image is addictive. « They have fallen asleep, we have to let you go now » the guard whispers to the last few hypnotized disciples.

Performance seen at the Centre Pompidou on April 7th 2017.

PERFORMERS: La Ribot, Juan Lo­riente , Thami Ma­ne­kehla

Illustration © Araso

Beauty is a moveable feast for Yves-Noël Genod

Life is a moveable feast. Or so it is for Yves-Noël Genod and this bunch of sixteen 20-year old.

There is the model, the gifted schizophrenic actor, the black diva with the voice of Amy Winehouse singing Jeff Buckley’s Lilac Wine a cappella, Proust’ Albertine in a full vegetable print outfit. Miles away from the jaded apathetic 3.0 youngster archetype, these kids lack neither passion nor French kissing abilities.

La Beauté Contemporaine, Contemporary Beauty by Yves-Noël Genod
La Beauté Contemporaine, Contemporary Beauty by Yves-Noël Genod

Nothing is exactly where it’s supposed to be. Actors come in and out through each of the backstage doors, interrupt each other constantly, chat in Dutch about the latest Star Wars whilst a girl is giving a poignant speech about origins. This tower of Babel relies on meticulous aesthetics. Proust’s La Recherche meets Chassol’s Pipornithology. On a floor, a tubular lighting system projects the colors of a fun fair that will blow into a giant foam party.

It’s hard to tell where it starts and where it ends. “In this house we work with time” says Yves-Noël Genod as a warning that the play will be 1 hour and 50 minutes long. Too bad we don’t feel it them passing by.

La Beauté Contemporaine, (Contemporary Beauty) by Yves Noël Genod, from March 14th to 16th 2017 at the Ménagerie de Verre within the Etrange Cargo Festival

Illustrations © Araso

Nadia Vadori Gauthier, illustration © Araso

A micro-performance feast

Since Charlie Hebdo, daily life poet Nadia Vadori-Gauthier has cast a pink filter over the world by dancing one minute of life a day. Pink like the tip of her long eloquent hair. Micadanses celebrated this beautiful form of resistance last Saturday with the first edition of festival dedicated to micro-performances, a way to remember, life, love, go on.

In-between screenings, Nadia invited « dancers, performers, but also friends ». Daniel Larrieu hypnotized with the tip of his fans, the (very young) La Ville en Feu collective revisited a brilliant and daring Rite of Spring, Mathieu Patarozzi (imperial on Thomas Lebrun’s dance floor) timed his passage with his phone and off he went, Jeanne Alechinsky was overwhelming in a sequin micro-skirt, Margaux Amoros got away from some far west ghost town to bewitch Théo Lawrence’s voice and guitar.

Nadia Vadori-Gauthier, illustration © Araso
Nadia Vadori-Gauthier, illustration © Araso

As an illustration to her words about memory, her Polaroïds in her hand, Nadia reinterpreted her own dance number 363, which took place the night of January 11 2016 place de la République under a pouring rain.

Minute by minute, dance finally runs through the stone.

Illustrations © Araso

Performance seen at Micadanses on Saturday January 14th 2017 within the Faits d’Hiver Festival.

Nadia Vadori-Gauthier’s message with Une minute de Danse par Jour (One Minute of Dance a Day):

Une minute de danse par jour /sélection d’extraits de danses from Nadia Vadori-Gauthier on Vimeo.

Petite Nature, Compagnie l'Unanime, illustration © Araso

Petite Nature: a performance about happiness and creativity

Here comes a UFO we would love to see flying more often –and not landing that would be a pity. Following in the footsteps of a new generation of assertive plastic artists with a sharp sense of humour such as Ulrike Quade or Miet Warlop, the Compagnie l’Unanime pulls together a rocking performance with their Petite Nature (meaning either «little nature» or «wimp» in French).

Three guys in colourful shorts, white tanks and windcheaters are on top of a plastic mountain. They come across the elements, some of which are natural, some of which are not at all.

Petite Nature, Compagnie l'Unanime, illustration © Araso
Petite Nature, Compagnie l’Unanime, illustration © Araso

It could have been a fail, some sort of bad joke. It’s the reverse. It’s clownish in the noble sense, aesthetically meticulous, the result of thorough research and elaborated writing. It could have gone one step further and neared perfection. The trailer, a masterpiece, has nothing to do with the show and yet it says it all.

One does not go to Petite Nature to reinvent the world, yet comes out of it genuinely feeling it’s a better place. And this is what creativity is about.

Petite Nature by Compagnie l’Unanime, at the Monfort in Paris until January 21st 2017.
The company’s hilarious YouTube channel unveils the genesis of the project.