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

Auguri and other stories : contemporary dance in a state of emergency

In 800 Signs

Red alert. Dance is in a state of emergency. From Avignon to Paris Opéra Garnier, from Montreal to São Paulo, entire dance companies just can’t seem to stop running. From a breathless run to a heavy walk it’s always at life-or-death-matter speed. Where to? What for? Headlong rush, exodus, momentum: there is a growing trend in the world of contemporary ballet whereby bodies just race right ahead like hope is not dead. Somewhere, over the rainbow lays the centre of the universe, the core of our humanity. Olivier Dubois just presented his show Auguri in Chaillot by the Ballet du Nord of whom he is the director. A rebel with a cause as far as we can tell.

More Signs

In Maguy Marin in Paris Opera Garnier in April 2016 with Les Applaudissements ne se mangent pas, the phenomenon couldn’t go unnoticed. It wasn’t discreet either in Marie Chouinard’s Avignon’s French première of Soft Virtuosity, Still Humid, On the Edge, or in Guilherme Botelho’s Sideways Rain at the Monfort theatre in November 2016. Lately dance has amounted to large miles of running. Drawing parallel lines or diagonals these choreographers made people sprint in circles, squares, you name it. And there is no such thing as chance, is it? It was hard by the way to sit there watching Olivier Dubois’s Auguri and not think of Maguy Marin, whose 2003’s Umwelt was shown again at the occasion of the Festival d’Automne à Paris in 2015. One of her other major creations,  BiT, was featured again last February by the Théâtre de la Ville at the Rond-Point. Just like in BiT, the bodies in Auguri end up trickling down along sloping sidewalls.

Olivier Dubois, Auguri, Chaillot, illustration © Araso
Olivier Dubois, Auguri, Chaillot, illustration © Araso

Auguri is everything. It’s the beginning and it’s the end. In Italian, “Auguri” means wishes, usually -but not only, in a positive way. For Olivier Dubois it’s the end of a cycle. It started in 2000 with Révolution, a pole dance ballet on Ravel’s iconic bolero, followed by Rouge (2011) a solo by a golden mini-dressed Olivier Dubois up on a pair of high red heels, and Tragédie (2012) for which his entire company was running all-over the stage in the nude. « The race of a man towards the absolute… The run-up, the quest for new horizons! » are Olivier’s reported words in the show’s brochure.  « It’s a terrible crossing, (…) a protest of the living ». So this search for hope does exist in the end. « The quest for our humanity is our purpose in this world. »

Auguri is this urge to live, to stop intellectualizing. It’s a manifesto for physical sensations. Bodies dash off as some ballistic missile was going after them- their lives depend on it.  They bump into each other, jostle each other knocking one in the process. They fight, clutch, grasp living the moment a thousand per cent. In the end, we want to agree with Olivier Dubois’s conclusion that « It’s urgent nowadays to replace the body, the human, at the centre of the essence of the world because our vitality and our life depend on it! »

Auguroni, Olivier.

Illustration © Araso
Auguri by Olivier Dubois interpreted by the Ballet du Nord was presented in Chaillot from March 24th to 27th 2017.

Trend Book #1 : FIAC 2016, give me your word

This year at FIAC, the international art fair in Paris, the writing’s everywhere: canvasses, photographs, metal bars, neon lights. Spreading outside the Grand Palais, it took over the Avenue, closed to traffic, with Lawrence Weiner’s Wonderland-like signage system (« On Above Up Sur Dessus du Haut ») and Jacques Villeglé’s giant symbol typing. 

The edifying (Lawrence Weiner), playful (Laure Prouvost), inked (Gilles Barbier) or crying (William Pope.L) letter connects graphic design to conceptual arts. Both domains were widely represented this year at la FIAC.

What is lying under the sudden urge for all to speak? For contemporary artists to produce letters and for galleries to show either recent work or works from previous generations displaying the alphabet? 
Are we on the eve of an iconographic revolution?

Tired of images? Need to talk? Need subtitles? Need meaning?  

What is the urge for words all about? 

Laurence Weiner @ Galerie Pietro Sparta, FIAC 2016, © Araso

Laurence Weiner @ Galerie Pietro Sparta, FIAC 2016, © Araso

Freezing the frame

Are written words the ultimate «thumb-stopping» trick like they say on Instagram? Maybe. Where images are legion, text, clear and concise, stands out.

Are we headed towards an Instagram of words? It is the choice Hans Ulrich Obrist has made since his very beginning on the media. One of the most influents curators and art critic of our times, he is also head of international programs at Serpentine Gallery in London.

Despite the spontaneous nature of writing, its form requires the passer-by to stop and read. It demands an extra effort, and it’s sticky. Words are read, processed and trigger a reaction, when in their intense proliferation, images have become invisible.

Yael Bartana, Black Stars shed no light, 2014 @ Galerie Raffaella Cortese FIAC 2016. Image © Araso
Yael Bartana, Black Stars shed no light, 2014 @ Galerie Raffaella Cortese FIAC 2016. Image © Araso

Coming to think of it, text is immediate yet complex enough to stop the passer-by. This applies to the FIAC, the Internet, or everyday life. FIAC is a good representative of what our world is about: an orgy of galleries (186) / exhibited pieces increasingly hard to decipher. Attempting to spot anything in this maze requires years of training so it’s only natural that clear, loud pieces stand out -and we feel such a relief when they do.

Furthermore, in a way, writing eliminates barriers to enter the Art world. No matter one’s reference or knowledge of arts, everyone who’s found their way to a place such as la FIAC can read, and text has the potential to win even the biggest art skeptics over.

Joseph Kosuth @ Galerie Almine Rech, FIAC 2016 Image © Araso
Joseph Kosuth @ Galerie Almine Rech, FIAC 2016 Image © Araso

All sorts of writings

Fabrice Hyber surrounds his drawings with captions, almost like a child would, in a very playful fashion. Roni Horn’s style is almost  documentary. Gilles Barbier’s recalls monastic writing from the times of illuminations. Atul Dodyia pays a tribute to Tristan Tzara with writing in white on a black board, just like a teacher would with a white chalk on a school board.

Marie-Thérèse Zerbato-Poudou, a Doctor in Sciences of Education highlights the importance of writing as a mean of  cognitive development and emancipation.  Her work underlines «the role of langage in building one’s thinking» as well as the relationship between the mind and the trace. An intimate gesture in the eye of graphologists, print is a tell-tale in itself. According to Fabrice Hyber, «the world can only be framed in questions».

Fabrice Hyber, Invention du Vitral 2, 2016, @ Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Image © Araso
Fabrice Hyber, Invention du Vitral 2, 2016, @ Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Image © Araso

As far as graphic design is concern, typography is not just writing, it’s a manifesto. Often related to politics or propaganda, it’s an instrument of power. Some fonts have become iconic, as Leigh Ledare (Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery) proves by unearthing pages of the New York Times.

Writing in itself is a work of art anyways, an artistic performance (William Pope L.). Joseph Kosuth, who was the editor in chief of Art and Language magazine, explained as early as 1969 that «the usage of the artistic language» can be considered art.

William Pope L., Crying Painting 2016 (detail), @ Galerie Mitchell-Innes & Nash © Araso
William Pope L., Crying Painting 2016 (detail), @ Galerie Mitchell-Innes & Nash © Araso

This year, street art was a rare commodity. Its skyrocketing success amongst the bourgeoisie and subsequent massive association with retail through a dizzying series of collaborations with brands (JonOne x Guerlain, Mambo x Goyard, Pro176, Nasty et Tanc x Monoprix, etc.) appear to have dramatically lowered collectors interest in street artists.

In the meantime, Murakami spray paints zen circles, black on a white canvas at Perrotin’s. And it’s a JonOne photograph and not graffiti that the same gallery chose to exhibit in their corner, entirely in Black and White.

©2015 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy Galerie Perrotin
©2015 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy Galerie Perrotin

It all starts with a concept

Conceptual is about the pre-eminence of the idea over its production. Applied to a commercial creation logic, this translates into having a strong concept first and worrying about spreading it afterwards. It might look like we’re stating the obvious but when consulted by a variety of brands on digital communication related issues, we invariably answer that the idea comes first. A great effect of aesthetics without meaning is pointless.

Lawrence Weiner, Transferred/Transféré, 1970 @ Galerie Jan Mot, image © Araso
Lawrence Weiner, Transferred/Transféré, 1970 @ Galerie Jan Mot, image © Araso

Writing can be the talkative witness of a silent creation process. According to Sol LeWitt, the process of making with its  hesitations, scribbles, repentirs, mistakes, notes, is more interesting than the end result.

And this is how Lawrence Weiner works. His phrases are titles for works he’s made in his studio, without showing them to the pubic, and that he shows as a different version of the work. And it becomes a stand-alone piece. The colour, shape, and size are chosen by the sponsor, who thus actively participates in the making. The word «Transferred» in massive block letters on a white wall would snatch the audience as they approached Jan Mot’s corner (Bruxelles, Mexico).

La FIAC, Grand Palais, Conversation Room. Image © Araso
La FIAC, Grand Palais, Conversation Room. Image © Araso

Conversations are another pillar of the creative process highlighted in this edition of FIAC. Ian Wilson crystallizes them in his work on invitations (There was a discussion at 16-18 rue Littre, Paris 1974). As early as 1969, the Art & Language collective based their work also called «conversations»  on an investigation of the relationship between theory and artistic performances.

This year, the FIAC made the concept its own by opening a space dedicated to Conversations, and namely talks about connections between art and science,  art and architecture, art and diplomacy.

Is poetry the future of contemporary art ?

In Jurgen Klauke’s work, days of the week appear on black and white photographs like x-rays. In a dark atmosphere, they compose an odd poetry, prompting a feeling of loneliness and uneasiness (Thomas Zander Gallery, Köln).

© Jürgen Klauke / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln
© Jürgen Klauke / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln

It was very hard to miss the work of rising artist Laure Prouvost, represented by Nathalie Obadia in Paris and Brussels  and Carlier | Gebauer in Berlin. A French artist based in London, Laure Prouvost was awarded the Turner prize in 2013. The Consortium in Dijon has just offered her a solo show which ended on September 26.

Laure Prouvost @ Galerie Carlier | Gebauer, Image © Araso
Laure Prouvost @ Galerie Carlier | Gebauer, Image © Araso

Although she claims not to be a poet, Laure Prouvost is undoubtedly a remarkable story-teller. She doesn’t create fiction, she substitutes one reality to another: hers. Her show in Dijon was a collection of stories, depending or not on each other, a rebus to decipher in the dark, a journey dedicated to picking up hand-written letters on the floor and nibbling raspberries.

Laure Prouvost @ Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Image © Araso
Laure Prouvost @ Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Image © Araso

Her playful boards with their white letters printed on a patent black board help people find (or lose) their way: «In the dark this sign wishes to show you the way» or «You are gauing in ve rong direction», 2016. The plates beneath her works «This butterfly died here to be looked by you» and «This apple here has the power to turn everything here into moldy dust» give any object, whether ordinary or extraordinary, a completely different purpose. And by doing so, she’s walking straight into the footsteps of René Magritte.

Is it marketing or politics?

Text equals tagline, equals advertisement, equals  consumerism, equals… Pop art. Writing flirts with Pop art and everyday life objects.

Lucy Mc Kenzie is mapping out new territories (Buchholz Gallery , Berlin, New York).

Annette Kelm lays down dead leaves on one dollar bills (König Gallery, Berlin).

Stand intégralement DADA chez GDM, Paris. Image © Araso
Stand intégralement DADA chez GDM, Paris. Image © Araso

Andy’s Silver Clouds inspire Canadian artists collective General Idea their Magi© Bullets (1992), who left a signifiant mark on conceptual art in the late 1960s onwards, (Esther Schipper / Johnen Gallery, Berlin).

Graphic design is having a revival, recalling Bauhaus aesthetics with K.P. Brehmer at Vilma Gold (London) or conveying  a comic strip touch on screaming flowers at Francesca Pia (Zürich) with «Here here» by Rochelle Feinstein. Her «Yes yes» calls to a heavy-hearted «we can».

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Project for Dazed and Confused) 1996, Courtesy of Gallery Sprüth Magers
Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Project for Dazed and Confused) 1996, Courtesy of Gallery Sprüth Magers

Barbara Kruger, represented by Sprüth Magers (Berlin) has worked a series of Untitled, Project for Dazed and Confused, 1996/2015. Her toying with the codes of printed press became her artistic signature. Her pithy strong headlines printed in white on a red background complete and caption savvy photo arrangements. Her work tackles societal issues such as relations between men and women, gender stereotypes and heavy consumerism. Barbara Kruger lives in LA and says she wants to question our relationship to images, established codes and dogmatisms carried by press and advertisement.

So it was made clear this year at FIAC, that art doesn’t intend to yield to the dumbing-down vicious circle of the ever-increasing consumption of faster more disposable goods. Art was crying out loud:

  • The end of the image almighty;
  • The rebirth of a political conscience;
  • The necessity of collective thinking;
  • The need for individual to reclaim the ownership of their own thinking.

© 800 Signes 2016. Please contact us for further developments. 

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