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

Love of Grandeur

pascALEjandro is the artistic fusion of Pascale and Alejandro Jodorowsky, the « perfect alchemical androgynous », a combination of the best of femininity and masculinity. As close as it may sound to Barjavel’s The Ice People, the concept has given birth to a prolific artistic collaboration, of which the backstage is being unveiled. There is no way around their special wedding announcement that summarizes in itself the beauty and megalomania of the project.

To love is to create something together

@Galerie Azzedine Alaia
@Galerie Azzedine Alaia

Images (Happy End, La veuve, Sous le sable…) and film excerpts (Poesìa sin Fin, La Danza de la Realidad) are as fascinating on a psychoanalytical level as they are strong and moving, one of Jodorowsky’s trademarks. The feminine figure is both caring and threatening by turns, like in Picasso’s work, whereas man oscillates between the cherish child and the hunted animal. Entire parts of the exhibition including Le poids du passé, Allegria !, Allegria !, Allegria ! break away like particules of Dune. 

It is not love that unites us, you and I were united before we were born

@Galerie Azzedine Alaia
@Galerie Azzedine Alaia

One enters the den feeling like a distinguished guest called in with great simplicity to decipher creative intimacy, as one reads tarot cards.

The Azzedine Alaïa Gallery exhibits PascALEjandro’s work, Alchemical Androgynous, until July 9th 2017 everyday from 11 am to 7 pm. Free entrance – 18 rue de la Verrerie, 75004 Paris

Visuels @Galerie Azzedine Alaia

Claire Vivianne Sobottke portant la robe cheveux dans Until our hearts stop de Meg Stuart - illustration Arasao

Meg Stuart’s ode to the skin

Meg Stuart’s creations are usually as aesthetically striking as they are committed.

«Until our hearts stop has been built on touch and contact» says the choreographer by way of introduction. And we might as well stop here.  In this piece created in Munich in 2015, nudity enables six performers to touch, smell, and taste the other to intoxication. It’s on the verge of sexuality.

«Until our hearts stop has been built on touch and contact»

Indeed, this a piece about intimacy rather than sexuality. People running around on stage in the nude, playing with each other’s genitals, smacking each other sighing with pleasure, the catharsis effect is a guarantee. Live jazz music framed by heavy velvet curtains places the scene somewhere in between a private club, a playground and a cabaret.

Claire Vivianne Sobottke wearing the hair dress in Meg Stuart's Until our hearts stop - illustration Araso
Claire Vivianne Sobottke wearing the hair dress in Meg Stuart’s Until our hearts stop – illustration Araso

Meg Stuart’s definition of intimacy starts with caring. It involves a serious amount of risk-taking, letting go and giving in. The audience is invited to join in and bond with the band sharing a cigarette, a piece of clay, cake and whisky, all of this being part of the show. It ends on one question: who wants to take care of us?

Until our hearts stop was seen at Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers between April 26th and 30th 2017.

Le jour de la bête, live sketching, Araso

A collective pleasure

« Strength, balance, courage and common sense » is the motto of Spanish castellers, those Catalan performers known for their human towers. Aina Alegre’s latest creation finds her origin at the foot of those towers. Except that they look more like human individual performances and overlapping trembling bodies.

« Strength, balance, courage and common sense »

Le Jour de la Bête, features a dancer like a young horse snorting crazily like a young horse beating its hooves, rearing up and down on a slippery sandy floor. There are some individuals, a group and some flamenco. One can feel the (confusing) diversity of both influences and quests converging to climax: collective pleasure and childlike bursts of laughter.

Le jour de la bête, live sketching, Araso
Le jour de la bête, live sketching, Araso

It seems natural that Aina Alegre would build her piece around the notion of hearth, «this place where the fire burns». An attractive, warm fire where things merge and transform.  « The pyre is a companion for evolution » according Gaston Bachelard’s The Psychoanalysis of fire. A fire necessary to any creative processes, a fragile development where anything can surface.

Performance seen at the CDC Carolyn Carlson on April 27th 2017.

In situ live sketching © Araso

Kaori Ito Hiroshi Ito by Araso

Time is art's raw material

In 800 Signs

« Why am I always afraid to lose something? » « Why am I always stressed? » « Why do I feel lonely even when I am happy? » « What am I looking for in art? » « What does it mean to expect a baby? »

The audience doesn’t pay much attention to the recorded voice to begin with. People after people stop chatting and head after head turns to the stage. How many people ask themselves the same questions? How many times a day? The funny voice goes on tickling the clichés: « Why do people tell me I am Vietnamese when I’m tanned? »

A three-months pregnant Kaori Ito performs her own work of art, Je danse parce que je me méfie des mots, which translates into I dance because I am afraid of words. She dances alongside her father, visual artist Hiroshi Ito who hasn’t decided to grow old just yet. Since the piece’s early days in 2014, he’s only got younger, more energetic, slightly thinner if anything.

The Japanese choreographer introspects her own path both as a woman and a dancer between Japan, the US and France where she finally settled in 2003.

More Signs

To tell her story without words she goes back to nursling stage. Crawling onto the floor, her faced covered in a baby paper masy, she screams like the infant trying to find their balance up to a vertical posture. Her body was shaped very early by European dance training, placing its core «a lot higher than for regular Japanese people».

The torsions of her body, her joints, even her toes betray the hardship of elaborated practice and the inevitable load of suffering that comes along with it. As she frowns and cries, it seems that her own skin is about to crack open. Learning relentlessly, perfecting her craft across three continents and confronting radically opposed methods has probably given Kaori Ito her distinctive cat-like yet festive graceful moves.

« Why do I feel lonely even when I am happy? »

Meanwhile, a slender Hiroshi leaps up from sitting straight contemplatively on a chair. Swinging around on a light foot, he dances subtly with a smile. As a sculptor he conceived the show’s scenography, dominated by a black nylon monolith in the shape of a giant cactus. But not a single thorn will come between the pair. A lifting of the veil reveals a pile of chairs, making the tension drop. If this is what fear looks like, if this is what death really is then there is nothing to be afraid of. It’s a living impulse, a legacy from a father to his daughter.

Hiroshi et Kaori Ito, Je danse parce que je me méfie des mots, illustration © Araso

Hiroshi et Kaori Ito, Je danse parce que je me méfie des mots, illustration © Araso

Calling out to her own father, asking questions such as «Why do you smoke? » « How many polyps did they remove from you? » « Why do you eat at three in the morning? » « How much longer are you going to live? » is a way for the young woman to re-establish contact with someone she’s gone so far away from. It’s also her challenging the authority of the father, going as far as switching roles. The daughter commands a « sushi » « miso soup » « Champs Elysées » « Madonna » or even a « Michael Jackson » dance, and the father obeys hilariously.

The memory of the bodies, words recorded on tapes, give to the notion of time some unprecedented density, Proustian even. A tangible material, time sculpts the sublime pas de deux between father and daughter, suspended with insane intensity.

Kaori Ito, Je danse parce que je me méfie des mots, at the Théâtre de la Ville – Espace Pierre Cardin until May 11th 2017.

Illustration © Araso

Christian Rizzo, Le Syndrôme Ian, illustration Araso

Trance therapy

Nine dancers on a golden plate made of the same gold used by the people of Israel to erect the golden calf at the foot of mount Sinai. Images sometimes speak louder than words, yet the rave trance music comes on top of the sacred.

Introspection: 14 year-old Christian Rizzo awakes in London to the sound of David Bowie like others come to a spiritual awakening through assiduous practice of Buddhism. Le Syndrôme Ian gathers most of the choreographer’s talismans: the sacred, music to reawaken Chaillot and a revisited section of folklore –here, the ballroom dances for two.

And of course there is the smoke. A smoke to take a breather, a smoke to wear as a mask, a smoke to create accelerating tunnels through time. A hyperlapsed night.

Night butterflies move and groove between neon lights with branches like rays of cold suns. The relentless phototropic ballet doesn’t even notice the black hairy animal poking punctually the edges of the set. The creature strikingly resembling the garbage man in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive progressively emerges in multiples.

Christian Rizzo, Le Syndrôme Ian, illustration Araso
Christian Rizzo, Le Syndrôme Ian, illustration Araso

At the end they are legion, colonizing the dance floor before collapsing, dead.

Curtain, the golden age of nightclubs is over.

Le Syndrôme Ian was awarded the FEDORA – Van Cleef & Arpels prize for Ballet 2015
The performance was seen in Chaillot on April 26th 2017.

Illustration by Araso