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Without a doubt over the last few years performance has become normalised as just one more artistic format. It is no longer a strange entity added to the exhibition, so much as it has become fully integrated, forming part of it like any other format, even coexisting in symbiosis with other elements in the actual configuration of a work. It’s therefore not by chance that this year the Golden Lion award for the best artist at the Biennale has fallen to Tino Sehgal, whose “constructed situations”, as he defines them, have been seen in many big contemporary art centres over the last decade. In Venice we find him in the Central Pavilion of the exhibition curated by Massimiliano Gioni “Il Palazzo Enciclopédico”. Seghal’s proposal sets the stage with a few actors, of different ages, who ignoring their surroundings carry out choreographies and canticles that allude to the transmission of knowledge, myth and culture. But obviously, this isn’t the only performance based piece to be found in the Biennale; so taking the prize as my excuse, I want to propose a personal stroll through some of these pieces.
In the Central Pavilion we also find ‘Asylum’, by the artist Eva Kotátková, based on the social hierarchies and modes of communication that arise from a collaboration with patients from a psychiatric hospital in Prague. Made up of collages hanging on glass, leaning against shelves or hanging from strange containers, the installation suggests an alternative political body, the design made up of the fragmented vision of bodies that emerge from objects –interpreted by a pair of performers enclosed literally within the installation -, who reflect the perspective of those who live outwith the established social order.
Already outwith the central exhibition, the Romanian pavilion houses an ‘An Immaterial Retrospective of the Venice Biennale’. The project is reminiscent of the Xavier LeRoy retrospective that we saw last year in the Fundació Tàpies, but on this occasion the focus is directed at the history of the biennale and its most paradigmatic pieces. We enter into an empty pavilion, where each time one of the performers present names a historic piece they represent it with their own bodies. The retrospective converts the monumental into the immaterial and objects into action.
In the Italian pavilion the show ‘Vice versa’ plays with a dialogue between artists, at times a little under the duress of the curatorial discourse that proposes pairs of works with diametrically linked concepts. Francesca Grilli confronts her work with that of Massimo Bartolini to evidence the duality of sound/silence. The project by Grilli involves a performer who interacts with the rhythm of drops of water falling on a large plate of steel, manifesting the relation between the voice and the material, where the erosion of the metal symbolizes the tangible power of perseverance and reiteration, and the voice, the ultimate desire to exist, is absorbed and amplified by the water.
And we end our stroll in the pavilion shared by Lithuania and Cyprus, curated by Raimundas Malasaukas, that merits a whole separate text. The project ‘Oo’ is defined as “a slightly asymmetric structure conveying uneven, yet mutually open elements, that draws on an interest in forms of organization rather than the organisation of forms”. Situated in the Palasport “Giobatta Gianquinto”, a mythic Venetian gymnasium next to the Arsenale, the works of art coexist with the sporting competitions that will take place during the summer. The exhibition expands across the different floors of the unique building, inviting the spectator to look for the pieces and lose oneself in its corridors, moving freely through the space (something that one finds missing in the rest of the biennale). What is more during our travels we come across various choreographed pieces, like that of Lia Haraki, who with her accelerated, frenetic and repetitive movements, carries herself to the limits of resistance. In the games court we find the piece ‘Cousins’ by Gabriel Lester, an installation made up of walls that come from fourteen European museums, that configures the choreography of the interaction of the performers and the visitors. The coexistence achieved in the pavilion is sublime, not just between the pieces and the space, but also between the two countries and the actual sporting activities of the gymnasium and the choreographed performances. On the other hand ‘Oo’ also calls into question the very concept of the national pavilion, venturing for collaboration and experimentation and activating a space for dialogue between art and sport, with an original mise-en-scène that is consistent from the catalogue –a small book of infantile stories – to the list of programmed activities. An excellent option to let oneself be surprised.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)