June 11th, 2009
The Arsenale is a massive complex of installation rooms just west of the Giardini, the garden home of the national pavilions, in Venice. Cavernous, dark, and seemingly unending, the halls of the Arsenale are one of the two main venues for the survey component of the Biennale. Curated by the director of this year’s Biennale, Daniel Birnbaum, the exhibition is called “Making Worlds” and includes a wide variety of artists.
Two video-based works by female artists Ulla von Brandenburg and Keren Cytter took different approaches to a similar setup: put a group of ambiguously related characters into a fragmented, abstract social situation. In both cases, complex pschological dynamics come through, but the effects are very different.
Keren Cytter‘s video is, among other things, a catalog of hostilities. Bitingly aggressive members of one or more families subtly and unsubtly attack each other, with very little context. A son calls his mother a whore with no prompting. Throughout the short narrative, characters of various generations wander through a theatrical stage set, being watched by an audience that laughs and cheers at inappropriate times. Despite the immeasurable tension, there is a sense of intimacy among the characters that feels very important and realistic.
“Singspiel” by Ulla von Brandenburg is a soft, careful film projected on one wall of a hanging fabric maze. After a short walk through several corridors, the maze opens into a viewing room with about twenty stools, mostly in different styles, forming a U shape around a black and white projection. Two settings, a beautiful modern building (Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye) and a simple garden, serve as the backdrop to a delicate choreography of poses and formal gestures: an elaborate serving of some sort of tart or pie, a formation of characters seated on a lawn. A childlike voice sings the few spoken lines, all mouthed by adults, and the looped projection begins and ends with solid black. In the beginning, it’s a dark shirt worn by a man walking into the building, and at the end it’s a dark curtain closed over the field of view. The characters are polite, and could be a single family. But there is no feeling of intimacy, instead a sense of great distance.
Note: There were no press images documenting the exhibition immediately available, so the photos are all by Contemporary Art Daily. We apologize for any poor quality, as we do not have access to a professional photographer.
Full gallery of images available after the jump.