Venice and the Moving Image

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BIENNALE VENICE 2005: 51ST INTERNATIONAL ART EXHIBITION

VENICE, ITALY

JUNE 12-NOVEMBER 6, 2005

The 51st Venice Biennale includes two international exhibitions, "The Experience of Art," curated by Maria de Corral at the Italian Pavilion, and "Always a Little Further," curated by Rosa Martinez at the Arsenale. Both exhibitions provide the context for a third event in September, a symposium organized by the next director of the Biennale, Robert Storr, intended to explore future directions for the world's oldest art event. While the existence of two international shows clearly invites a comparative analysis, the Biennale also encompasses an array of national and "collateral" events.

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Both de Corral and Martinez have selected a large number of film and video works, but employ very different approaches to presentation. Within the Italian pavilion, separate sound-proofed, dark spaces are clustered together at the corners, so that painting and sculpture remain in the center of the building. This strategy emphasizes the integrity of individual works, but also produces a sense of disorientation (the dark spaces are very dark indeed) in keeping with de Corral's stated interest in the concept of the labyrinth and the notion of disparate "personal aesthetic universes." The strongest works are those that examine the particular role of cinema, television and video games in the ongoing formation of these "personal universes." Willie Doherty's powerful NON-SPECIFIC THREAT (2004) is among the most striking. Composed of a looped steadi-cam shot, endlessly circling around a static white male figure, the piece is driven by a voice-over that builds steadily towards a dramatic climax ("I am all that you desire, I am forbidden, I am inside you ...") but refuses to deliver an easy resolution.

Vocal performance is also a key factor in Vasco Araujo's The Girl of the Golden West (2004), featuring a monologue delivered to the camera by a middle-aged black woman seated in a darkened cinema. The performer assumes the role of a minor character in a 1930s Western and from this perspective she evaluates the moral and narrative qualities of her fictional world, constantly shifting between recall, invention and evaluation--underscoring the key thematic emphasis on "experience" in de Corral's selection. A process of oscillation is also inscribed within the structure of Stan Douglas' 16mm installation "Inconsolable Memories" (2005), set in Cuba in 1980. Here, the rhythmic insertion of multiple, precisely synchronized audio and visual elements serves to reframe a personal narrative of loss and regret, directing attention to the smallest details of dialogue, costume and setting.

Tacita Dean's 16mm film Palast (2004), an assemblage of reflections on the glass and metal facade of the modernist Palast der Republik in Berlin (the former government building of the German Democratic Republic), is a more overtly romantic meditation on memory and loss. The deliberately modest scale of projection seems to suggest the impossibility of return, rather than any celebration of political ideology. Eija-Liisa Ahtila's The Hour of Prayer (2004) is an equally personal meditation on loss and is arguably more self-conscious, particularly in its use of song. But here the scale of the installation ultimately tips the balance too much towards sentiment.

Much of the dialogue featured in film and video works at the Italian Pavilion is in English (even Ahtila's work). By comparison, Martinez's project at the Arsenale takes a more overtly critical stance with respect to Eurocentrism as well as the globalization of the art market. The absence of dividing walls within the building is presented as a deliberate attempt to create "new forms of neighborhoods" between disparate artists, cultural contexts and audiences. (1) This approach ensures that the exhibition appears cohesive, but it also generates some problems, particularly when superficial similarities between other-wise distinct practices are over-emphasized. …