An early take on the German Pavilion came from a fellow writer who had just walked out: “It’s terrifying, you have to go see it now.”
Indeed, the hit of the Giardini may be Anne Imhof’s Faust, a black metal dance played out in half-time, the performers lunging their bodies atop a glass platform supporting a grid of metal girders. It pulls you in with an assault of goth squeal, all awash in affectless cool, and then lingers with you as you mosey on over to the more serene, bright inclusions in this generally optimistic Venice Biennale. And it doesn’t hurt that there are snarling, barking dogs in a glass tank outside the space.
In its entirety, Faust, a new work premiered here today, is a five-hour production, but it also bills itself as a seven-month “scenario” that plays out over the course of the Biennale. As observers circle around the dancers, who are averting their gazes and shooting off death stares, they walk atop a meticulously constructed glass platform, beneath which are various gloomy ephemera, such as burning mini-torches, a dog’s water bowls, BB gun pellets, and a white lighter, which is thought to be bad luck in some parts. Sometimes they strap on harnesses and go up to a platform near the roof, forcing gazes upward.
In two other rooms—which are accessed by the dancers via the space beneath the glass, but walled off to visitors by more glass—there is a clear guitar, whammy pedals, bars of soap, and large receptacles that appear to be sinks. There are also large canvases, printed with images of Imhof screaming.
The screams also appear in a tape loop piped into the pavilion, over which the dancers intone ominous chants as they move in tandem with a partner, or as part of a whole; the movements are strange at first, then appear to look deeply human, like the dancers are flirting, or roughhousing.
“The individual movements and gestures stand in contrast to the uniform flow of motions—remote-controlled via text messages—that are reminiscent of social codes, continuously internalized without refection,” reads a line from the press release.
Indeed, Imhof could be seen occasionally taking out her iPhone to send a text, as the dancers follow her lead, contorting their bodies in sultry ways.
“Only by forming an association of bodies, only by occupying space can resistance take hold,” the press release ends. “On the balustrades and fences, underground and on the roof, the performers conquer and occupy the room, the house, the pavilion, the institution, the state.”
During multiple visits this afternoon, the action had shifted to other parts of the pavilion, and I realized that there are enough permutations of the dance that it could easily take up a five-hour run time, or perhaps even a seven-month run time. Expect to hear much more about Faust as the previews continue this week.