52nd Venice Biennale

Vallie Export

Editorial: Looking at Recent Moving Image Work at the 52 Venice Biennale from an International Perspective.

However one may feel about the choice of wording: Think with the Senses – Feel with the Mind. Art in the Present Tense, the theme of the 52nd International Venice Biennale is a very apt epithet for contemporary moving image work. It seems to reflect the way in which moving image technology can evoke and encourage an almost synaesthetic relationship between the senses, dispensing with conventional distinctions. But it goes even further, suggesting the way that film and video blurs the divisions between things and ideas, and between each other, as it converges and merges hitherto separate media and transcends physical boundaries and national territories.

The Venice Biennale of course includes work in many different media, and moving image work is experienced as one approach within the widest possible context of gallery art; works in other media jostle with each other and compete for space and critical attention- especially painting, sculpture and perhaps most critically, photography and installation. However, the range, depth, scope and diversity of film and video on display in Venice this year is extraordinary, with nearly every national pavilion and exhibit presenting new work by artists who choose to work with the moving image. This diversity deserves a wide-ranging and international approach to sample, critique and describe the work available to the visitor, and the three reviews in this month’s issue are intended to reflect this attitude. Each of the writers is from a different country and each is deeply involved with the moving image within fine art discourse. All three write in English as a second language. Two are practitioners who work with video and all are currently engaged in PhD research at UK institutions. This crucial relationship between practice and research is reflected in their careful analysis of the work, and their keen awareness of the context and the cross-cultural nature of moving image work is imbedded in their understanding and attitude to the exhibition and its intentions.

Maltese artist and curator Vince Briffa has chosen to survey works that explore the potentials of interactivity and virtual space. (Indeed, as Briffa points out, this year’s theme suggests and implies that the Biennale will provide an ideal opportunity for virtual and interactive experience.)  In his article “The (Inter)national (Inter)face of (Inter)action”, Briffa discusses the way in which artists have embraced the potential of digital moving image technology as a motivation and stimulus for an interrogation and celebration of creativity. Briffa understands that contemporary artists have sought to harness the possibilities of interactive technologies for the development of works that facilitate: “a participative and explorative device for the integration of a wider public and its desire for play.”

This approach accurately reflects Briffa’s own interests, as his fine art practice has developed away from painting and drawing to video installation, most recently embracing multi-screen and interactive sound and video. His current research involves an exploration of the implications of the database on the development of narrative moving image work.

In her article “Intimacy in Excess”, the London-based Italian artist and researcher Cinzia Cremona has examined and discussed works centring on issues of performance, one of the most important strands in the diverse history of artists’ moving image. Cremona focuses on works in which “complicit instants of recognition, unveiled vulnerability and shared presence” are core concerns. Cremona is particularly interested in notions of “Performativity”, a concept that has been adapted from linguistics, which she defines as the power of any act, present or deferred, to have an effect in the world. Cremona explores this idea in works that feature artists who perform directly to camera, as she believes works of this type engage the viewer at a more fundamental level. Thus, when the artist personally appears in the work, a direct relationship is established with the viewer, raising important issues and questions about the complex relationships between the performance of oneself in the “everyday” and the presence of the artist within the work. These issues are at the core of Cremona’s own work as an artist, as she uses the video medium to record performances direct to camera, and is engaged in research exploring issues relating to the intimacy and complicity that are implicit in this approach to the medium.

Polish art historian and curator Aneta Krzemien discusses moving image work with a political dimension in “Stories from ‘Bad’ Territories – Notes on Selected Moving Image Work at the 52nd Venice Biennale”.   Krzemien focuses on moving image works at this year’s exhibition that explore conflict, war and tension, political unrest and social upheaval. She posits that film and video have emerged as a valuable tool with which to examine the plight of the individual within the theatre of wider conflict and change. Krzemien explores the work of artists who use the moving image to construct testimonies which seek to locate the subject though conflict, tracing histories and personal trauma, seeking to mediate between places and people, and between the gallery and the experience.

Aneta Krzemien was trained as an art historian, with a specialism in critical theory and with particular reference to the politics of the image. Her current area of research centres on the relationship between new technologies and critical and curatorial practice, particularly in relation to the development of gallery and exhibition spaces for moving image work.

Each of the three contributors has written about works and themes that inform their own practice, and these approaches cross-reference and complement each other, whilst remaining distinctive and particular. For the most part, these approaches have resulted in very different selections, providing the reader with a wide-ranging survey of the moving image work on show at the Biennale. On the rare occasion when there is an overlap, the comparisons can be illuminating. For example Cinzia Cremona and Aneta Krzemien both discuss works by Sophie Calle and the Lebanese artist Mounira Al Solh, but each has chosen separate works and provided different but equally valid perspectives from which to examine and interpret them.

Clearly these three articles to a large extent reflect the opinions and interests of the individual writers, and something of the taste, ideas and influences of the editor. There has been an attempt to present a range of views and attitudes and to provide an international perspective whilst maintaining a coherent critical framework. Most importantly the articles provide a clue to the diversity, breadth and complexity of work in the moving image being produced by contemporary artists.

These articles also constitute the developing voice of new and well-informed ideas and opinions about the development of moving image work. In a wider context, it is important to reflect and nurture debate and discussion about new work and to continually revise and re-appraise earlier works and to encourage multiple perspectives and histories.

Chris Meigh-Andrews, London, 2007