Venice – alternative student Biennale

Article published on Sept. 21, 2007
Article published on Sept. 21, 2007
Breaking with the usual traditions of contemporary art found at the Venice Biennale, Italian and German art students have ‘improvised’ scenes using Venetian passers-by

Venice, one spring evening, in the San Pantalon area. A young, blonde girl wearing wide-legged trousers and a sweater is trying desperately to open a door, but to no avail. One by one she tries her keys – nothing. A passer-by comments in her strong Venetian accent, she’s looking for her keys, looking for her keys, whilst another shouts, get yourself a locksmith!

From Frankfurt to Venice

This scene, however, is not real. It’s a performance, co-produced by students of Fine Art in Venice and their German counterparts from Frankfurt’s Stadelschule. It is part of five contemporary art events of spring 2007, is young, European and non-traditional, and goes by the name of ‘4+1’. The display intends to show that there might still be groups of artists outside the regular circles who stage provocative performances to ask questions about the meaning of art. Something very different from the usual stuffy traditions of the Venice Biennale of Art, which begins on 21 November.

Next to the beautiful church of the Frari, a young man dressed in a bathrobe delivers a speech that he is reading by flipping through a sheaf of papers. The half an hour monologue is then repeated from the beginning for a further hour and a half. A few cameras point at the actors, standing illuminated by spotlights. These little film clips will be used to make up a video mosaic to be shown later that night. This particular event was devised by Venice Fine Art student Claudio Marcon behind the camera, and Hanna Hildebrand, a young, curly-haired artist from Frankfurt’s Stadelschule.

Pietro Rigolo, one of the organisers, explains that the theme of the event is the relationship between the work of art and the public. 'That’s why we decided to stage ‘impromptu’ scenes in Venice,' he explains. 'We wanted to invite reactions from people passing by. For example, we filmed people doing knee-bends and sit-ups, then wiping away their sweat.'

Four videos

I know Hanna. In 2006 she came to the opening of an exhibition in the artists’ residence Noisy-le-Sec, in a poor suburb of Paris, with her friends. She is smiling, happy that her Venetian event has attracted so much curiosity in a town that sometimes seems completely caught up with the Biennale alone.

'You have to see the four videos together to understand the meaning of the scenes, to build your own story for yourself. We wanted to film something very ordinary, a repetitive action, and that’s why we decided to have the same action repeated for an hour and a half on each film set. We wanted to capture the moment, the during and the after, of the exercise, taking our inspiration from the French semiologist Roland Barthes. The four scenes were meant to be filmed simultaneously, but we didn’t have the budget to do that in the end. It would have been interesting to see what the passers-by would have imagined was going on if they had seen the four film sets one after the other.'

At 10pm, after filming has finished, we meet again in a house in Campo San Giacomo. Far away from the usual haunts of the hordes of tourists who come for the Biennale, we are in the district of San Polo. It is a real house, uninhabited for years, but still in good repair. After some frantic comings-and-goings, and an enormous amount of work on the artists’ part, we are finally allowed in to a small room to see the result.

The four films are being projected simultaneously. The first and second show three footballers doing squats for an hour and a half. The third and fourth, however, are those only recently filmed at Campo San Pantalon and near the church of the Frari.

Forest head-over-heels

To finish the project in style, the viewers were able to take part in a ‘home made’ performance. The house of one of the project’s members, Tobia, was transformed into 'Tobia’s garden'. 'One night, fifty plants, sixteen square metres,' is the concept, with an absolute forest of plants turned upside down in the room where the films have been projected earlier on. Will these young artists, teeming with new ideas, become the future of European contemporary art? Come to Frankfurt on 26, 27 and 28 October to experience a new event while you wait to find out.