Rage, Angst, Deal … and now Faust: in the titles of Anne Imhof projects converge feelings associated with anxiety and juvenile nonconformity with the transactional component of any social contract or illicit agreement.
Imhof has transformed the German pavilion of the Venice Biennale into delusive glass cages, before which it is difficult to know if those who are captive are the performers or the spectators. Transparency acts in the opposite direction to the fog in Angst II (2016): the smoke that tarnished the space of the old train station (Hamburger Bahnhof) protected the secrecy of encrypted choreographies, guaranteed the freedom of worship of a a kind of mysterious rite practiced by empowered adolescents.
In Faust the tacit understanding between the members of the small group (we recognize the same actors, dancers and friends of the artist as in previous pieces) continues to remain, as an invisible bond that unites them while preserving the self-absorbed withdrawal of each one. But on this occasion we sense that the price to pay for gaining that limbo (the Mephistophelian deal that the title refers to) has been higher. The atrezzo is minimalist and with surgical tuft (sink, tubes, iron, glass…), in addition to a body lexicon in which dominates the anomia, apathy, slumber…, everything that follows the euphoria, the overdose, to have believed in some kind of eternal rapture.
In Imhof’s proposals, actors improvise from a basic script, and that ambiguity between obedience and the transgression of certain norms is noticed in some way. The complicity between them is expressed through touch, fluid spillage (buttermilk in Deal, water in Faust…), shaving body parts to each other (Angst), exchanging the smoke of the cigarette… They are sexually connoted actions, but the binary tends to be diluted to form an androgynous group. A series of post-genre and onanistic sensuality emanates from these scenes.
The communication is verbal just when Anne sends them instructions by whatsapp in mid-performance (Angst). For technology is invisible and ubiquitous it is transformed into ether, it permeates everything by conditioning behaviors completely. Through the glass they see and are seen, there is some zoological exhibit in that show, but they are shy animals, unreachable in spite of the fences. As soon as they crawl through the subsoil (beneath the transparent base) they climb to the top on fragile pedestals near the ceiling. They intimidate as much or more than the dobermans who protect them, perhaps of themselves.
Thus, in the German pavilion of this year two heavyweights of Germanic culture return to the ring, the myth of Faust and the Wagnerian concept of “total work of art”, which Imhof knows how to bring to her territory because they fit with her previous research, always interested in exploring the eternal dissatisfaction of human beings using an amalgam of multiple languages (music, performance, painting, installation).
The beauty contained in the slowed movements, in the silence only broken by a few songs that the synchronized lips of the performers accompany without voice, whose liturgical sense is transmitted by space and objects, fire, water, soap, electric guitar … we said, the plastic force rescued from those moments leads us to understand why the artist defines herself as a painter. Since all draw from the intuitive composition of photogenic frames as mental flashes, images that unlike painting on canvas are done in collaboration and include space and time. 5-hour piece for 7-month scenario.
Anne Imhof, Faust,
Golden Lion prize for best national pavilion,
German Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2017
Curator: Susanne Pfeffer