Review by Renae Burton
Behind a securely gated pavilion, artist Anne Imhof’s demanding six-hour endurance performance piece captures intense feelings with no backstage and nowhere to hide for both performer and viewer. Encompassing the body, objects and sound, the performance encourages audiences to question the power structures that underline daily human interaction.
Curator of the German Pavilion, Sussane Pfeffer invited Imhof to deliver the performance titled Faust. A nod to Goethes’ nineteenth-century play Faust, in which the epnoumous character forsakes god and makes a deal with the devil.
Entering the German pavilion, the viewer is asked to decide for themselves whether to stay for five minutes or the entire six hours. This decision becomes an act of negotiation with ourselves and the space. Half a dozen performers sporting athleisureware strut below, above, and across the pavilion as though on a catwalk. Some are stationed on freestanding glass pedestals; others repeat movements of head banging and sounds which incorporate screams and chesty huffs. They spawn a mournful operatic atmosphere, invoking an uneasy feeling. Objects like soap, razors, a hose, sling shots, a sink, mobile phones and chargers occupy the space below and the rooms beside the main performance area. Imhof discretely choreographs the performers each subsequent move by text message.
Imhof’s formost medium is paint but her practice encompasses installation art, sculpture, sound, and performance to create a cinematic experience. Preparing for the commission the pavilions imposing architecture struck Imhof as church-like. Keeping the space in mind she decided to use its brutality as an opportunity to reflect on brutality. Imhof wanted the space to remain transparent and states “no cladding, no masquerade that would veil the space and the history.” Inserting a glass floor into the pavilion acts as another viewing platform, allowing the audience face the building in a different way.
For Imhof the glass flooring relates to two states of power. First, the power of the bank where glass separates two bodies therefore bringing forth an intimidating corporate truth of hierarchy. Second, the floor lends the body weight that might become dangerous should it fall. In my experience, walking over the glass platform evoked fragility and trepidation.
The glass platform also focuses attention on the space and reflecting the viewer's gaze. Imhof very deliberately handles the gaze and orchestrates the flow of movement. Drawing on themes of capitalization and objectification, Imhof exercises power within the social body.
Curator of the German pavilion, Susanne Pfeffer set out to find an artist that reflects on the effects of technological change. It drew Pfeffer to Imhof whose previous performances utilised mobile phones. For Pfeffer, it brings light to the issues of bio-politics and corporeality that are inscribed in our bodies. In Faust, Imhof develops a political language of control in which performers are compliant and complicit in their own commodification and objectification