Irina Nakhova: The Green Pavilion (Venice Biennale 2015)

Venice Biennale 2015 Russian Pavilion: The Green Pavilion (Installation Art by Irina Nakhova)
The Pilot; Artist: Irina Nakhova; Title: The Green Pavilion; Installation (The Russian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2015) 

Irina Nakhova’s three-part installation The Green Pavilion, which represented Russia at the Venice Biennale (2015) is a thought-provoking, but disjointed look at our relationship with history and the future.

About the Installation

The first part of the installation, a giant head of a helmeted man whose features subtly change, is visually stunning, but it is not immediately clear how it is related to the installation as a whole. The artist explains her concept in the following video:

When you walk into the first room, all the sizes are different, and who greets you there is the pilot. The pilot is your navigator through time. So when you are here, there is dark. The skies are closed, but you are in the cockpit of the flight. When you come closer to the pilot, his eyes open, he looks at you and he also looks at the sky, and you can see that the sky are opening [via a skylight]. Then you really see what’s going on, but it’s also like in a dream because there is no verbal communication.

The second part of the installation occupies two rooms. In the lower room, images and videos from the old USSR are projected onto the walls. Blue ‘X’s and red circles start to appear on some of the people shown in the photographs; then the photos and videos fade and are replaced by new images. As the people in the photo are crossed out and their images fade, it seems like they are being ‘disappeared’ from history, a fate suffered by many victims of totalitarian regimes over the years.

Venice Biennale 2015 Russian Pavilion: The Green Pavilion (Installation Art by Irina Nakhova)
In the room of images; Artist: Irina Nakhova; Title: The Green Pavilion; Installation (The Russian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2015). 
Venice Biennale 2015 Russian Pavilion: The Green Pavilion (Installation Art by Irina Nakhova)
In the room of images; Artist: Irina Nakhova; Title: The Green Pavilion; Installation (The Russian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2015)

This visual representation of the practice of ‘disappearing’ people is a little obvious, but what makes the installation work is the way the viewers become part of the work. Above the room of disappearing photos is an empty grey room. In this observation room, visitors can look down through a transparent plastic window on the floor and see the people observing the fading photographs and videos.

Venice Biennale 2015 Russian Pavilion: The Green Pavilion (Installation Art by Irina Nakhova)
In the room above

Light pours down through a skylight in the ceiling, through the plastic panel on the floor and into the room below. If the people in that room look up, they will see they are being observed by the people in the room above.

Venice Biennale 2015 Russian Pavilion: The Green Pavilion (Installation Art by Irina Nakhova)
Visitors as observers in the room above

From time to time, the skylight closes and the room of images goes dark. When the skylight opens and the light returns, some of the people below will have moved on—they will have disappeared. Similarly, sometimes the observation room goes dark and when the light returns, some of the observers will have disappeared as well.

Living under an oppressive authoritarian regime, innocent bystanders can end up as observers—silent witnesses to the turmoil around them. This creates a horrible dilemma. By remaining silent and not doing anything, are these silent witnesses complicit in the horrors that are perpetrated? However, if the silent witnesses speak up or take action, won’t they become the next victims? In such a cruel environment, anyone can be ‘crossed out’ and made to disappear.

In the above video, when Irina Nakhova describes this second zone in the Green Pavilion, the artist does not mention the people being crossed out of the photos, but instead focuses on the effect when the room goes dark:

It’s the place where you can really come to yourself and see what’s going on around you with acute awareness. When it’s all dark, you have just the sky and the past. For me it’s soothing because it was before us, it will be after us and we are a part of the history, so there is no fear, there is no joy, but it is the nature taking over us and going through us.

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The third part of the installation is an empty room painted with an abstract green and red pattern. Describing this, the artist states:

It’s a foreboding dream; it’s a nightmare that should not happen. It’s a warning for (from?) me; it’s a foreboding dream of the apocalypses.

You can see see this room in the photos and videos in this article about Ukrainian activists staging a protest in the pavilion: Ukrainian Activists Occupy Russia’s Venice Biennale Pavilion (news.artnet.com/exhibitions/ukraine-on-vacation-russian-pavilion-venice-295947).

I am not sure how well the three part of the installation worked together. At the time, I thought they were three separate works by different artists. Based on the artist’s statements and my own interpretation, what I get out of the whole installation can be summed up as:

We exist as a part of history. We may be buffeted by forces beyond our control and our observable contributions may fade away. History is what it is and the future is uncertain and foreboding, but we were and we are a part of the whole story.


Go Further

This section includes discussion questions, an art challenge and links to online photo galleries and websites.

Online Galleries

Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at:

Go Further

The Green Pavilion (a PDF booklet including preliminary designs and sketches, a statement by the artist and various essays on her work): www.artext.it/56-biennale/THE-GREEN-PAVILION.pdf

Three Questions

  1. What do think of the installation?
  2. Which part of the installation do you think works best?
  3. What suggestions would you have for tying all the parts together—the pilot, the room of pictures, the room above it and the red and green room?

Art Challenge

Create a floor plan for a multi-room installation about your visions of your country’s past, present and future.


~ text and photos by longzijun

artjouer

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Rêvolutions: Installation Art by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot (Venice Biennale)

rêvolutions by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot
Céleste Boursier-Mougenot: rêvolutions; Venice Biennale 2015 (French Pavilion)

In the art installation rêvolutions, a living tree on a little island of soil slowly moves, rotates and revolves around an empty white room, accompanied only by a steady low hum. To get a good idea of the tree’s movement, you can check out the time-lapse shots at the beginning of this video:

This installation, by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, was the featured work at the French Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. On opposite sides of the room are viewing galleries, with soft, padded viewing stands that encourage exhibition visitors to flop down and lounge around rather than sit. The artist designed the installation as a place for people to rest and relax. Perhaps, that is a good lesson for artists at big exhibitions. If you want people to contemplate your work, give them a nice cool place to lie down and stretch their legs.

About the Art Installation

The installation visualizes the idea that plants are able to manipulate the environment immediately around them to better suit their needs. In this case, the manipulation is exaggerated, allowing trees (there are two more moving trees outside the pavilion) to break free from the earth and wander around, with their movement designed to reflect changes in their metabolic processes.

rêvolutions (detail) by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot
Céleste Boursier-Mougenot: rêvolutions; Venice Biennale 2015 (French Pavilion)

The entrance to the viewing gallery created a kind of picture frame in which the tree changed position and which people entered and left. Some people would stride purposefully across the room, barely giving the tree a glance. Others would stop and pause, wondering what they were supposed to be looking at, and then suddenly notice the tree’s movement.

As I was lying there in one of the viewing galleries, the minimalist nature of the installation led me to imagine I was travelling in a spaceship, with the rooms in the pavilion being a rest area designed to give crew members and passengers a little reminder of something real and natural from Earth. In the context of this imagined scenario, the whole installation seemed like a kind of environmental warning—a warning of a future where solitary trees revolving aimlessly in plain white rooms were all that was left to remind us of Earth’s great forests. I don’t think this is the interpretation the artist had in mind, though.

Mini-bio: French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot was born in Nice in 1961 and now lives and works in Sète. His works often involve presenting sound through visual arts or presenting visual images acoustically. He studied at the Conservatory of Music in Nice and began his career as a music composer for theater. During the early 1990s, he began producing sound art installations.


Go Further

This section includes links to online photo galleries and websites, discussion questions and an art challenge.

Online Galleries

Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at:

Go Further

The artist’s website (in French): celesteboursiermougenot.blogspot.com

Three Questions

  1. How would you interpret this work? Why are the trees slowly wandering around?
  2. If you could create an artwork about trees, what kind of work would you create?
  3. How can creating a relaxing environment aid in presenting artworks?

Art Challenge

Try to express in your own way Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s idea that plants can manipulate the environment around them.


~ text and photos by longzijun

artjouer

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Conversion: Art Installation (The New Religion of Social Media)

Artist: Recycle Group; Title: Conversion (2015); Collateral Event at the Venice Biennale. Photo by artjouer / longzijun
Recycle Group; Conversion (2015, installation); Collateral Event at the Venice Biennale

In this interesting art installation, the iconography of the social media age takes over the interior of a 17th-century Venetian church, Sant’Antonin. A large sculpture of Facebook’s ‘f’ logo stands cross-like in front of the altar. Overhead, large bas-reliefs created from plastic mesh show neo-apostles erecting a satellite dishes and huddling around an iPad. On the floor, weathered fragments of wood, presented as if relics of Noah’s Ark, display familiar social media symbols like the ‘mail’ icon and Twitter logo.

Conversion: Photo Gallery

Click on any of the below images and the image will open in gallery view.

About the Art Installation

The installation, entitled Conversion, was created by the Recycle Group, a pair of Russian artists (Andrey Blokhin and Georgy Kuznetsov) based in Krasnodar, and was curated by James Putnam for the Venice Biennale in the summer of 2015. In my opinion, the playful irreverence of the installation contrasted wonderfully with the solemn sacredness of the church setting, creating tension between the old and the new (and the new which had been treated to look old!)

One theme of the installation is that as people are becoming less spiritual, the rituals and iconography of the internet age are usurping those of religion in general and Catholicism in particular. However, in this installation, the trappings of Christianity are not being abandoned; the religious artwork, relics and structures are still there, but the new social media iconography is superimposed over top of them. Hasn’t society always been this way, with the new laid over top of the old? When today’s monotheistic religions first took root, didn’t they also adopt or cover over some of the existing pagan rituals and symbols?

Rituals and symbols have long been there. People find comfort in daily rituals—to pray before going to bed or to log-in to a social media site immediately after coming home. They find purpose in participating in shared experiences—going to mass or joining an online forum. They find solace in familiar symbols and sounds—the clacking of prayer beads or the beep of a message notification. Although the rituals, experiences and symbols may change, our basic human need for ritual remains.

Mini-bio: Recycle Group’s first exhibition was in 2008. Andrey Blokhin was born in Krasnodar, Russia in 1987 and studied at the Academy of Industrial Art in Krasnodar. Georgy Kuznetov was born in Stavropol, Russia in 1985 and studied at Stavropol Art College and the Academy of Industrial Art. Both men now live and work in France and Russia. The pair of artists are known for their installations and multimedia work.

Video
Recycle Group. Conversion. Teaser video by Konstantin Bobovik (This is an interesting video that shows how many of the parts of the installation were created).


Go Further

This section includes links to online photo galleries and websites, discussion questions and an art challenge.

Online Galleries

Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at:

Websites

  1. Visit recycle Group’s webpage on the exhibition (there are a lot of great photos there): recycleartgroup.com/exhibitions/conversion
  2. Read an introduction by the Moscow Museum of Modern Art: www.mmoma.ru/en/exhibitions/special/recycle_group_conversion

Three Questions

  1. How do you feel about the juxtaposition of religions and social media icons in this art installation?
  2. To what extent do you think social media is affecting religion?
  3. To what extent do you think social media is affecting spirituality?

Art Challenge

Come up with an idea for new social media site or app. Create a name and logo for the site/app and explain your choices.


~ text and photos by longzijun

artjouer

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