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Swiss Pavilion: Pauline Boudry/Renate Lorenz, Moving Backwards, Swiss Pavilion at the 58th International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia 2019 Courtesy the artists, Photo: Annik Wetter Installation Image. Moving Backwards.

Engaging Choreographies

58th International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia 2019

Swiss, Brazilian, Russian, French, Austrian Pavilions

by Floriana Piqué

Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost

                                                                                      Pina Bausch

Choreography, as a vocabulary to encompass, transcend and intersect disparities, conjugates different cultures without boundaries; the dancer’s body is a metaphor for interpretation.


As Ralph Rugoff curator of the 58th International Art Exhibition May You Live In Interesting Times suggests in his statement “we can certainly learn from the way the artists in this Biennale challenge existing habits of thought and open up our readings of widely varied objects and pictures, scenarios and situations. Their capacity to do so grows out of a practice of entertaining multiple perspectives: holding in mind seemingly incompatible notions, and juggling diverse ways of making sense of the world.


Moving Backwards Pauline Boudry/Renate Lorenz, curated by Charlotte Laubard

video still of the performance: Bernadette Paassen, Siri Klug

Moving Backwards Pauline Boudry/Renate Lorenz, curated by Charlotte Laubard

video still of the performance: Bernadette Paassen, Siri Klug

The film Moving Backwards by Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz transforms the Swiss Pavilion into a dark room pervaded by a nightclub-ish atmosphere. What at first sight could appear to be an abstract club – as the two artists call the pavilion’s environment - is progressively filled with reminiscences and suggestions of reality, the times we live in.


The abstract club, with its connection to underground culture and drag performances, enables the visitor to think freely, outside of standardized, ossified categories.


Moving Backwards not to seek refuge in a reassuring past but to deceive our enemies. The two artists found inspiration for their film in the survival tactic of the Kurdish guerrilla women who walked wearing shoes the wrong way round to hide the direction of their path.

Another inspiration for the staged/filmed performance is the Moon Walk, the walk of protest of Iranian dissidents during the repression of the early ‘80s and also one of the basic steps in breakdancing.


Dance as freedom, pure bliss, visibility; no-body is opaque while dancing.


Moving Backwards Pauline Boudry/Renate Lorenz, curated by Charlotte Laubard

video still of the performance: Bernadette Paassen, Siri Klug

We enter the Pavilion from the backstage door uncertain whether we are on stage or about to attend a live performance. As the movie starts we understand that it is not going to be live but that the five performers were filmed on the same stage and we are bemused by the same glittering curtains overlapping themselves on- and off-screen.

The camera moves steadily, framing dancers of different backgrounds, left to right and back again, to capture the solos and the groups walking mainly backwards, mixing choreographed movements of contemporary dance and urban breakdance.


A free journal with contributions by twelve authors from various fields – art, political activism, philosophy, post-colonial and queer theories- and the encounters with these

authors await the visitors when leaving the dark stage, complementing the entire experience.


“My queer idea is that when we are collectively moving backwards, we might come to crossroads where we can try out another option –a different turn which allows us to live a new version of a past that we regret.” (Antke Engel in the free journal)


Brazilian Pavilion: Barbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca Still from Swinguerra, 2019

The entire Brazilian Pavilion is dedicated to dance, with a two-channel video installation in the main room and images of the dancers in the other.

Swinguerra, a deliberate combination of swing+guerra (war), is the new film by artists Barbara Wagner & Benjamin de Barca, a musical documentary that takes the title after swingueira, a trendy dance phenomenon from Recife in the state of Pernambuco in the northeast of Brazil.

The two artists use this linguistic trick to show their political intention to refer to a society faced by social, racial, and sexual conflicts.


Updating the tradition of dancing in the street, groups of youth spontaneously get together to regularly train and dance, trying to fight a reality of disparities, inequalities, and prejudices through the iron discipline of dance.

The film follows the rehearsals of three dance groups: swingueira, brega, batidao do maloca.

The dancers are predominantly black, some of nonbinary gender, and are all playing themselves expressing their desires for the future, showing their backgrounds and personal struggles.

The result is a raw, fast dance of sharp movements and eroticism; it is deeply intoxicating and spellbinding.



Wagner & de Burca, Photo from the Swinguerra series, 2019

The film by Wagner and de Burca is not just a documentary. The two artists take active roles in creating space for every character, and the narrative continuously grips the viewer’s attention.

The soundtrack, especially the brega funk, is sexy and aggressive, the lyrics very explicit, as are the moves. The skills and the amazing stamina of the dancers, mixed with the fluidity of the genders in a certain way mitigate the heaviness of some apparently shocking misogynistic lyrics.

What remains is a strong, fast rhythm, the outcome of music and cryptic Recife slang.

russian fp- Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai i

Russian Pavilion: Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai Install Image in Lc.15: 11-32 . photo credit Luke Walker. Courtesy of the Russian Pavilion, Venice Lc. 15: 11-32 is at the Russian Pavilion of the 58th Venice Biennale, 11 May-24 November 2019,

Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai presents a particular choreography –- a mechanical ballet – on the ground floor of the Russian Pavilion. Plywood cut-outs of ballet dancers create true enchantment as the visitor is caught with childish innocence in a mental state between reality and imagination.  The dancers alternate in single and group pliés; the dark life-size figurines are silhouetted against a reddish backdrop where smaller, surreal bodies appear.

A line in Italian encapsulates the situation: ‘Davvero non hai mai visto nulla di simile” (You’ve certainly never seen anything like this).

It’s a glimpse of a fairy tale with Russian soul.


French Pavillion: Installation view of Laure Prouvost, “Deep See Blue Surrounding You/Vois Ce Bleu Profond Te Fondre,” for the France Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, 2019. Courtesy of Institut français.

Dance, music, and performance combine fluidly in Deep See Blue Surrounding You, a film and installation by Laure Prouvost for the French Pavilion. Characters from various backgrounds and experiences – amongst them a cameo appearance of the late film maker Agnes Varda – start an imaginary journey from the Parisian suburbs to the North of France, the Mediterranean Sea, Marseille, and then Venice: an escape in and towards utopia, a long, liquid swim to reflect on identities, roots, ideals, aspirations, intertwined realities.


On the screen, the performers move their bodies flowingly as a kind of metaphor of the seawaters.

More choreography leads the visitor through the pavilion: it’s a backstage live performance of dancers, partially obscured by veiled curtains.


Austrian Pavilion: Let's dance together, 1978 Renate Bertlmann,

 Let's dance together, 1978,

black-and-white photograph copyright Renate Bertlmann/Bildrecht Wien 

Renate Bertlmann represents Austria, the first woman artist to do so in the history of the Austrian Pavilion. In an installation titled Discordo Ergo Sum (I dissent, therefore I am) the selection of works highlights the political and feminist commitment she has sustained across her entire career, an image screams the liberating power of dance.

It’s from a performance of 1978, a black and white blurred photo of a woman tied with ropes to a wheelchair, arms stretched up to physically extend the effect of the scream.


The image is even more powerful because we neither hear the woman’s voice nor see her mouth wide open; we see the woman only from the back, but we read the words written on a canvas on the back of the wheelchair: Let’s Dance Together.



58th International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia, May You Live In Interesting Times, Venezia Giardini/Arsenale, until 24 November 2019


Floriana Piqué is an art critic and independent curator. She lives and works in London.

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