The Swiss Pavilion is a confirmation of the overwhelming role of curators in a Biennale that does not treat each Pavilion as the place of origin of the artists whose work is shown but instead considers the Pavilion itself as THE work of art. This is achieved by transforming each national exhibition into a site specific of sorts where the curator officiates as the main creator of meaning who, in order to do that, is joined by a handful of artists. Thus, the artist chosen the represent the Swiss in the Biennale are not the ones exhibited but Philippe Kaiser (45), the curator.
Kaiser approach has two pillars. The first one is feminism (the title of the show is ‘Women in Venice’) and the second one is the blockbuster status of Alberto Giacometti as point of departure of a reflection about (here we go again…) the place of women behind ‘male geniuses’. Absence and American-Swiss relations are the third and fourth themes but, to be honest, these last struggle to survive.
The site-specificity of the project lies in the fact that Alberto Giacometti’s brother, Bruno was the architect who, in 1952, built the Pavilion where the legendary sculptor refused to exhibit because he considered himself as an artist without nationality. In spite of this, four years later, he would participate in the French Pavilion in a show called ‘Femmes de Venice’ and in 1962 he accepted the invitation to participate in the main exhibition.
This year’s Swiss Pavilion is split in two parts linked by the aforementioned themes. The first half presents ‘Flora’ which, according to the curator is ‘une nouvelle installation filmique’ by American-Swiss artists Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler. To be honest, more than ‘a film installation’ it is a film that injects a narrative into the objects placed outside the theatre transforming them into the exact opposite of what they originally are. I am saying this because the second part of the show is an assortment of interesting sculptures by (here we go again…) American-Swiss sculptor (born in Geneva), Carol Bove which are modernist exercises in themselves, in the sense that their inner parts are interconnected in a dialogue that concerns space, materials, colours and textures. Kaiser’s curation destroys the modernist drive of those sculptures only to turn them into ‘theatrical props’.
The curation starts with a 30 minute long film that the visitor must see in total if he or she wants to understand what the show is all about. The film is a romantic construction of the interrupted love story that had American artists Flora Mayo and Alberto Giacometti as protagonists. I am using the word ‘construction’ because the film is a ‘fictional’ (?) account of that love story that, according to Mayo’s son, happened between his mother and Giacometti. Outside the screening room, there is the same bronze bust in which, according to the film, Flora Mayo had been working during her relationship with Giacometti and as we also know had been destroyed. Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler reconstructed it as part of the ‘filmic installation’. After watching the movie the visitor leaves the room only to find that bronze bust and a caption informs him or her that it has been reconstructed after his son found a photograph which is also displayed in the ‘installation’.
Carol Bove’s sculptures in the courtyard are very good and are, allegedly, inspired by Giacometti’s work. Using stainless steel, found steel and urethane paint she achieves a contrast of textures (plastic versus rusty metal?) that works in relationship with the overall theme. Half of the sculptures look heavy while the other half looks soft and light. Maculine and feminine? Presence and absence? My problem with this Pavilion, however, is that the source of artistic value lies almost exclusively in the film and all objects are transformed into mere theatrical props and, of course, as we know, theatre is the enemy of art. J A T