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06 Aug 2009, Posted by Eric Karstens in Off topic: Art, etc., 0 Comments

Sade for Sade’s Sake – Paul Chan’s shadow play at Biennale di Venezia 2009


Paul Chan, the Hong-Kong-born and now New-York-based artist, presents at the Venice Biennale another one of the shadow plays he has – inter alia – become famous for. This one is called “Sade for Sade’s Sake” (2009), and it is a seamless three-channel projection on a raw wall in the Arsenale. A pun on “art for art’s sake”, the installation presents clear-cut two-dimensional silhouettes against a bright backdrop. The figures are engaging in various kinds of sexual acts, many of which are reminiscent of the eponymous Marquis de Sade’s phantasies.

Some of the human silhouettes are complete, others are broken up into single body parts or overlap each others. They repeat fast, trembly motions until they get released from their spasms and become repaced by new imagery. Additionally, rectangular shadows move through the mute scene, representing maybe picture frames or windows of a virtual room.

The 345-minute piece has a strange yet captivating rhythm to it, alternating between quiet and almost static moments on the one hand, and frantic overcrowded scenes on the other.

The title describes well what kind of impression the piece makes: It is so abstract as to effectively forestall any kind of sexual or erotic effect; instead, it is a rather prosaic glimpse at the mere mechanics of de Sade: Sade for Sade’s sake, but clearly not for a voyeur’s sake. In a way, it mocks its subject and manages to be, at the same time, mildly disturbing.

In the magical surroundings of the ancient Arsenale, the figures’ futile fast-forward motions as well as the detached body parts, which seem to have a life of their own, create a grotesquely analytical and fetching experience.

Please see also the official Biennale Blog about a conversation with the artist, a related post (in German) on Don’t Panic, it’s Organic!, and visit Paul Chan’s own website nationalphilistine.com.