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

Col tempo – Péter Forgács at Biennale di Venezia 2009

The Hungarian Pavilion at the Giardini gives its visitors a reception like a palace – you enter the otherwise inconspicuous building through an arch of golden tiles. Thus put into a somewhat festive mood, you proceed into the first room of Péter Forgács‘ mixed media installation Col Tempo – The W. Project.

This precious atmosphere lasts for a few moments as you come face to face with people’s portraits in gilded frames. However, the pictures radiate a strange impression, since their colours are a bit off or even black-and-white, displayed on video screens, and seem to move ever so slowly. Even stranger, the images render the people in identical close-up shots, and they all have naked shoulders. Also, their hairstyles and expressions suggest that they are not contemporary.

Indeed, as it turns out, the portraits originate from the early 1940s. They are 16mm motion picture specimens from the anthropological collection of the Natural History Museum in Vienna and were compiled by Nazi scientist Josef Wastl. While Wastl, preoccupied with racial research, also visited some regular Austrian and Bohemian villages with his camera, the majority of the shots were taken in concentration camps and prisoner of war camps. We can assume that many – probably most – of the people he recorded were soon after murdered.

Péter Forgács’ installation occupies the entire Pavilion. He has created a path through the flight of rooms that becomes more disturbing and scary with each step. Because what at first might seem like innocuous potraits, quickly reveals itself during the following stages as evidence of inhuman and hateful ideology. The somewhat decorative aspect of the first room very soon yields to scenes and contexts which make it clear that they are documents of human trials into which the subjects were forced. And the events shown here clearly forebode worse.

“Col Tempo” leaves ambiguous feelings. On the one hand, the installation uses images and objects which were originally produced under coercion and with inhuman intentions, and exhibits them in an almost too-aesthetic environment. But on the other hand, it converts the clinical situations in the pictures back into a compassion-inspiring memorial for the depicted people and contributes to the efforts to account for the past.