24 Jul 2009, Posted by Eric Karstens in Off topic: Art, etc., 0 Comments

Guests – Krzystof Wodiczko at Biennale di Venezia 2009

This year’s Biennale di Venezia marks the 53rd edition of the renowned and tradition-steeped international exhibition. In a series of posts, Video Art Diary takes a look at some notable works of video art which are interspersed into the richness of sculptures, installations, paintings, drawings and mixed media of the 2009 show.

The Polish Pavilion, for instance, has a remarkable and engaging video installation called Guests, created by Krzystof Wodiczko, a Polish national who is a professor at the MIT’s Visual Arts Program in Cambridge, MA.

Biennale visitors enter a large darkened room where they seem to find themselves behind a series of opaque arched “windows” which are, of course, video projections. Silhouetted from the “outside” against these windows are scenes from the everyday lives of immigrants based in Poland and Italy – random street encounters as well as work-related or personal snippets. Headphones provide the soundtrack for individual single windows or sets of windows.

While the actual content of the video projections – depicting migrant issues such as discrimination, prejudices, or exploitation – is not surprising or original as such, the installation becomes gripping and non-trivial because it puts the spectators in a position where they feel that they accidentally eavesdrop on real-life scenes.

It takes some time to watch and listen in until you understand what the installation is about, and it is this process that makes it forceful and emphatic. The silhouettes are concrete and clear enough to be immediately identifiable, yet at the same time they are so abstract and hazy as to prevent the onlookers from all too easily falling back into their own prejudices.

The distance provided by the opaque screens therefore paradoxically turns into a particular closeness and whispering intimacy between the audience and the vaguely-perceptible on-screen characters. Wodiczko focuses the visitors’ attention closely on what is happening behind the screens and thus makes it personal.

This work reminds a bit of David Claerbout‘s The Shadow Piece (2005), where all you can normally see are the shadows of people passing by the glass door of a staircase, with some of them stopping to look in. But while Claerbout is primarily interested in the graphical quality of his black-and-white video and the serene mood it conveys, Wodiczko uses his installation to elegantly convey a social message.

See also related posts at Daily Serving, Leituras Favre, Lunettes Rouges, the New England Journal of Aesthetic Research, and Networked Performance.