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The main project of the 5th Moscow Biennale open for visitors and interpretations 0

Sergei Timofeyev

Photos: Sergei Timofeyev

The main exhibition of the 5th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art is open for visitors. It is situated just a few metres from the Kremlin, in the renovated Manezh building. Not very long ago, it was used for various kinds of commercial expos, but Sergei Kapkov, the official behind many projects involving reorganization of Moscow's cultural environment, promised that after the renovation was complete, "expos of furs and coats" will no longer take place there. He has kept his promise. For the first time, the Moscow Biennale is taking place under the vaults of Manezh. A preliminary agreement has also been made to conduct the next biennale, in 2015, right there. That, without a doubt, leaves its imprint on the very character of the Biennale. The huge spaces in which, in the words of the curator Catherine de Zegher, one can feel one's "insignificance", in which almost nothing can be "touched", because it is historical heritage, are not an easy site in which to place contemporary art. For the curator, it certainly was a challenge, with which she tried to cope, playing with the contrasts between big and small, between gigantic spaces and intimate narratives. Here there are no striking social or political messages that would dazzle the spectator or knock him of his feet. At the same time, this art cannot be accused of being apolitical. Catherine de Zegher emphasizes its non-immediate, gradual impact.  Moreover, she has chosen the motto "More Light" for the biennale. This is how she interpreted its meaning at press conference at the Manezh. 

Strangely enough, the opening of the Biennale for the press coincided with a playground for children at the Manezh. Now parents can leave their children here while visiting exhibitions marked, as is the custom in Russia, with an «18+». Incidentally – in contrast of the parallel event "Art of Moscow", there is nothing to mark with such signs at the Manezh. There is no blood or nakedness. The gigantic, refreshed spaces of the Manezh remind one only of a progressive kindergarten with contemporary visual elements – just one magnified about a dozen times.

Sun Dun. Waste Not. 2005

The Chinese artist Sun Dun has brought to Moscow 10 000 objects– skillets, boxes, combs, plastic bottles, bars of soap etc. – for his installation Waste Not. These are not chance objects: they all come from his family and serve as reminders of departed parents and times when even soap could be obtained only for coupons and for things that would seem to have outlived their usefulness new uses were found. This is a very obvious illustration to Catherine de Zegher's idea that light can be hidden with the most mundane objects; that the world is shining on its own – we only have to take a closer look. A huge spruce-tree projected horizontally on a whole row of screens is moving slightly and breathing, lending a rhythm to one's walk through the exhibition. This is the video  Horizontal  by the Finnish artist Eija- Liisa Ahtila. Above the spectators' heads a huge, semi-transparent blimp has been suspended: it is Aeromodeller by the Belgian Panamarenko – a construction that might have been created by a child, only many times enlarged. The same associations are provoked the hanging gigantic cluster of swaying textured paper lace, Kaleidoscope by the Japanese artist Maya Onoda – any kindergarten is happy to exhibit various paper cuttings by children, albeit executed at a slightly different level of skills.  In some sense it is a positive, ethically charged space where one feels a bit like a schoolchild looking into some children's arts or technology studio. It is not at all bad. Why would it be? Why shouldn't a biennale be like that

A frame from a video by Dmitri Venkov "At Another Time" 

It can pay absolute attention to infinitesimal manipulations of tiny clumps of paper and buttons as in OperationTheatre  by Suchan Kinoshita. It can work on the spectator with mysterious projections or shadows, or séances where you are told fairy tales while the shapes of human figures and magical animals cut out from paper and coloured in are being projected on the wall.   

Dzhumaadi. A Woman Who Married a Mountain. Performance. 2012–2013

The main project of the Biennale returns one to his or her childhood (it does not make one nostalgic for it, it simply imposes on one a kind of a characteristic regimen), it teaches one to regard everyday objects in wonder, softly pushing one to once again master the complicated art of holding hands and putting on performances with imagined, mutually agreed on sets and to interact.  

Alexander Brodsky. Untitled. 2013

Catherine de Zegher stresses that she has selected art, which would be readable for the spectator but which also could not be accused of banality. "I tried to create an understandable exhibition and placed an emphasis on visually powerful images," she said to the journalists. Interpreting these, however, can take you to the most unpredictable places. This is exactly what happens with the film project Travel brought to Moscow by David Claerbout (the work was simultaneously shown during one of the special projects at the recently opened Istanbul Biennale). You enter a zoned-off, darkened showroom and see a forest on the screen: the dome formed by the branches of green trees, moss, springs, gigantic rocks and a path that is taking you deeper and deeper into the woods. It is a real trip accompanied by music of that vague genre that is called «music for relaxation». The experience has the qualities of a pleasant, refreshing nap. And only when you look closer, do you realize that this whole stroll is computer graphics – there is not one "live" frame in it. Everything is completely artificial, a simple walk in the forest is the painstaking efforts spanning three years of a whole crew of computer graphics specialists; moreover, there is not even a single concrete prototype. It is simply and abstract forests or our conception of one. The film sequence imitates nature so thoroughly that it seems to have become redundant, left out of the brackets, teven though superficially it all looks so nice and natural.

 «Operation Theatre», detail, Suchan Kinoshita

"Is there really 'more light' at the Moscow Biennale?" leaving the Manezh I ask the French art critic and writer Judith Benhamou. "I can't say if there is 'more light'. But I think that it all forms a narrative about our society, its dreams and disappointments. About what it could be like and what it really is. It is not a direct, categorical statement. It is more like et cetera, and I like that. All the time, you feel some sort of undercurrent here, some sort of concealed trains of thought. I don't think that the main project of the Biennale can be read right off, at a first glance. As soon as you delve a little deeper, the meaning branches out, it begins to flicker, to play with light and darkness." And I think Judith is right. 

Sopheap Pich. Complicated Structure