Anne Imhof. Faust
German Pavilion. La Biennale di Venezia
At the invitation of Susanne Pfeffer, Anne Imhof has conceived the work 'Faust' for the German Pavilion at the 57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. In a sculptural setting designed specifically for the space and the occasion, the new piece unfolds unseen compositions, elaborated together with the core members of Imhof’s team. 'Faust' is both a five-hour production and a seven-month-long scenario comprised of performative dynamics, sculptural installations, painterly touches, and rigorously choreographed visual axes and movements that encompass the entire pavilion. 'Faust' belongs to an unconditioned present, the essence of which is conveyed instantly to the audience:
A room, a house, a pavilion, an institution, a state. Glass walls and glass ceilings, fluid and crystalline, permeate the room as if it were one of the centers of financial power. The boundaries of the space disclose everything, making it both visible and subject to control. The heightened floor elevates bodies and modifies spatial proportions. Next to us, below us, above us, there are the bodies of individuals, the bodies of the many. The performers, elated and degraded, move across, below, and atop the pavilion. They are stationed on freestanding glass pedestals and perched against the walls, simultaneously body, sculpture, and commodity. Suddenly, we find ourselves in the midst of various constructions of power and powerlessness, capriciousness and violence, resistance and freedom. Outside, in a territory of one’s own, dogs guard the house.
The scream falls silent as the delayed blow of the hand strikes its target. What looks like an embrace grows stiff, while the subdued battle of pent-up forces is raging. The muffled sound of the chest-beating fist [faust] trails off, the arm rebounds mechanically. Pressed against the glass, bodies are contorted beyond recognition, forming an indistinct, carnal mass. The hand quietly, self-sufficiently, pleasures the sex. The performers’ bodies are reduced to bare life. They can be analyzed in terms of their sexual economy. Masturbation as regression and resistance, as the death of sexuality and, at the same time, an image of sexuality served up exclusively for visual consumption. Pleasure does not originate in sexual intercourse but in the act of seeing and being seen. The mute howls bear witness to the ever-increasing pain of vanishing living beings and to the zombification of capitalist bodies. Dualistic conceptions and the frontier between the subject and the object of capitalism disintegrate. But how does power act when it splits away from subjects and turns them into objects? 'It is a form of control […] whose spread throughout the social body has never been so rapid or so undetectable.' (Paul B. Preciado) The essence of capitalism consists in unrestrained consumption and the destruction of bodies.
The transparent glass allows for the dissecting gaze of the audience to be directed at the performer (and vice versa); the cold, symmetric structure enables immediate observation as well as direct control. The glass that separates creates distance and a sense of self-perception: We become aware of our watching. Gazes cross, but no communication ensues. The performers perceive others, but there is no recognition, no acknowledgment. Post-gender, individualized, peculiar and yet stereotypical: such are the human figures enacted by the performers. The individual movements and gestures stand in contrast to the uniform flow of motions—remote-controlled via text messages—that are reminiscent of social codes, continuously internalized without reflection. These disciplined and fragile bodies appear as a material pervaded by invisible power structures. They are subjects that constantly seem to defy their own objectification. Media representation is innate to these biotechno bodies. The performers know full well that their gestures are not ends in and of themselves, but only exist as pure mediality. They seem forever on the verge of transforming themselves into pictures ready for consumption; they aspire to become images, digital commodities. In an era characterized by an extreme degree of mediality, images, far from merely depicting reality, create it.
The contemporary biopolitical body is no longer a one-dimensional surface on which power, the law, control, and punishment are inscribed. Rather, it is a dense interior, a site for both life and political control exerted by means of exchange and communication mechanisms. A new subject arises that is both hormonal and powerfully networked across media. The beauty of bodies we see and consider as what they are—the result of self-optimization—is conditioned by the commodified pictorial economy to which we are all exposed. It lies not only in the eye of the beholder but in the perfection of the commercial cycle, the algorithms. The sound of compositions resonates, specifically created for each of the performers’ voices. At first, they are scattered across the room, eventually coming together as part of a technological network of mobile phones and building into a formidable solipsistic choir. Aimless individuality persists even as it clusters into groups. They may sing together, but their song is of the I. The dog in the kennel, the dog and its master, the dog and its companion—these pairings are evidence of how cultural change has altered power relations. They are a symbol of the changing constructions of nature: Where there used to be a dualism between nature and culture, the world now presents itself as a kennel.
In a society that conceives guilt not in religious terms but as a matter of individual responsibility, that considers ill health not as divine punishment but as a personal failure, the body becomes capital and money the measure of all things. The body is a consumer item, handed over to the vagaries of the free market. Market rationality decides whether a body is worthy of protection—or whether it falls within the remit of a necropolitics. Capitalism brings the reign of money to its highest stage. Like in Goethe’s play 'Faust', we trade something that does not exist. The soul does not exist, the products of the financial sector do not exist and yet—or because of all this—the system functions. Only by forming an association of bodies, only by occupying space can resistance take hold. On the balustrades and fences, underground and on the roof, the performers conquer and occupy the room, the house, the pavilion, the institution, the state.