Venice Note #4: Humor & New Mythology

Elena Soboleva
Jul 9, 2013 2:17AM

Biennales are serious business and it is thoroughly refreshing to walk into a pavilion and smile. Humor is too often placed at opposition of high-level conceptualism, yet great artists are able to reconcile the two and make their arguments more poignant through sharp wit and unpretentious appeal. These three examples all draw on humour and mythology—whether Saxon, Norse, or Ancient Greek—to make a satire worthy of the gods.

British Pavilion’s Jeremy Deller epitomizes this through English Magic, which reflects the artist's exploration of British society and his characteristically brazen cultural critique. The near-psychedelic experience he creates—through brief specimens and woven narratives—position the viewer to grasp larger notions of corruption and folly while hovering between fact and fiction.

In the Russian Pavilion, Vadim Zakharov unites two levels of the building in his re-envisioning of the Danae myth. Stemming from times of antiquity, the story tells of her impregnation by Zeus through a golden shower, and has been a motif in Western art for millennia. Through a mise en scene, Zakharov creates a performative intervention and invites viewers to become participants by either contributing to the showering and adoration or (only in the case of females), the golden shower of coins, replete with umbrellas.

Ragnar Kjartansson’s S.S. Hangover is a ‘performative kinetic sound-sculpture’ that consists of an ensemble of six brass musicians on a sailing ship that transverses the waters near the Arsenale, the old shipyard of Venice. As the ship comes to shore, it drops off a solo musician to play alone until its return. Based on a “haphazard hybrid of Greek, Icelandic and Venetian ship design,” this theatrical tableau heralds back to Norse and Venetian mythology and is characteristic of the artist’s perpetual, looping enactments.

Images: Jeremy Deller; Vadim Zakharov; Ragnar Kjartansson

Elena Soboleva