Vadim Zakharov: Danaë

The Russian pavilion offers a reflection on moral values and the power of information in a scenographic installation that required a new structural intervention.

Vadim Zakharov_Danaë

Vadim Zakharov, an exponent of the Moscow conceptualists, has staged a performance in five acts for the Biennale at the Russian pavilion in the Giardini — curated by Udo Kittelman and under the supervision of commissioner Stella Kesaeva. The starting point and formal 'pretext' for Zakharov’s work is the Greek myth of Danaë, the inspiration behind numerous existing works of art — such as one by Titian painted in 1553 or another by Rembrandt, painted between 1636 and 1647 and vandalised in 1985 at the Hermitage — revolving around the themes of power and destiny. Nothing could be done by King Acrisius of Argos against the prophesy of his death, the work of his grandson Perseus. He tried to fight against it by locking his daughter Danaë in a bronze tower (or cave) but Zeus visits her in the form of golden rain and impregnates her. Mother and son also survive being abandoned by Acrisius at sea, locked inside a wooden box.

Vadim Zakharov_Danaë_Venice Biennale 2013
Exterior view of the Russian Pavilion at the Giardini. For Zakharov’s installation the pavilion was structurally modified for the first time after its construction, in 1914 by Alexei Shchusev. Photo by Italo Rondinella

This work, that expresses in material form a modern reinterpretation of the myth of Danaë, has taken over the entire space, even requiring structural work to be carried out on the pavilion — built in 1914 by Alexei Shchusev — in the form of a large square opening between the two floors. A bucket of coins forged by Zakharov — each is a Danaë — passes up through the opening in the ceiling. The coins shower down like fine rain in a circle from the upper to the lower level.

Here they are collected by women protected by umbrellas who put them back into the bucket, which is hoisted by hand up to the first floor, from where the cycle starts all over again. The performance works on various levels — cultural, philosophical, sexual and psychological — engaging visitors in the presentation of a myth and its values.

Vanima Zakharov_Danae_Venice Art Biennale 2013
Vadim Zakharov at the entrance of the Russian Pavilion: his intervention was a reinterpretation of the Greek myth of Danaë. Photo by Daniel Zakharov

At the Giardini, the formal elements of the myth are all there but they are used as instruments to overturn the power games between men and women revealed by the Greek myth and above all to bring to the fore a number of values that Zakharov claims are neglected by today's society, as well as condemning others. At the Russian pavilion women are not passive observers or instruments in the hands of men but a driving force for the whole building, the engine for the mechanism that circulates the coins: the small Danaë specially forged by the artist that are the guarantor for the values that they support — trust, cohesion, freedom, love.

“I think that one should speak more of values because we are losing them,” he states. The women's room on the ground floor — symbol of the maternal womb, a place that men are forbidden to enter — is the beginning of the cycle staged by the installation. Those entering have the task of collecting the coins, as many as they want, keeping one for themselves and putting the rest in the bucket that sits at the entrance of the gynaeceum, so as to foster positive values to put back into the cycle that animates the building.

Vadim Zakharov_Danaë_Venice Art Biennale 2013
Front and back of the coins created by Zakharov for his installation at the Russian Pavilion. The artist declares to be the guarantor for the values that they support — trust, cohesion, freedom, love. Photo by Italo Rondinella
“I didn’t want to create a special installation, just follow the structure of the myth,” he explains, "identifying a very simple and linear solution. Instead some people began to talk about issues connected to humanity although it was not my intention to place the myth in these terms. Perhaps this interpretation came about because of the men's strong reactions to being denied access to space on the ground floor: they were very surprised and sometimes even aggressive.”
Vadim Zakharov_Danaë_Venice Art Biennale 2013
Those entering have the task of collecting the coins, as many as they want, keeping some for themselves and putting the rest in the bucket that sits at the entrance of the gynaecium. Photo by Italo Rondinella
The rooms for the men are on the upper floor and contain a harsh invitation to reflect on their guilt: it is the moment to confess, among other things, rudeness, lust, greed, narcissism, demagoguery, banality, envy, gluttony and stupidity. In the first room is a man in a suit and tie suspended on a beam, straddling it, who reflects on his own mistakes eating nuts. In the second room, around the large central opening through which the coins fall from the ceiling, is a circular red velvet stool for kneeling: the men are constrained in an act of humility.
Vadim Zakharov_Danaë_Venice Art Biennale 2013
The first of the rooms for the men on the upper floor, where visitors are invited to reflect on their guilt. Photo by Italo Rondinella
Zakharov’s Danaë also speaks of the relationship with money in a society that is completely commercialised. In the vision of the artist, the man straddled on the beam is a symbol for those working in the banking system, who live in another dimension with respect to ordinary people: sitting in a saddle without a horse represents the loss of a sense of reality, disinterest towards those who find themselves in an increasingly difficult economic situation.
Vadim Zakharov_Danaë_Venice Art Biennale 2013
A room on the upper floor where a man empties the bucket of the coins collected from the women. Photo by Daniel Zakharov
Zakharov does not stop here however and also suggests a link with the role of information in our society. At the entrance of the pavilion is a large satellite dish. “This is the symbol of what Danaë is today: in the myth she was impregnated by the golden rain of Zeus, today the whole world is impregnated with information that comes out of the sky. Wherever you see a satellite one speaks of Danaë, that becomes a strong symbol of the contemporary world.”
Vadim Zakharov_Danaë_Venice Art Biennale 2013
Zakharov’s Danaë also speaks of the relationship with money in a commercialised society. Photo by Italo Rondinella

Latest on Art

Latest on Domus

Read more
China Germany India Mexico, Central America and Caribbean Sri Lanka Korea icon-camera close icon-comments icon-down-sm icon-download icon-facebook icon-heart icon-heart icon-next-sm icon-next icon-pinterest icon-play icon-plus icon-prev-sm icon-prev Search icon-twitter icon-views icon-instagram