Without title and without interpretation: Great Britain at the Venice Art Biennale

In a climate of transcendence, the works by Cathy Wilkes invite visitors to apply their own reading to the place in which they are immersed.

A white light envelops the works of Cathy Wilkes inside the Great Britain pavilion. It is a studied light which, despite the rarefied layout of the objects, paradoxically fills the spaces, underlining the sense of emptiness and creating an almost spiritual atmosphere. No interpretation is provided by the artist, as every visitor is invited to provide their own reading. The curator Zoé Whitley writes in the catalogue: “The 2019 exhibition is offered without title and without interpretation. Wilkes appeals for our courage to reject the notion that knowledge is always something we can possess; we are all non-initiates, together we all have equal capacity.”

Thus there are no footholds, and you can’t even rely on the titles of the works (which are all deliberately without). The only information provided is that the first room contains a representation of a burial tomb, towards which the human figures placed on the scene by the artist are headed. You may feel lost, and find yourself at the mercy of the unknown, but there is nothing else to do but observe and listen, without having to seek comfort in an explanation which is pre-packaged or provided by the artist themselves, something which we are ever increasingly used to.

Undoubtedly the predominant theme is the coexistence between death and life, or rather, as Freud would say, between Eros and Thanatos, where if death is manifested in the funereal moment, the pulse of life seems to appear in the cement bellies which weigh on the mannequins and which we also find in the following room.

The climate of transcendence spreads throughout the pavilion through the light and the whiteness which freeze and suspend, accompanying the account of the passing of someone that (as Saint Augustine wrote) seems to say: “Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?” Thus, enveloped in this almost mystical environment, the sphere of memory opens, and sticks like the photograph which, hanging on a wall, is multiplied on the mannequin-human being with the green dress in the third room, or the broken gestures which fluctuate in the dimension of memory, like two now immobile hands which collect cloth, or the objects in a very ordinary domestic interior (painted plates, small floral paintings or glass cups) which – isolated, like in the cloud of reminiscence – effuse the melancholic taste of nostalgia.    

Pavilion of Great Britain
Artist :
Cathy Wilkes
Opening dates:
11 May - 24 November 2019
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