My favorite work by far came from China: "Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest" by Yang Fudong (Shanghai). Interspersed throughout the show curated by Robert Storr in the Arsenale exhibition hall were 5 small screening rooms, each showing one of five parts of the film. The series of black-and-white films were originally shot on 35mm film, but projected from DVD.
"Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest" comes from a traditional theme in Chinese art about a group of seven Taoist sages taking respite in the forest as they pursue anti-Confucian ideals such as individualism and personal liberty. Yang substitutes the word 'intellectuals' for the traditional terms 'sages' and 'worthies,' perhaps a comment on the evolution of the idea of wisdom in China in the 20th century.
Each part of the film is situated in a different location, and each of these five visually rich backdrops has a complex relationship with the mental and emotional climate of the characters-- both impacting as well as reflecting their inner states. And, like Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle, Yang uses these settings to wordlessly transport the viewer into various aesthetically charged netherworlds. Unlike Barney, however, the work goes beyond an expression of the artist's ego, depicting a representation of the history of intellectualism in China in the 20th century.
Because of the way these films were presented at the exhibition, the viewer could enter and exit at any point. Although there were beginning and end titles, the structure of the films worked well with this presentation format. Time seemed endless, unchanging, and uniform throughout the film, imbued with a sense of waiting and drifting in a manner not unlike the films of Andrei Tarkovsky.
other picks from the Biennale:
Joshua Mosley's (NY) video "Dread" and the rapid-prototypes sculptures that inhabit the video as 3D-animated characters.
El Anatsui's (Ghana) magnificant and gigantic tapestries crafted from the foil on wine bottles.
Also noteworthy: David Altmejd in the Canadian Pavilion (installation) and Emily Prince (SF) in the Arsenale