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Swiss shine at Venice Biennale

Peter Fischli ( left) and David Weiss won the Golden Lion for overall best work at the Biennale Keystone

Two of the Swiss artists showcasing their talents at this year's Biennale art festival in Venice have scooped the top award, the Golden Lion.

The jury credited the video-artist duo Peter Fischli and David Weiss with presenting the best work at this year’s festival.

The Zurich-based team were congratulated on “their modesty, clarity and artistic quality, for asking questions that help us to understand one another, and for having created a work that captures the true nature of dreams and conflicts”.

The work in question was a video installation on the theme “Dreams and conflicts – the dictatorship of the viewer” set by festival organisers.

Involving the use of a large dark screen, questions were fired at the audience.

New breed

Part of the Swiss contingent at Venice includes a new breed of Swiss artist – Emmanuelle Antille, who uses the medium of video to share emotions and move the viewer.

The young and innovative artist probes the boundary between dream and reality and will project her latest work “Angels Camp” – a violent fairytale – onto new screens.

Antille’s loving fingers caress a kitten as she tenderly holds it steady.

With the other hand Antille reaches for a small rock and violently clubs the kitten to death.

This is one of the opening sequences of “Angels Camp: First Songs” and perhaps symbolises the loss of innocence for an artist who is embarking on a new, more dynamic phase of her career.

No limits

“Angels Camp” is a four-screen video installation featuring an array of characters who have “escaped from the regular world in order to find another way of living”, Antille told swissinfo.

The six characters and a dog live a life of “no limits” on a creek. The universe they inhabit “has this magic and poetic aspect that you find in fairytales”, Antille said.

But like all fairytales, there is a violent aspect too.

Tragic turn

The dream world is shattered when the characters discover a dead octopus on the shore. They play with the creature, lighting firecrackers and beating it with their feet and sticks.

“The situation is at first funny but then, as they get more excited, it takes a tragic turn,” and the characters experience a kind of “catharsis” when their true personalities come to the fore.

Ultimately, the incident divides the community and it falls apart suddenly.

Angels and dreams

The 18-minute video begins with an angel, played by Antille, who sings a song of death. The angel is omnipresent; a kind of central theme through the video that “symbolises the characters’ despair”, Antille said.

She also appears in the characters’ dreams as a vision.

“There is this tension between reality and fiction – this thin border that the viewer can cross between dream and reality.”

In this respect, “Angels Camp” fits in well with the Biennale’s theme: Dreams and Conflicts.

Filming “Angels Camp” itself was an “out of reality” experience for Antille. It was shot with the help of a cinema crew of 80 during 2001 and 2002.

Video as language

Antille does not think of herself as an actress or a film director – despite the fact that she is in the business of making videos. For Antille, the video is a kind of language “communicating a world, a story to the viewers”.

Rather than producing art, Antille said her passion is to “share an experience” through people captured on film.

“The basic aim is to share emotions, this is my challenge to be able to move people – to make them smile or cry,” she said.

“Angels Camp” is projected onto four screens – some showing the same sequence but from different angles.

“I try to create an extended interaction with the viewer,” she said, adding that the screens are positioned in a semi-circle so that the viewer is “physically placed inside the story”.


Personal relationships are a central subject matter in Antille’s work.

“I am very interested in addressing the complexities of relationships between people and I am touched when people are moved or can see their own life-story projected on the screen.”

Mother/daughter relations are explored in “Angels Camp” – Antille cast her mother as one of the characters.

“She is like Gina Rollins to me… she is so unaware of the camera and natural,” said Antille of her mother.

Visitors to the Swiss Pavilion in Venice will be able to enter the characters’ world: by lying on cushions and listening to them whispering their secrets; by reading the book their creator has written about their adventure, and by looking at photo slides.

swissinfo, Samantha Tonkin

Peter Fischli and David Weiss scooped a Golden Lion award for the overall best work presented at this year’s Biennale art festival in Venice.
The Zurich-based duo won with their video installation on the theme “Dreams and conflicts – the dictatorship of the viewer”.
Emmanuelle Antille is another Swiss artist representing her work at the festival
The 30-year-old Antille from Lausanne studied art at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam from 1997 to 1998.
The Biennale runs from June 15 until November 2.

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