Ah, Nature! Relaxing under the trees, contemplating their softly fluttering leaves, watching them slide across the ground….
Okay, first off, Venice has a dearth of trees. So why am I talking about trees in a post on Venice? And second, trees don’t slide across the ground.
But at the Biennale they do!
This year the French pavilion features three living scotch pines, one inside and two outside, that are poised on almost-invisible wheeled platforms that roll across the ground. My friend called them Treembas because they remind him of his Rumba robot vacuum back home. We arrived at this pavilion almost last, after hours of walking and standing and perusing and laughing at the art in the other buildings. So when we saw this spot to rest our weary legs, we immediately adopted the corpse pose.
My first impression: Ah! So lovely to get off my feet, get out of the heat. But then we started watching the indoor tree and became hypnotized by the ambient music.
At first I didn’t realize that the tree was moving. But the leaves trembled ever so slightly, and I noticed that there was no breeze to cause this. Then as I gazed at the skylight where the tree branches reached towards it, it had changed its position relative to where it had been a moment ago! The tree was moving! As we had approached the pavilion initially, I hadn’t realized that the two outdoor trees were similarly moving. (Later I noticed the clandestine minders with brooms to sweep the trees’ paths in case something blocked their wheels.)
For me, the beauty of this installation was not its metaphorical connections or its brilliant conceptualization or its technical prowess. I like art that is pleasing and creates an emotional reaction in me and that makes me think. Well, I found that I kept thinking about these trees long after we had left the exhibit. Though some of the other artwork at this year’s Biennale also pleased me (and a lot annoyed me), I kept returning to my time with the trees. Was it only that I was tired and welcomed the respite? I don’t think so. For such a simple concept, the trees made me think a lot about what is art, what is its place in our world, what its creators try to give us, what we get from it, and how it makes us look at the world in different ways. These trees did that for me.
And, well, the corpse pose felt pretty good, too.
What do you think? Is this art? Is it not? Why? Was I just seduced by shade and a place to rest my weary not-corpse?
If you want to know what the art world has to say about the trees, here are a couple articles to check out:
A basic description, with photos: http://www.contemporaryartdaily.com/2015/05/venice-celeste-boursier-mougenot-at-the-french-pavilion/
Very enthusiastic piece, including interview with artist: http://www.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/1152584/celeste-boursier-mougenot-on-his-french-pavilion-in-venice#