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Ravel Ravel Unravel: Anri Sala Represents France at the Germany Pavilion

Ravel Ravel Unravel: Anri Sala Represents France at the Germany Pavilion

Picture of Rebecca Jagoe
Updated: 5 January 2017
To mark the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, and as an acknowledgement of the countries’ friendship, Germany and France have exchanged Pavilions for the 2013 Venice Biennale. The selected artist for France, Anri Sala, will therefore be showing in the Germany pavilion this year, creating a multi-screen, symphonic film installation titled Ravel Ravel Unravel.

The permeability of national divisions is crucial in the art world. Artists from India show in Berlin; artists from New York show in Japan; many leading galleries will have outposts in different countries, and often different continents. This global forum for the exchange of ideas and works is, arguably, the linchpin of the Venice Biennale in general, and it sees its active implementation in an unusual move from the France and Germany pavilions this year. After discussions that have lasted a decade, the France and Germany pavilions have decided to exchange venues this year. Thus, the selected artist for France, Anri Sala, will be showing in the Germany pavilion this year.


Christine Macel et Anri Sala © Julien Mignot / Eté 80

Christine Macel et Anri Sala © Julien Mignot / Eté 80

Anri Sala, an Albanian video artist, was chosen to represent France after a proposal by Xavier Darcos, President of the Institut Français. After his selection, Sala asked Christine Macel – Chief Curator at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou – to curate the exhibition. Macel and Sala have already worked together; she curated his show at the Centre Pompidou in 2012, and their mutual appointment sees a natural continuation of their working relationship.

Sala works in film, yet the formal arrangement of his work is always key and he is as much an installation artist as a filmmaker. Initially working with documentary, the artist’s practice has developed from a focus in content to a further exploration of form: both the act of filming and its subsequent display. For the show at Centre Pompidou in 2012, four of his recent films were shown in a montage across five screens, moving from one screen to the next on a precise time sequence. The sound would always precede the image, and as different pieces played over each other, the layering of soundtracks created an alternative space outside of the locations shown on screen.


Answer Me

Anri Sala, Answer Me, 2008. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Zurich et Londres ; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York ; Galerie Johnen, Berlin ; Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris; © Anri Sala


Le Clash

Anri Sala, Le Clash, 2010. Courtesy: Chantal Crousel © Anri Sala


Often compared to a symphony, Sala’s sensitive yet articulate work displays a high level of control. Yet his work is more than simply an exercise in form: the films – both those shown at Centre Pompidou and his work in general – consider the simultaneous claustrophobia and agoraphobia of an urban landscape, along with the specific narratives tied to certain geographies.


The piece he is creating for the Biennale is titled Ravel Ravel Unravel, a subtle word play on the verb and the eponymous composer. In 1930, Maurice Ravel created a concerto to be played exclusively by the left hand, and it is upon this composition that the installation pivots. Two films focus separately upon the left hands of two renowned pianists – Louis Lortie and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet – who were invited by Sala to perform the piece. The films, played simultaneously, reveal the differences and discrepancies between the two interpretations of the music, as the temporal lapse becomes more marked. In adjacent rooms, two further films show a DJ mixing the two Ravel performances, becoming a further, unique interpretation of the piece. This, then, becomes the ‘unravel’ to the other films’ ‘ravel’.


Portrait de Louis Lortie au piano

Portrait de Louis Lortie au piano, pendant le tournage de l’œuvre Ravel Ravel d’Anri Sala, à la Maison de l’Orchestre National d’Ile-de-France Photo : © Julien Mignot / Eté 80


Portrait de Jean-Efflam Bavouzet

Portrait de Jean-Efflam Bavouzet – Jean-Efflam Bavouzet appears by permission of Chandos Records, Ltd Photo : © Julien Mignot / Eté 80


This new work is a clear evolution and development of the ideas Sala and Macel explored when they worked together in 2012. As with the piece created for the Pompidou, the layering of sound in films produces ‘a ‘different’ space in an environment conceived to annihilate the feeling of space’ (Anri Sala). Whereas previously the films used to create this effect were pre-existing works, here the artist produced films specifically intended to be layered. This sees a further move towards Sala’s focus on formal display and the environment it is to be shown in. The history of the Germany Pavilion is somewhat contentious. Initially designed by Italian architect Daniele Donghi to house Bavarian art, the original 1909 structure was demolished and redesigned by the German Ernst Haiger in 1938, after instructions from the Nazi party to create something more modern. Sala’s work has previously explored the politics and narrative aligned with specific places, and the origins of the Germany pavilion have influenced many of the previous artists showing there for the Biennale. The press release from the Institut Français states that while Sala makes no explicit reference to the Pavilion within the work, he is nonetheless ‘interested in the specific resonances that it holds and what its history will give to his work.’


France Team

Theme: Ravel Ravel Unravel

Artist: Anri Sala

Commissioner: Institut français

Curator: Christine Macel

Venue: Pavilion at Giardini



About Culture Trip’s Venice Biennale Project

The 55th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale will take place from 1 June – 24 November. Culture Trip’s Venice Biennale Series is an article series leading up to the start of the exhibition. With 88 countries participating in this year’s Biennale – 10 of them for the first time – and 150 artists from 37 countries, our coverage over the next couple of months will highlight a selection of the National Pavilions that will be participating in the 2013 edition of the Venice Biennale.