The Seductiveness of the Interval at The Renaissance Society

by Roxanne Samer

The Seductiveness of the Interval at The Renaissance Society

Most Chicagoans do not have the means—temporally, financially or otherwise—to go gallivanting through Europe every two years in time for the Venice Biennale. Instead, we are forced to rely on our few lucky friends and prestigious art publications to tell us all about what’s the latest and greatest in the international art circuit. Fortunately, this time, a piece of it has made its way over to us. From May 2nd through June 27th, Chicagoans can checkout The Seductiveness of the Interval curated by Alina Serban at the Renaissance Society, which originally served as the Romanian Pavilion at the 53rd La Biennale di Venezia last summer. Do not worry, though, the delay most likely serves to heighten the meaning of the work, as the exhibition is about the viewing experience itself and the gaps therein more so than anything else. Like a mouse at the start of a maze, the installation—a large white rectangular cube built by studioBASAR, inside of which a winding labyrinth connects the exhibition’s five works by three artists—thrusts the viewer head first through a multi-media journey of unpredictable dimensions.

The artworks themselves, by Stefan Constantinescu, Andrea Faciu and Ciprian Muresan, explore humanity’s darker side and the perpetuity of violence on all scales worldwide. The first piece inside the labyrinth is an eight-minute film by Constantinescu, Troileibuzul 92 (2009), during which a typical trip on a city bus quickly goes haywire.  Upon arriving at a stop, a large man in his late-thirties boards the bus and sits down in a recently vacated seat next to an older woman with a yellow scarf. He proceeds to make a series of phone calls, all presumably to a wife or girlfriend, who he badgers profusely about why he hasn’t been able to reach her and who she’s been speaking to before repeatedly threatening to come over and kill her.

Troleibuzul 92, Stefan Constantinescu

He repeatedly hangs up and calls her again to make the same accusations and threats with only slight variance each time. The passengers around him appear unconcerned by what they too are presumably hearing. In viewing the piece, we become positioned as fellow passengers both via the camerawork and by finding ourselves seated in actual bus seats as we watch. We become complicit in the threat of violence, aware but unable to take action. As the man stands up and exists the bus, there is nothing we can do but dread the jealousy-induced destruction that lies ahead.

Ciprian Muresan’s Dog Luv (2009) similarly comments on the inevitability of violence though through much different means. The thirty-minute video is a recording of a puppet performance, whereby a group of five dogs—the members of the Republic of Dogmachina as we quickly learn—recite the history of humankind by way of its violent deeds in order to better understand humans, who from their perspective paradoxically love their obedient pets and hate rogue animal independents. In their lesson, which is organized by their leader, the bulldog named “Mad Dog,” they list gruesome means and moments of violence that men have traversed from Ancient Greece to present—gladiators, beheading, flogging, lynching, the electric chair, the sending of convicts to Australia, firing squads, slavery, lethal injection, genocide, suicide bombing, Abu Ghraib and water-boarding are but a few mentioned.

Dog Luv, Ciprian Muresan

Initially, the four pupils laugh at the seeming ridiculousness of so much fighting for no purpose. They cannot relate. It makes no sense. But by the end of the lesson, learning of such cruelty has changed them. The four now know the ways of jealousy, fear and bigotry and turn on their leader and then each other. They torture Mad Dog, seeking an confession that never comes, before interrogating the only female member of the group about her and her husband’s marital habits and staging gladiatorial battles between each other. Though highly stylized and “unrealistic”—the puppets, the minimal set and puppet masters are all cloaked in variances on black and gray—the piece is hard-hitting, a stinging comment on knowledge’s ability to corrupt when paired with uncertainty and division.

Between these and the other three challenging pieces lies an “interval,” a physical gap in which a temporal break can be taken. They even provide a literal breath of fresh air, as these sections of the structure are roofless, exposing the patch of grass and flowers that cascades the top of the central exhibition space. The seductiveness to which the exhibition title refers seems thus to lie in this rest, which is in fact an allusion. Contrasting the dark viewing areas where words and images flash in front of our eyes and surround us in sound, these intervals provide us with a peace composed of sunlight and quiet while simultaneously propelling us further into the maze and onto the next work. We may pause, but we also must always continue. For a more extensive description of the works in the exhibition, visit the Seductiveness of the Interval website.