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For the 57th Venice Biennale, Xavier Veilhan has transformed the French Pavilion into Studio Venezia, a music studio in a grotto-like setting, inspired by 1970s postmodern architecture, that will remain active for the six and a half months of the exhibition. With curators Lionel Bovier and Christian Marclay, Veilhan has invited professional musicians and audio engineers to perform, work, and record in the space, offering visitors a chance to witness and experience the creation of music. Whitewaller spoke with Veilhan about his interest in connecting the city of Venice to the project.
WHITEWALLER: Does your approach to this project for the Venice Biennale compare to how you prepare for other exhibitions?
XAVIER VEILHAN: Yes, and for different reasons. As an artist I love to escape. You don’t take notes on beautiful music—you just enjoy it. So I try to think more on this nonquantitative side. There is a very strong symbolic impact in this project. There is the idea that you represent a certain idea of culture. And with what is happening around the world, there is an idea that just doing what you do normally is a kind of statement. I want to, as an artist, promote the idea of being very concentrated but also being very laid-back at the same time.
To answer your question more completely, I have been in Venice many times during the biennale and I was always surprised that the city’s spirit ended when entering a pavilion. It was like each artist imported something that was trying to do the very same thing he or she was doing elsewhere.
That was not for me. I wanted to develop the project using the length of the biennial, which is over six months. I want to use that length to synchronize the pavilion to the city. An exhibition is, of course, a kind of metaphoric paradigm, but it’s also very interesting when it starts to be connected with the environment.
WW: So how do you make that connection?
XV: Through several means. The pavilion is reflecting and connecting not only the world of visual art but the world of music, which is much broader and much more accessible. Music, on a personal level, brings me a certain type of physical sensation that visual art does not. The idea is to transform the old pavilion into a kind of grotto that will be similar to postmodern architecture by 1970s architects like Frank Gehry. So it will look like an almost collapsed recording studio from the seventies with all these wood walls and the different kinds of fabric to affect the acoustics. This recording studio will work properly with all the technicians and devices needed.
I propose that the viewer enter this kind of installation to get lost and forget about the outside when you are inside. The old pavilion will turn into the piece. Using the connection to the city, we are working with musicians from abroad, but also Venetian musicians. We have some historical musical instruments coming from Paris, but also from Venice.
WW: How do you see the programming playing out over the duration of the exhibition?
XV: Visitors can witness the process of a recording studio, just like watching a theater rehearsal on stage. I hope that people will adapt their senses to what is going on. I’m more concerned with what will happen after the opening, when it’s less populated. During that I want to have something that is more one person to another—this special encounter with the music. When you have somebody playing in front of you or singing without any mediation, when we are so used to streaming music or listening in your car, something completely different is happening. What I want to have is this moment where the music is propelling the visual aspect—this combination of vibrations through the air of the music and the frequencies of what you see.
This article is published in Whitewaller Venice, out now.