Australian pavilion at the Venice Biennale – MADDESTMAXIMVS

Finally! I made it to the Venice Biennale. My dislike for a city i associate mostly with plastic gondole and unreasonably-priced limp panini takes a short break in mid-October. The weather is pleasantly cool and sunny and that’s usually the time for me to visit a fairly quieter Biennale (until you step inside the always sardined room showing Nathalie Djurberg’s wonderful little videos and creepy flowers but more about this one really soon.)


I’ll kick off the Venice reports with the show MADDESTMAXIMVS at the Australian Pavilion. I wasn’t expecting to like that one as much as i did. A 1:1 ‘sculptural’ replica of the V8 ‘Interceptor‘ car driven by Mel Gibson in Mad Max and parked at the entrance of the show almost made me run in the opposite direction.

0aacasquemoto.jpgStill from Interceptor Surf Sequence, 2009

0acasqu2moto.jpgStill from Interceptor Surf Sequence, 2009

The vehicle started to make sense when i entered the pavilion. MADDESTMAXIMVS reflects Shaun Gladwell’s addiction to extreme sports such as skateboarding, BMX bike riding and break-dancing. Instead of exploring the urban backdrop he has used his public to, the artist ventures into Australian hinterland and desert regions. All Gladwell knew about the location until then came from cinema and in particular the Mad Max movies.

The first video i saw in the pavilion was mesmerizing. A motorcyclist seemed to be surfing a running car as if he were on a wave. Although the car is following a seemingly endless road at very high speed, the images are shown in slow motion. “Slow motion gets away from the high-speed, high-impact imagery of MTV that was also part of the ‘Mad Max’ films. I’m more interested in distilling, slowing down,” explained the artist.

0a0versizeload.jpgStill from Apology to Roadkill (1-6)

0akangoorooo9.jpgStill from Apology to Roadkill (1-6)

A second video features the corpse of a kangaroo on the side of highways (one never thinks of kangaroos as roadkill, right?) The same motorcyclist appears again. He never removes his helmet, he takes the marsupial in his arms and carries it like a pieta to a more dignified place for burial.

The location to the Australian outback confers a haunting dimension to the videos. A political dimension too i suspect. It’s hard not to think about the suffering of indigenous Aboriginal inhabitants, in particular the fate met by the Stolen Generations. Last year, the Australian government issued a formal apology for the mistreatment that the traditional owners of the land featured in the videos had been submitted to in the past.

Not only is the Mad Max-style car parked at the entrance of the pavilion (who would steal it anyway? The only vehicle you can drive in Venice is a boat), the motorcycle that stars in one of the videos has been implanted in the outer wall of the building. The videos were so good i think i should just ignore the vehicle antics.

0aladame89ijk.jpgCentred Pataphysical Suite, 2009

Downstairs, a tower made of monitors – Centred Pataphysical Suite (2009) – shows performers spinning on the spot either skateboarding, break-dancing, dancing on hig sticks or BMX riding.

The Arts Newspaper tv has a video interview with the artist, Australia Council for the Arts has another one featuring a journalist with a super quirky accent and had a long look inside the show.

The Venice Art Biennale runs until the 22nd of November 2009.