Mexico and Singapore Pavilions

For Mexico’s pavilion at Palazzo Rota Ivancich, Melanie Smith is exhibiting films, paintings and objects in vitrines. The most engaging piece is the 12-minute film showing on the piano nobile. ‘Xilitla: Dismantled 1’ made in collaboration with Rafael Ortega.

An assortment of battered dining chairs form an auditorium on the Palazzo’s parquet floor, beyond which are some curtains and panelling that suggest the space of a theatre. There are green gels on the windows, preparing us with their jungle light for the film that follows. A seductive combination of old and new technologies, ‘Xilitla’ is filmed on 35 mm and transferred to digital projection, with some burning visible at the bottom of the frame. Projected in a vertical format, the convention for landscape format is undermined, and in its place a format that better suits the peculiarly vertical statues that are the subject of the film.

La Pozas, Xilitla is a sculpture garden in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, made between 1962 and 1984 by artist and poet Edward James. Containing 36 concrete sculptures in 20 acres of tropical jungle, the garden is a celebration of entropy and surrealism. The film is as playful as James’ vision. At one point a finger is held up to the camera, the same size of the statue of a finger revealed to be towering behind it. At another point a woman in an orange swimsuit flashes onto the frame, goes, and then reappears equally quickly, this time with an old man standing behind her. There is no explanation for this kind of event, although visual parallels provide some form of narrative. For example, later in the film we see the woman, ghostly transparent this time, as if part of a double-exposure on our minds that will not fade away.
Although there is a voice element, it is not subtitled and as a result feels secondary to the non-verbal audio. The surround sound is integral to the film’s dynamism.  The spoken voice fades into a chorus of crickets; fireworks bang and fizz, and it rains. Clanks of lights being switched on and off around the garden are timed perfectly to form a staccato rhythm. Sometimes non-diegetic and ominously low chords resonate, again, as inexplicable as the appearance of the woman in the orange swimsuit.
Some scenes are also visually rhythmic, echoing each other poetically: water is poured into an earth indent, and later, sand into sand. Each act of pouring is cut, and then repeated, achieving legerdemain by a ‘jump’ that plays with optics and timing.
A preoccupation with optics pervades the film. The camera’s lens focuses and unfocuses; the garden contains aperture-like holes in its architecture; mirrors are carried through branches and across a pool and waterfall. Sometimes we see a hand or a leg supporting the mirror, and sometimes it appears as an illusion, slicing a reflected image through the existing one. Mirrors hang from twines too, sweeping one image out and into another as the breeze moves them. At times we see through the mirror glass, and add yet another view to the collection. 
Xilitla is a heterotopia: Foucault’s concept of a garden of contrasting places, styles and eras – here English poeticism meets Mexican jungle, European surrealism and tribal totems. The mirror too is a concept employed by both Foucault and Smith to explore a space that is both real and unreal, an ambiguous double that haunts and supports its original. A heterotopia is a built utopia; in becoming ‘real’ it loses its former ideal, and is pollinated by other influences. This fruitful transformation is evident not only in the garden of Xilitla, but also in the film, its location in Venice, and in the lives of both James and Smith, Britons relocated in Mexico. 

Melanie Smith for Mexico 

‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ is a film by Ho Tzu Nyen, projected in the upper-floor of S.S Filippo e Giacomo del Museo. The beanbags provided for the audience to flop on are of a similarly large proportion as the screen, and as luxurious as the surround sound. As in Melanie Smith’s film ‘Xilitla: Dismantled 1’ at the Mexican pavilion, sound is integral to Nyen’s film. Sharply edited, every breath and footstep resonates to the rafters of the ceiling.
Hyen explores the idea of the cloud as an impediment and aid to spiritual enlightenment. The film contains eight characters in apartments located in a deserted housing block in Singapore. When each of the characters encounters a cloud, their experience is immersive, rather than comprehensible, and this is also the experience for the viewer. Clouds, on screen if not above Venice’s rooftops, bathe us in a sonorous, opaque and haptic experience.

Ho Tzu Nyen for Singapore