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David Altmejd, ‘The Index’, installation view in the Canadian Pavilion

In the carefully landscaped wilderness of the Giardini, three national pavilions contain work by artists using mirrors to a specific purpose, creating some of the most startling and dynamic spatial and sensory moments of the Biennale. David Altmejd’s ‘The Index’ and Isa Genzken’s ‘Oil’ occupy the Canadian and German pavilions respectively. Further down the hill, Eric Duyckaert’s ‘Palace of Mirrors’ and Discoveries fills the Belgian building. All are instances of doubling, reflection and reversal activating an otherwise sober event.

Altmejd’s installation in the spiral-shaped, organic house of glass and wood is populated by a cabal of mythical creatures, including the four metre tall ‘Giant 2’, 2007, and countless squirrels and birds reflected in an architecture of mirrors. To enter the opulent surroundings of ‘The Index’ is to be sucked into an eroticised world of visual glamour shared by suited-and-booted birds with testicles hanging from their beaks, and black corkscrew-shaped dildos, butt plugs, mushrooms and assorted flora. Cavities in ‘Giant 2’, a monumental reclining figure, shelter small beasts, while crystal-shaped arrangements of mirror puncture his flesh.

Eric Duyckaerts, 'Palace of Mirrors and Discoveries' in the Belgian Pavilion 
Eric Duyckaerts, ‘Palace of Mirrors and Discoveries’ in the Belgian Pavilion

The entrance hall to the German pavilion has been lined with mirrors as a corollary to the scaffolding and orange builders’ screening Isa Genzken has installed outside, creating a lively viewing relationship between the visitor and one of the most historically charged pavilions in the Giardini. In a game of hide-and-seek, they emphasise the stately, overbearing grandeur of the pavilion’s interior, reflecting it ad infinitum without revealing any architectural material. Genzken has asserted that she wants ‘to animate the viewers, hold a mirror up to them’, and ‘Oil’, by virtue of its title and content, is a microcosm of current cultural mores and obsessions with money, travel and success. The shock of mirrors brings this home.

Isa Genzken, exterior view of 'Oil' in the German Pavilion 
Isa Genzken, exterior view of ‘Oil’ in the German Pavilion

Eric Duyckaerts has constructed a traditional cross-shaped Cretan maze of mirrors, placing monitors playing recordings of his pre-Biennale performances at critical junctures. Duyckaerts’ practice is concerned with logic and rhetoric, expounded through an analysis of the figures of the professor and the impostor. Reflection—both physically and intellectually—is central to his lectures, in which he typically skirts around his chosen topic, reflecting and deflecting his speech to demonstrate myriad ideas, entertaining with a mad professor demeanour, but never truly arriving at anything conclusive. Is this a sign of our times?

Ellen Mara De Wachter is a London-based artist