For the 57th Venice Biennale, the Greek artist offers his customary blend of architecture and film in a narrative video installation that explores the resonances between an ancient story by Aeschylus, involving a group of women seeking asylum, and a 20th-century scientific experiment
For Greece’s Venice pavilion, George Drivas presents Laboratory of Dilemmas, a riveting architectural, biological and mythological exploration of refugees and repercussions. He has constructed a glossy black labyrinth within the neoclassical pavilion, through which visitors wander while absorbing two narratives. One is Aeschylus’s ancient story The Suppliant Women, involving a group of refugees whose pleas for asylum are debated, and then acted out with a variety of consequences, by their reluctant hosts. The other, dominant, narrative is a fictional documentary of a genuine biological dilemma, delivered in bite-sized chunks on screens set within the labyrinth. The story concerns a 20th-century scientific community’s ethical and scientific difficulties when a major experiment, to create hepatitis-resistant cells, takes an unexpected turn: new cells appear that unite with their host cells to create their own cell culture.
The dilemma is explored here in discrete episodes on screens set within the labyrinth structure, and then debated with all the gravitas of a full-on ethical enquiry, on a huge central screen at the heart of the building. The decision, debated in this stark, monochrome “court” setting (with a cast including actor Charlotte Rampling), is whether to kill the new cells and all that potential, or allow them to flourish.
“The labyrinth is a challenge,” says Drivas. “The way it is used in Greek history, it’s not really a game. It’s a challenge where you enter and exit as a winner. This is the way the protagonist uses it …’ He hopes that the structure reflects the twists and turns of our mental processes. Ultimately, he hopes that it provokes some interesting questions.
“Art can create dialogue,” says Drivas. “This is the purpose of the whole biennale here. There are no answers to be given from art, but there are very interesting questions.”
Drivas (b1969, Athens) was selected from 30 potential artists for this year’s Venice Biennale. He is based in Athens and Berlin, and his work has won many awards at Greek and international festivals. His work was featured as a solo show at the Galleria Nazionale, Rome (2017), and, in 2009, he presented the solo show (Un)documented at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens.
George Drivas: Laboratory of Dilemmas
Greek Pavilion for Venice Biennale
13 May – 26 November 2017
Interview by VERONICA SIMPSON
Filmed by MARTIN KENNEDY