The artist duo responsible for Moving Backwards set their agenda in no uncertain terms with this title and consolidated such in their pavilion opening speech. In these odd times, Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz argue, perhaps we should harness the negative power of life in retrograde and use it for good. For surely all existing energy, no matter how and why it has been generated, has the potential for positive redirection?
Their beautifully made film is a joy (and a transfixing physical essay) on many levels. It taps into the childlike wonder at what bodies and technology (especially if you were born pre-internet) can do. For a second, I’m back being four in 1978, marvelling at the sight of myself – all tomboy in a duffle coat and flared jeans – de-climbing a tree in rewind on the TV thanks to my Dad’s new video camera. As an adult critical viewer, however, I’m situated bang in the middle of a bunch of art disciplines – performance art, interpretive dance, art film – all of which can individually trigger particular, sometimes problematic, preconceptions, let alone when experienced simultaneously.
No dialogue, no subtitling (OK, “Do you sometimes feel you are massively being forced to move backwards?” is written on the wall). But, essentially, it’s just bodies of indeterminate gender persuasion and sexual orientation – a group of humans who embody the possibility of us not having to choose exactly who we are by right of the form we find ourselves in – elegantly, ludicrously, sexily moving around the pavilion’s constructed dance, now viewing, space to (some banging) music. They limber up, down and freestyle around with all the grace of the finest handwritten letter you will ever receive.
No-one spends half their life in art, as many of us at the biennale will have, without having to witness some questionable stuff in the performance-dance arena. And the artists of course know this and use it to their advantage. There is nothing remotely po-faced about any of their exceptionally choreographed routines. We get Billy Jean and the Swiss National anthem backwards. It’s an incredibly fluid reverse performance. We are, for a short time at least, truly engaged, life on pause. The barely discernable moments of between-movement hiatuses, which alert one to the fact of these being physically improbable executions in the forward-play of real life, appear consciously left in, as if to remind us of the power of bodies in motion to induce a gut-level sense of trepidation.
Cover image: © Pro Helvetia/KEYSTONE/Gaëtan Bally