Of all the representations at the Venice Biennale 2011, none impressed me more than that of Hungary.
Hajnal Németh's Crash, quite rightly described as an experimental opera, right from the beginning challenges the normal modes of expression and representation. From the outside, with the European licence plates taken from throughout the union and emblazoned with lyrics from the opera that lay within, the first impression was a little austere, cold.
However, from the moment I walked in to the installation, I was under total sensory assault, in the best possible way.
Entering the pavillion, I was immediately transported into the environment of a crime scene. The windows in the pavillion had been obscured by red perspex, which was used to literally blinding effect. Lyrical opera pumped out throughout the complex, and the journey commenced.
The journey was one into a number of failed journeys. The premise seemed to be based on monotonous, factual police accounts and interviews involving car incidents and presumably, fatalities, but that were injected with a heightened and exaggerated sense of drama which made for compelling viewing.
A crashed up BMW under the harsh unforgiving light immediately established a forensic site in which viewers were participants, armed with aural and visual clues to steer us along the route. The secret, if morbid joy of being able to immediately peer directly into a crash scene satiated viewers before the journey continued on to the dialogues, all layed out on stands, as if they formed part of an invisible orchestra, the music all the while resonating throughout the building. In fact, by seeing the crashed car at the beginning of the exhibition, viewers could shift their focus towards the details, the sometimes banal recounts that speak of how most of our memories work. A small enclosed viewing room housed the headshots of 12 drivers, but, taken from behind, so as to conceal their anonymity, redirecting our normal appetite for visual clues.
In the finall room, the video presentation elevated itself above and beyond cliche and corniness...here, the dialogues and transcripts, made up of routine questions (were you driving a rental car?) were sung in couplets and monologues (along with elongated, baritone responses in the negative or affirmative).
Nemeth, in a short blip with Italian Vogue, strongly refutes the idea that she is representing Hungary, the central European nation which, whilst growing in the European stature, is also emerging as one of the union's most challenged countries for press freedom and freedom of expression.
Biennale and European politics aside, this is resolutely a European work from beginning to end, visually and musically. In terms of the concept, its a one of a kind.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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