Anne Imhof, a violent performance.

Anne Imhof, violence, Venice Biennale

Anne Imholf, the German artist, is a top contender to win the Golden Lion for her violent performance durin the Venice Biennale

What was touted as one of the most exciting national pavilions at this year’s Venice Biennale well ahead of the actual event has indeed turned out to be an absolute sensation during the Biennale’s preview days: Anne Imhof’s new piece Faust, presented in the German Pavilion.

An early favorite judging from the long lines outside, her project is a top contender to win the Golden Lion for best National Participation.

Violence, Pavillion, Venice Biennale

No queue was longer or more violent than the one that formed to access the German Pavilion right after the press conference presenting Imhof’s piece on, which signaled the start of her much-awaited live performance. Chaos ensued. Surgically-enhanced collectors elbowed young artists in trendy attire, while curators tried to sneak ahead of everyone else. Decorum and social norms were temporally suspended in this usually civilized context. People wanted in, and they were taking no prisoners.

Queuers, moreover, were being serenaded as all this unfolded by a pair of Doberman dogs barking behind a fence at the front of the pavilion, standing like guard dogs of some secret treasure—or better land. So far, so unpleasant; and yet, so hyped.

Once inside, the mood intensified. A glass floor has been installed across the span of the pavilion; for the first few minutes one is overcome by an unnerving feeling of vertigo. Underneath the glass, a series of objects has been arranged in clusters: a leather mattress, cuffs, spoons, chains, and bottles of liquids of dubious nature. The whole thing looked like remnants from a scene straight out of the cult Berlin film Christiane F gone S&M.

In one of the small rooms, an industrial sink and a hose—like those you could find in a slaughterhouse, a prison, or a morgue—has been placed next to an electric guitar plugged to pedals and an amp, which looked simultaneously incongruous and perfectly fitting to the scene. The pavilion reeks of sanitary disinfectant, the type of smell that brings bad memories of hospital nights and days at the nursery.

Imhof’s loyal crew of performers wear tattered sport clothes and dirty jeans, and can be found scattered across the space. The troupe includes the artist’s partner and muse Eliza Douglas (an artist herself now represented by the gallery Air de Paris), whose paintings share Imhof’s interest in presenting unique-looking youths making intense eye contact with the audience.

The entire time, the performers move about. They stand on plinths, sing, dance, and then move into the claustrophobic spaces below the glass floor, where they engage in activities which range from looking sulky and checking their mobile phones, to masturbation.

Then something happens. An industrial soundtrack explodes on the speakers, filling the room with metallic beats. The performers all come together in formation and walk across the room slowly, like an impossibly cool army of zombies. They reach the front end of the pavilion, where instead of a door, a glass window has been installed. Audience members that didn’t make it inside are piling up and squinting to see. Then, the group turns and walks back to the center of room, looking deadpan towards the viewers, who are photographing and videoing their every move, fascinated, despite the mildly threatening feeling these characters provoke.

It’s almost like a catwalk show from hell, as powerful as it is uneasy. The piece speaks of power, of who holds it and who seeks to reclaim it. It speaks of the inclusion and exclusion of bodies, who gets to come in, and who’s left out—which can be read on both a macro level (national borders) and on a micro level (inclusion in social groups, including the art world).

And then, there’s of course what the piece says about contemporary life, of how we are living our lives exposed on social media, of how everything gets to be documented, and how we treat ourselves and each other like animals in the zoo, living inside our symbolic glass cages, where we can see and be seen, but are trapped nevertheless.

Ai Weiwei: Bejijing is a ‘city of violence’

Ai Weiwei, China, Violence

Ai Weiwei, world-famous artist, accuses officials of denying people their basic rights and describes Beijing as a ‘city of violence’

Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist held by the authorities for almost three months earlier this year, has attacked injustice in China in a passionate article fuelled by his own experiences of detention.

detention,Irony, Ai weiwei

He accused officials of “deny[ing] us basic rights” and compared migrant workers to slaves, describing Beijing as “a city of violence” and “a constant nightmare”.

But one of the most powerful passages describes how people “become like mad” as they are held in isolation and how detainees “truly believe [captors] can do anything to you”.

His remarks, in an article about Beijing published on the website of Newsweek magazine, are certain to anger Chinese security officials. They come days after it emerged that China is reportedly planning to give police legal powers to hold some suspects for up to six months without telling their families. Campaigners say the move would legitimise and potentially increase the number of secret detentions.

Ai’s own 81-day detention caused an international outcry. It was the most high-profile case in a sweeping crackdown that saw dozens of activists, dissidents and lawyers held earlier this year.

State media said he was held for economic crimes and released in June “because of his good attitude in confessing” and a chronic illness. His family and supporters believe he was targeted due to his social and political activism.

The 54-year-old artist is not able to give interviews but confirmed that he had written the article. He described it simply as “a piece about the place I live in”.

Ai’s bail conditions reportedly prevent him from discussing what happened to him in detention, although a source gave Reuters a detailed account of events, which included more than 50 interrogations.

The restrictions are also said to ban him from using social media – although he sent a brief flurry of angry tweets recently about friends who had been enmeshed in his case – but not from writing.

In a park in Beijing, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei holds a copy of a government document informing him of the expiry of his bail term.

“The worst thing about Beijing is that you can never trust the judicial system,” he wrote in the Newsweek article. “It’s like a sandstorm … everything is constantly changing, according to somebody else’s will, somebody else’s power.”

He went on: “My ordeal made me understand that on this fabric, there are many hidden spots where they put people without identity … only your family is crying out that you’re missing. But you can’t get answers from the street communities or officials, or even at the highest levels, the court or the police or the head of the nation. My wife has been writing these kinds of petitions every day [while he was held], making phone calls to the police station every day. Where is my husband?

“You’re in total isolation. And you don’t know how long you’re going to be there, but you truly believe they can do anything to you. There’s no way to even question it. You’re not protected by anything. Why am I here? Your mind is very uncertain of time. You become like mad. It’s very hard for anyone. Even for people who have strong beliefs.”

The artist described the capital as two cities. The first was one of power and money, peopled by officials, coal bosses and the heads of big companies who help to keep “the restaurants and karaoke bars and saunas … very rich”. The second was a place of desperation, he wrote, calling migrant workers the city’s slaves.

Ai, who helped to design the “bird’s nest” national stadium for the Olympics – but publicly turned on the games before they began – said none of his art represented the capital.

He added: “The Olympics did not bring joy to the people.”

He also warned: “Beijing tells foreigners that they can understand the city, that we have the same sort of buildings …

“Officials who wear a suit and tie like you say we are the same and we can do business. But they deny us basic rights.”

Ai described people giving him quiet support when he went out last week, for example patting him on the shoulder, but only in “a secretive way” because they were not willing to speak out.

He said people told him to “either leave, or be patient and watch how they die. I really don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Pyotr Pavlensky: violence against Russian indifference and fatalism

Violence, Russia,Politic

Performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky stages protest at ‘apathy, political indifference and fatalism of Russian society’ gaining a reputation for challenging restrictions on political freedoms using violence, in radical, often painful performances that have won international acclaim.

“My art is political,” the gaunt-looking artist said, denouncing “individuals being treated by the state like cattle”.

Russia,Violence,Protest

While best known for his 2013 Red Square performance entitled “Fixation”, he also sewed his lips together to protest against the jailing of members of the punk group Pussy Riot. He has also wrapped himself in barbed wire and chopped off part of his ear.

In November 2015, he doused the doors of the FSB – the successor to the Cold War-era KGB, or secret police – in petrol and set them on fire, in a performance called “Threat”.

He spent seven months in jail awaiting trial for damaging the door of the infamous Lubyanka building before being eventually freed in June.

Russian media reported the allegation of sexual assault was made by a young Moscow actress at a theatre known for its politically-themed plays, Teatr.doc. Pavlensky did not say whether there had been a sexual encounter.

In a statement published by Ukraine’s Hromadske channel, he insisted “there was no violence” against the woman, whom he accused of being an “informer”.

“I do not know the motivations of the person who made this false statement but it is very useful to the authorities who can use this case to exclude us from our sphere of action,” he said, referring to himself and his 37-year-old partner, who works at a publishing company.

“A system of informing and reporting on others is re-emerging in Russia, showing that totalitarianism is setting in again,” he said. Russian authorities, he said, sought to control “all spheres of public and private life”.

Pavlensky said he and Shalygin were detained at Moscow airport on 14 December on their return from a trip to Warsaw and questioned under article 132 of the penal code dealing with sexual violence.

“It’s one of the worst in the Russian penal code because you can convict someone on the basis of a single statement,” he said in the interview at a Russian bookstore in Paris.

After the last episode the Russian artist has fled to France, where he will seek asylum.

In an interview in Paris, the artist who memorably once nailed his scrotum to Red Square, said he fled Russia after he and his partner Oksana Shalygina were accused of sexual assault – allegations he denies.

The couple arrived in the French capital on Saturday with their two children. “We intend to seek asylum in France,” said the 32-year-old performer, who was detained and questioned for nine hours last month over the assault claims.

“If we had stayed in Russia, Oksana and I would have been sent to a prison camp for up to 10 years,”