Still from Ravel Ravel Unravel (2013) - Anri Sala

Anri Sala pits two pianists against a DJ in Venice

The French national submission, Ravel Ravel Unravel, dwells on Europe's great triumphs and failures

This year, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, Germany and France have switched pavilions at The Venice Biennale. Both countries' exhibitions reflect this spirit of supranational cooperation; Germany is showing works by foreign artists Ai Weiwei, Dayanita Singh, Santu Mofokeng and Romuald Karmakar. Meanwhile, France has chosen the Franco-Albanian artist and Berlin resident, Anri Sala.

Sala's show, Ravel Ravel Unravel, may sound simple on first reading, yet its subtleties make it perhaps the Biennale's most thought provoking meditation on Europe.

At the centre of the piece is a 1930 piano concerto by the French composer Maurice Ravel, Concerto for the Left Hand in D Major. The work was commissioned by the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, elder brother of the philosopher Ludwig. Wittgenstein lost his right arm during World War I and approached a number of famous composers to write piano works for just the left hand.



Sala has produced films of two different pianists, French Canadian Louis Lortie and the French-born Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, performing the piece. Both are screened simultaneously in one room under the title Ravel Ravel and, it must be said, both are remarkably dexterous performances. The gallery's walls have been specially treated so as to dampen any echoes, allowing the videos to bring out the small discrepancies between the two works clearly. In Sala's words the screenings “paradoxically create an ‘other’ space” somewhere in between the two performances.”



In two further rooms, under the title Unravel, Sala's videos show French DJ Chloe attempting to synch two vinyl records of the performances. One film is silent and focusses just on her face, while another allows visitors to hear and see her efforts.

Certainly, it's the kind of exhibition which requires its visitors to read-up a little prior to their visit to get the best out of it. To find out more, go here; for more on Anri Sala, take a look at our book, the first monograph on this wonderful European artist; for more on Maurice Ravel, consider our beautiful crafted biography.