Focusing on the Greek myth of Danaë in which Zeus impregnates the imprisoned daughter of King Acrisius by appearing to her as a shower of golden rain, Vadim Zakharov’s Danaë at the Venice Biennale represents the first time in the history of the Russian pavilion that the upper and lower storeys have been combined into a single installation.
Entered from both below and above, the two levels of the exhibition space are tied together by means of the large square hole that has been carved through the ceiling of one of the ground floor rooms. The experience for female and male visitors varies slightly as only women are allowed to partake in the process of collecting the golden coins that fall from the pyramid ceiling, whilst the men observe from above. The artist, Vadim Zakharov, states that “this is not about sexism but merely follows the logic of the anatomical construction of the myth”. There seems to be something sacred about the act of collecting the coins, we are asked to do so to keep the process going, yet we are given no explanation as to what the process may be and therefore must carry out the act in good faith. The viewing platform above is also lined by cushioned benches, encouraging the viewer to kneel as though in prayer and to the side of the ultimate room stands a wooden structure in which stands a white rose, symbol of purity and closely linked to Christian iconography of the immaculate conception.
Zakharov’s use of the Greek myth places the installation within a long history of art works, as the topic has often been represented since ancient times. However, he immerses it within modern society by approaching it from a Capitalistic angle. The golden rain has been transformed into golden coins, a symbol of greed, which are used in a circular process of collection and distribution that seems to have no end goal and therefore suggests the triviality of human desire.
The work is an exciting re-enactment of the ancient myth, which through its varied use of theatre, sculpture, viewer participation and pictorial elements draws the visitor into the world Zakharov has created for us.
Vadim Zakharov: Danaë, at the Venice Biennale until 24 November
1. Vadim Zakharov Danaë Russian Pavilion Venice 2013 (view from inside detail) Photo by Alex Maguire.