The Canadian Pavilion is tucked in a corner of the Giardini just past the German pavilion, long line ups must be skirted in order to gain entrance.

Once in the gate, black feet are seen dangling from overhead, toes displaying suppleness more like graceful fingers. The lithe limbs and slim body are hard to see completely from the perspective of a ground dweller, as are the eyes peering out from behind the black Venetian mask but the face is familiar for visitors who have descended upon Venice for the opening of the 55th Venice Biennale have seen eyes watching as they bustle from place to place. Venice is poster-ed (Shary Boyle Music for Silence) with a close up, portrait of the life-size bronze, Ophiodea. From the posters and from her actual perch above, Ophiodea looks out, quiet as an elf as if hesitant to interfere.

Shary Boyle’s work is cited at the inauguration as being “perfect for this Biennale”. It is for Music for Silence is very like a hallucinated dream – spiritual, intimate and beautifully crafted. Music for Silence obfuscates the architectonics of the physical pavilion. Once through the door, there is the aura of an inner sanctum, a respite from the pressures of time. All that matters is the artwork.

The Venice Biennale is an arena where competition to leave an impression often defines the jostle of artistic output within the pavilions. Boyle chose to offer a reflective presentation and just as meditation reveals the empty quietude within that is common to all, so Boyle says that music is for her, “ a medium towards the peace of the unconscious”. Although John Cage and his 1952 score 4’33’’ (four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence) often enters the conversations that surround her work, it is the release from distractions that inspired Music for Silence.

The Romanian Pavilion chose another form of silence – utter abstinence. The pavilion was empty save for a panel explaining that Alexandra Pirici and Manuel Pelmuş were presenting An Immaterial Retrospective of the Venice Biennale. Through daily performances ‘object’ would be turned into action so that by enacting history, the project actualizes it.

The Polish Pavilion presented the opposite to Shary Boyles’ Music for Silence. Two hand-made large bronze bells were suspended between walls of speakers backed by a space and then another wall of steel. The artist Konrad Smolenski, welcomed the visitors sitting on the floor or standing and requested that, if possible, they stay for the duration of the piece. The sound was not dangerous to the ears, he explained, but might be overwhelming.

It was.

To find oneself in the sound of a rocket launch or in the bowels of a jet engine describes the sensation experienced by a blast of sound vibrations. It was not noisy, per se, but it was the profound result of sound.

Back in the Canadian Pavilion, the black and white video, Silent Dedication directed by Boyle, is as styled as a mime’s performance. The actress Beth Hutchinson is ‘talking’ in American sign language. The world of the deaf and dumb is invoked like a séance giving over a message from the other side.

Boyle’s feature piece, The Cave Painter is first seen as a black shape in a dark cave. As it is illuminated by a white light, a mermaid crone is seen reclining, suckling an infant. Her tail has been split in two, a sharp incision, unkind, rendering her organic curves into a planar aberration. Her wrinkled visage, wispy white hair and sagging body is seen in this pure whiteness for just the blink of an eye before the tableau again changes. Coloured projections superimpose the cornucopia curl of a sea shell, floral patterns and biological intricacies upon her body. The stalactites are now dressed in images of famous mimes or those affected by silence – Marcel Marceau, Charlie Chaplain, Helen Keller.

Inspired by the Hans Christian Anderson tale, The Little Mermaid, Boyle transforms the mermaid’s poignant suffering. Rather than glossing over the strange sacrifice for love, Boyle concentrates on the unusual. She explains, “the woman nursing the child is wrinkled for it is a tabooed subject.” It is a subject that is not given a voice and there are repercussions just as there were for the mermaid who exchanged her tongue for her human body although her new legs, her tail cleft by a sword, pained her whenever she danced.

Shary Boyle’s all-girl band Vag Halen, played for the opening night festivities at Ca’Zenobia –rock and roll, impetuous, dance-your-heart-out music. The performance was not an aberration on silence but a release from the tensions that come with a Biennale. It was a perfect compliment to Music for Silence – authentic, forthright and in touch.

Venice, Italy
June 1—November 24, 2013