Venice Biennale: listening to 16mm silent film

A section of the Arsenale where a major part of the International Art Biennale is held.

Aside from the obvious drawcard of the city itself, the main reason I am visiting Venice is to attend the 55th International Art Biennale. All the continents of the earth are represented here by their contemporary artists. It is a huge exhibition that spans across the city. It is hard to not be seduced by the artist’s visions in such a setting as Venice.

This year’s theme is “The Encyclopedic Palace”. The exhibition aims to examine the role of images, the functions of the imagination, and the realms of the imaginary, and in doing so questions what room is left for dreams, visions, and hallucinations in an era besieged by external images.

In relation to sound one of my favourite installations in the biennale is from Portugal. Artists João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva collaborated to fill one room at the Arsenale with 16mm film projectors. Grainy images from Mozambique were projected onto the walls, silent except for the whirring and clicking of the projectors themselves.

Listening to the projectors was quite mesmerising, as if listening in to an echo from the past, an all but extinct sound relic brought back to life. It was clear that the artists intention was to celebrate the materiality of the filmic mechanism as much as the image itself.


There were several projectors installed around the darkened room, each with its own timbre and pitch that identified the unique property of each instrument and film. These two sound files show the difference between just two of the projectors.

The sound of the film as it coursed through the projectors was so hypnotic that it is difficult to recall what they actually depicted. I wonder if this reaction was the same for the other visitors to the exhibition space.

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