Viola at the Haunch of Venison

It is one of Bill Viola's most famous pieces "The Messenger" which fills the hanger like main space of the Haunch of Venison in Berlin. Monumental in scale and hypnotic to watch it is hard not to be impressed by this piece. Originally commissioned for Durham Cathedral in England in 1996 it sparked some controversy due it seems simply to placing a film of a naked figure in a cathedral. The piece shows a starkly lit figure slowly emerging from water to eventually gasp for breath as he breaks the surface. The short moments of breaking the surface and the heavy gasping breath work beautifully against the contrast of the silence and almost stillness of the rest of the film when the figure drifts underwater down away from or up towards the viewer. Like a slow moving painting. There are some sublime moments of beauty with the bubbles of the water looking like a circle of stars or where figure is almost completely obscured to abstraction under the surface of the water. The piece has some very obvious religious connotations such using a Christ-like pose, the idea of baptism in water and the ideas of the breath and meditation-like slowness. Overall it is a mesmerising experience to watch and in it is presented beautifully in the darkened and emptied space at the Haunch of Venison.
The other pieces being shown play with similar devices, water, stark lighting, figures emerging from the water, naked figures, religious poses and the extreme slow motion. The beauty of all the pieces is undeniable but there is a certain undeniable formulaic quality to everything which can feel a little flat. The most interesting of the other pieces are the ones with clothed figures, an androgynous gothic punk figure greets us at the entrance. Staring in a menacing Marilyn Manson like way which is quite humorous, maybe unintentionally, unless you happen to be 15. In fact the hammy acting and expressions of some of the characters in the pieces can feel a little off putting and the slow motion has the effect of highlighting these overly dramatic moments. Overall the newer work show here doesn't feel like much a step forward apart from maybe through the use of technology (pay particular attention to the small state of the art super thin monitors in the back room).

Nearby the Haunch of Venison there are a number of other exhibitions which also opened on the same evening. The closest gallery is Galerie Schuster which presents a group exhibition of young/emerging painters from the US. These do feel a little flat after wittnessing the slick and starkness of Viola's monitors and projections. But there are a couple of pieces which are worthy of attention, such as the paintings by Hans Ahnert in the back project room.

Also the space called TANAS presents an exhibition worth venturing to. A show by Nasan Tur fills the gallery with a collection of objects, videos and installations some of which are very compelling. You do need to get past the Joseph Beuy's pieces near the entrance but if you can avoid this the rest of the gallery is taken up with Tur's work. Look out for the simple but powerful forever spinning roulette wheel and also the video piece called "The puddle and the Blue Sky" which offers the perfect sacrilegious come-down from Bill Viola.