Venice Biennale Report: Interview with Tavares Strachen

Bahamian New York based artist Tavares Strachen talks to Aesthetica about science, the North Pole and the desire to fit in. Entitled Polar Eclipse, the Pavilion for the Bahamas at the Venice Biennale makes for a rich, multi-sensory experience.

A: The exhibition is a multi-sensory experience, how is this linked to your interest in orthostatic tolerance?
TS: Well I think there’s a natural kind of stress that goes along with any kind of exploration, physical and psychological stress, and I think that impetus is in the show in terms of the visit to the North Pole dealing with the inside and outside strains.

A: How did you experience the trip to the North Pole?
TS: The North Pole is an interesting place because it’s a slab of ice that’s a few hundred miles square, only two metres thick, and it’s floating on the ocean, so when you get to the North Pole you realise that it’s not a real place. You put your fly into the ground and because you’re on a floating bed of ice, it shifts, so your compass hits 90 and it shifts and then you have to move your fly to get it back to 90 again. So the North Pole is really an impossible place, but it’s beautiful. It’s a nice dichotomy, it’s hostile and it’s beautiful at the same time.

A: Perhaps your best known work is The distance between what we have and what we want, to what extent do you see Polar Eclipse as a continuation of the themes found in that work?
TS: Like I always say I think it’s a sort of strange anxiety about being trapped, being a boy and thinking about ways in which one can escape the island. Just trying to be gone from the island but still struggling with the relationship with home, which I think is a very common human thing. It’s always an awkward relationship.

A: The Pavilion is made up of a whole range of different works, how do they all tie together to make a cohesive whole?
TS: I think what ties everything together is the kids’ piece (40 days and 40 nights). 40 kids were brought from the Bahamas to sing this Inuit song, which we filmed in the space and then they went back home of course and we reprojected the image back onto the same spot where the camera was. It’s a welcoming song in a language that I thought was kind of fading away, a language that we taught them, it is not a language they speak, they are all English speakers. This piece brings an ephemeral feel to the entire show; the North Pole, a piece of ice, these animals that are at risk and this guy, a mystery, who’s been left out, the song sort of represented that for me. I wanted to give these kids an opportunity to come to Venice and for a lot of them it was their first time travelling, but the sound coats the entire show, it gets into every crevice so that piece is really the anchor for me.

A: A lot of your work has been closely tied to scientific research, how do you see the boundary between the two things?
TS: For me it’s more about the authority of science, it’s easy to bullshit someone with science. You can go to your doctor and if you’re going to die in 3 days you believe that shit because they have that authority, they look a certain way, they act a certain way, they say things in a certain way that makes you believe it. So that’s one of the issues and one of the reasons I like science because it can give anybody, from any culture, authority. Put on a lab coat and all of a sudden you’re an expert and people listen to you in a way they wouldn’t have before. I think science gives the works presence.

A: One final question, are there any works that you’re looking forward to seeing at the Biennale?
TS: I haven’t seen the Giardini yet so I’m looking forward to going here because its the old school, formal part of the Biennale, to check out the history.

Polar Eclipse runs at the Bahamas Pavilion from 1 June until 24 November.

Rhiannon McGregor

1. Tavares Strachan, Polar Eclipse Installation View, Photo by TOM POWEL IMAGING.