The Danish Pavilion at the 2022 Venice Biennale

A kind and well-meaning friend stopped me outside the door or the Danish Pavilion, warning me that as someone notoriously sensitive to the suffering of our animal brethren, I might want to pass this one by.

"Wow, are they hurting animals in there?" I asked. "Well….no…but they are showing animals that look like they are being hurt ". And that, actually, I did want to look at. I personally find looking at it immeasurably easier to deal with than accepting veil of denial that such hurt is usually hidden behind.

My friend’s hurried summary statement ended up proving precisely accurate. Animals being hurt. Terribly hurt. Hurt almost beyond comprehension.  Us humans, and the other animals with whom we share this little planet.

Entering the pavilion visitors encounter a nightmarishly sad vision of our sad earthly reality. The entire pavilion has been transformed into a sordid primordial barn, with half-human-half-horse-like creatures in profound distress.

The first section to great the visitor features a man-animal hanging dead from a chain, with a large ham-like thing hanging nearby, both just meat now. In the other end of the barn is a woman-animal who has just given birth to a bizarre blue infant of undetermined viability.


Both of these beings are so realistically executed that no one in our group could say for sure that they were not live human performers. (We got much closer than personal space conventions allow, and were still not certain.)



This small family unit is surrounded by sod and bizarrely morphed farm tools. (Now, transporting large amounts of sod into the galleries happens to be a reoccurring motif in this incarnation of the biennale, and in many cases comes off just as spectacle for spectacle’s sake - Biennale Artists going big because they can.) But in this instance it creates a powerful sensory experience, and feels central to the project's core. The whole place feels like a barn of some collective human memory - evoking our subsistence past, with brutality a daily necessity and survival never assured. The suffering of human and non-human animals literally fused into one terrifying tableau. A tableau smelling strongly of manure.

This barn immediately brought to my mind a Samuel Beckett-like sensibility re our stupefying cruelty to other animals. The fact that this was definitively a contemporary nightmare was confirmed by the neon-blue fluid that either fed or sucked from the life forms even as it illuminated their offspring.

Standing inside this hellish vision I felt the veil of denial re our connections to other animals drift away like a fog lifting over the morning hills. And I was glad. Really happy and glad and rejuvenated.  Because seeing and feeling things fully is the first step forward in taking back our souls and gaining the strength to fight for a mutual future together. I left this installation stronger and more complete than when I entered it. I can think of no higher praise.