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'Evil puppeteers' Mondo Cane represent Belgium at Venice Biennale visual arts show

20:24 28/01/2019

Mondo Cane was a scandalous Italian documentary movie of the early 1960s which consisted of totally unrelated segments ranging from pet cemeteries in California to ornamentally arranged monk's bones in Rome to women in New Guinea nursing piglets.

Flemish artists Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys have now used the Mondo Cane concept as a basis for this year’s Belgian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, commissioned by the Wallonia-Brussels Federation.

With curator Anne-Claire Schmitz they have come up with a sort of folklore museum in which automated dolls perform such traditional activities as cobbling, making music, cooking and sewing.

But lurking on the fringes, behind bars, are other dolls: zombies, the damned, the excluded, and there are a lot more of them than the "normal" ones. And even the normal ones can be hiding secrets. For instance the musician has the face of a notorious German murderer who burned a tourist couple alive in their camper van in the Alps.

For people who can't make it to Venice, there are two other components to the work. First there is a website where, by clicking on the flag of a country, you are rewarded with a random video from that country that the artists have culled from YouTube. Just like the original movie, the various videos are completely unrelated and vary widely in content and in length.

There is also a book which, rather than documenting the exhibition, is an extension of the show with a multitude of unrelated articles randomly in Dutch, English, French, German and Italian about just about anything - but each time relating to the country whose flag it is. Leavening all of this is the artists' wicked sense of humour.

"Someone we really don’t like called us the Evil Puppeteers, but maybe it’s true," the artists say. "We don’t know how people will emerge from the show but we have a feeling that they will remember what they’ve seen."

The main event in Venice starts in late April - and will be followed by an exibition at Bozar in February 2020.

Written by Richard Harris