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German artist Imhof wins Venice Golden Lion
Anne Imhof © Photo Nadine Fraczkowski.

VENICE (AFP).- German contemporary artist Anne Imhof won the Golden Lion for best National Participation at the Venice's Biennale Saturday for her provocative "Faust", a dark reflection on modern society.

Black-clad performers in low-ceilinged symbolic glass cages writhe around under the transparent floor as visitors walk above them.

Jury president Manuel Borja-Villel praised the show, which makes up the entirety of Germany's pavilion and opened to the public on Saturday, as "a powerful and disturbing installation that poses urgent questions about our time".

Doberman dogs stand guard as the troupe crawls to musical beats amid scattered sex cuffs and chains, or industrial sinks and hoses, in a performance with a hint of sadomasochism and a sharp odour of hospital disinfectant.

Imhof, born in Giessen in 1978 and based in Frankfurt, shot to fame in Germany in 2013 with her first solo exhibition, a live performance with donkeys and actors hemmed into an invisible enclosure.

Described by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily as the "find of contemporary art", she is regularly invited to the Hamburger Banhof in Berlin, one of Germany's largest museums of contemporary art, and has exhibited in both Paris and Montreal.

The pavilion's curator Susanne Pfeffer said the work, which featured Imhof's partner Eliza Douglas, explored the theme of power, exclusion and contemporary life.

"The bodies are subjects in an eternal battle with their objectification... They seem to be always on the point of transforming into consumable images; they aspire to become digital merchandise," she said.

Imhof's performances are notable not only for their length -- each lasting several hours -- but also their exploration of movement and the effacement of boundaries between performers and public.

One recurring theme is the "gang", whereby actors form a compact group, which can include or exclude the public.

Germany was also represented at the Biennale by fellow contemporary artist Franz Erhard Walter, 77, and the country's foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel on Saturday was quick to congratulate the pair on work that "helps think differently about social spaces".

The 57th Biennale art festival runs in the northern Italian city until November 26.

Among those exhibiting are pioneering US fiber artist Sheila Hicks, West German-born American Kiki Smith and Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, the man behind the vast sun at Britain's Tate Modern in 2003 and the New York waterfalls in 2008.

© Agence France-Presse

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