Viviane Sassen's Venus & Mercury was commissioned by the Palace of Versailles for the exhibition Visible/Invisible, curated by Alfred Pacquement and Jean de Loisy, at the Trianon estate. For six months Sassen was given private, after-hours access to Versailles. During this time, she delved into the archives, and used the artifacts and architecture of the palace to create a body of new photographs and collages. The images, including photographs of Marie-Antoinette’s private correspondence, and fragments of sculptures, allude to the untold stories of Versailles.
To embody these stories, Sassen worked with a group of young women who grew up near the palace. These models appear and disappear amidst a jumble of images that mix the ancient with the modern, and the real with make-believe.
The central element of Venus & Mercury is a 20-minute, two-screen video featuring all the images from this project. For this video, Sassen commissioned the Dutch writer Marjolijn van Heemstra to write short stories of hidden palace histories. Tilda Swinton then recorded these stories, and Swinton’s voice-over was mixed with an ambient music soundtrack. The result is a transporting environment of moving image and sound, a vortex that pulls the audience back into time.
Venus & Mercury proposes its own vertiginous mirrored labyrinth in which disembodied halves are reflected and morph into unexpected wholes; bodies are severed and faces sliced in direct conflict. Sassen seems to be proposing new mutations within her gallery of biomorphic, almost hybrid creatures.