On the closing day of the 2019 Venice Biennale, Grammy-winning musician, songwriter, and overall creative force Solange Knowles debuted an original performance art piece called In Past Pupils and Smiles. Composed and directed by Knowles, the emotional piece explores themes of loss, protection, and identity communicated through sound and movement.
Now, the artist has released a book by the same name that offers an intimate behind-the-scenes look at the performance. Chronicling the piece from its conception to its debut, the monograph is designed to mimic the kinetic style of the postmodern dance piece through photography, die-cuts, set and lighting design details, and reflections from Knowles and her collaborators. The work is a testament to Knowles’s multidisciplinary talent and love of creative cooperation. “Solange is at the forefront of this movement of artists who understand performance not as a medium but as a way of processing the world around us. Spanning music, movement, design, and visual art, her practice breaks out of accepted categories and genres, and critically questions why these boundaries exist in the first place,” said Aaron Cezar, co-curator of the exhibition.
During the weekend of the performance, Venice experienced flooding that resulted in a state of emergency. The book details the challenges that emerged as a result, and how the final performance was affected by taking place in the midst of natural disaster.
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“I wanted mud. To dig my hands in soil. To scream. To give offerings. This piece gave me permission to myself to feel it all. I feel like this piece specifically was a moment of mourning, was a moment to express how much grief comes from loss, to be able to bury it and to have a service for that,” Knowles said of the work.