On Mother!, Truth, Lies and Being Critical


By Jo Hanning, 4th Year Fine Art student at Duncan of Jordanstone, Dundee.



The evening after my first day of work at the Scotland+Venice exhibition I went to see the premier of Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother!” at the Venice Film Festival on Lido. So far, so exciting.

However what followed was 121 minutes of such intense and far fetched film work as to leave me and my fellow newly met invigilators completely at a loss and mildly traumatised. As for the rest of the audience, well you may have read about that.

There were several hundred sat in that theatre. Towards the last 15 minutes of the film they made their presence and opinions known. They booed, hissed, shouted “BASTA!” (ENOUGH!) They left in droves and headed to the bar outside in search of strong spirits. One man actually walked up to the screen and gave it the finger.

Now this was exciting.

On the walk back into town my fellow invigilators and I made similarly intense, if slightly more constructive proclamations.

“I mean were they trying to be that heavy handed?”

“Terrible. Just bad bad bad.”

“Aronofsky doesn’t surely feel that way about women?”

“What even was that? I feel violated”


I will try and keep my writings somewhat spoiler free. This is not a review of “Mother!” but instead a discussion on why it is very important to be able to be critical of work. I counted myself a fan of Aronofsky’s and for most of the film remained wholly unsure of what I was seeing and whether it was actually good. It certainly wasn’t enjoyable.

In the days that followed I had some really interesting discussions about the film, picking apart the heavy references it made to films such as Rosemary’s Baby and tried to work out what Aronofsky’s intent was and wondered if his intended message was as obvious and as misogynistic as it had seemed to be. I had enjoyed his previous works and had been reading distressingly glowing reviews for Mother! In the days following the premiere. In short I wanted to avoid an emperor’s new clothes type situation.

Now nearing the end of my four week stay in Venice and having seen as much of the Giardini, Arsenale, National participants and Collateral events as I could, I see that my discussions about Mother! In those first few days really sparked off a change in the way I experienced art work. I became more critical, I challenged the work I was seeing. This was Venice after all. Were the artists and curators making the right choices? What did I actually engage with and enjoy instead of just feeling like I should say I liked.

Hype plays a big part in the Venice Biennale. I found myself researching which events had the biggest queues during opening week. I poured over reviews for Anne Imhof of the German Pavillion’s work Faust. I had really enjoyed the performance, winner of the Golden Lion, but wanted to be sure that I liked it for what it was, and not how popular it was. I kept telling myself that I, having seen it once, returned the very next morning and queued for a whole hour while being besieged by mosquitoes, I must have enjoyed it.

I think a very important part about being critical is to trust your own opinions, let yourself be excited and enchanted about exhibitions because at the end of the day, you do truly want to be swept off your feet and discover something you love. For my own studio practice, I want to have confidence in my own decisions, I want to know what I think works well and I feel that seeing the huge amount of work I have and having discussions about it with the people I’ve met has truly helped me hone this skill. Sometimes you need to be brave and confident enough to stand up in a room of hundreds and fearlessly shout “Basta!”