Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Venice - an exquisite corpse ?

English mist and Adriatic sunshine fuse in Turner's elemental atmospheric vision of Venice's monumental stones, reflected in water and light - a liquid dream in paint where nothing is quite what it seems or where it should actually be. Is this a real city or a Romantic myth? 

Joseph Mallord William Turner, 
The Dogano, San Giorgio, Citella, from the Steps of the Europa exhibited 1842

This is the city of reflections, introspection and speculations par excellence - it practically invented mirrors ( in Latin 'speculum') and the modern merchant adventurer and everywhere the reflected image of the city appears to have relatively more permanence than the crumbling fabric of it's sinking palazzi  

Meeting place of East and West, melting pot of cultures and crucible of early modern capitalism, the city, the republic and its maritime empire was an emporium of luxury goods and lax morals, which created in its golden age iconic art and architecture, as well as the first Jewish ghetto and the horror of the plague which remain potent symbols of a lost and conflicted world which still haunts the popular imagination 

A gilded bauble floating on a restless sea, Venice is a mirror, an illusion in which the hapless willingly (or unwillingly?) collude. Never was a place more conducive to meditations on impermanence. Venice  is a living embodiment of a 'Vanitas' or 'Memento Mori',  a meeting place for desire and loss, beauty and death. 

It is ironic that this place, which seemingly has resisted the Modern era more than any other, living off a vision of its glorious and decadent past, should have hosted the International Contemporary Art Biennale for over a hundred years, showcasing some of the most avant garde artists from around the world in various venues ancient and modern around the city, including the specially built National Pavilions at the Giardini

There is a frisson in the collision/collusion of political and cultural perspectives, both old and new as in Ai WeiWei's 'Sacred' which depicts scenes from his recent incarceration. 

ai weiwei
S.A.C.R.E.D., 2011-2013
six-part work composed of (i) S upper, (ii) A ccusers, (iii) C leansing, (iv) R itual, (v) E ntropy, (vi) D oubt
six dioramas in fiberglass and iron, each 377 x 198 x 153 cm
installation view,chiesa di sant' antonin, 2013

This place is all about 'frissons' and is premised on a paradox.  The solidity of its hybridised architecture seems to defy the fluidity of the lagoon; is it working with or against nature?

The city's declining indigenous residents are vastly outnumbered by the global migration of transient tourist populations - yet it cannot bite the hand that feeds it...

Will the city's delicate architectural and artistic fabric survive industrial pollution, damage to the delicate ecosystem of the lagoon, climate change, rising waters and flooding and the ever increasing onslaught of mass tourism with its cheap and tacky consumerism?  In this digital age is Venice an authentic or just a 'virtual' reality in an electronic 'Hall of Mirrors' or perhaps a cipher for our contemporary dilemmas ?

I leave this afternoon to meet up with colleagues and students on the St. John's International School high school art trip to find out ......... 

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