May
13

“May” in Venetian is pronounced “Biennale”

By

One feels the imminence of the opening of the annual contemporary art exhibition in the way one feels the approach of a heavily-laden barge on a body of still water.  (Hint: A barely perceptible surge of energy which produces only the faintest wave, but you know it’s caused by something very big.)

One of the earliest indications of the oncoming event was this.

For the past 10-14 days the impact zone delimited by via Garibaldi/Giardini/Arsenale has experienced similar increasing energy manifested by more people outside drinking at bars, more people dragging suitcases to hotels and apartments, MANY more people clogging the supermarket aisles, almost all of whom don’t look much like the locals.  They are more uptown, more trendy (hair, clothes, makeup, accessories — the full catastrophe, as Zorba said about something else).  They walk around looking at each other and at themselves — I don’t know, I can just tell that they’re looking at themselves.  The Venetians seem to be invisible to them as they occupy a stage on which the curtain is about to rise.  It’s an interesting sensation to be in the same place as someone else and yet not be in the same place at all.

None of these musings is intended to be pejorative.  I’m just attempting to convey the altered atmosphere, the shifting of the rpm’s in the old zeitgeist.  And why would there not be such alterations?  The Biennale (founded in 1895) now runs for seven months of the year, and is worth 30 million euros.  The article I read cited that number but didn’t clarify how it breaks down, but as I look around, I’m guessing that at least 28 million euros are spent on vaporetto tickets and taxis.  And drinks and ice cream cones.  The joint is definitely jumping.

120 artists from 51 countries are featured, including plucky little Kiribati, out in the Pacific Ocean, where each new day officially begins.  There are 85 “national participations,” according to the press release, strewn about the city from the national pavilions at the Giardini to 260 other spaces wherever they might be claimed, from non-practicing churches to literal holes in the wall.  There are 23 “collateral events,” 5,000 journalists, and a healthy number of luxury yachts ranging from big to astonishingly ginormous.  So far, so normal.

What follows are some glimpses from the past few days, bits that show what the arrival of the Biennale looks like.  This is not an encyclopedia because life is short and my interest in the subject likewise.  I was impelled to put this together merely to give a resident’s-eye view of the proceedings.  There will certainly be more jinks of various heights in the next few days (Opening Day is officially Saturday, May 13), but I won’t be trying to keep up with them. I’m covering this entirely by whim.  It’s my new operating system.

A bishop and a polar bear in a gondola captioned “I’ve got a sinking feeling.” That makes a sort of sense, I suppose, if you really insist on sense. But where does Bambi come into it?

Then housekeeping began to spiff up some areas which had been crying for spiffage for quite some while. This was an abandoned sea-pine glade till they wanted to make it prettier for the monster metal rhino. Did I not mention him?

Here he is, being assembled, installed, fed, whatever they had to do to get him ready.

This may well be art, but my hat is permanently off to the person(s) who hammered the metal to form this creature. They have to be amazing.

The tail alone is like something out of “Game of Thrones.”

Not far away is this creation. This is not the first large hand rising from the earth (or pavement) that I’ve seen here, though this is more modest. Years ago there was a huge concrete hand about ten feet high that remained reaching upward from the Riva degli Schiavoni for years. I know that our dreams are supposed to exceed our grasp, but this version is more friendly. It’s almost like a wave.

These hands, however, will be crawling out of the water and up the walls of the Hotel Ca’ Sagredo till November. I wonder if the people inside can sense them?

Meanwhile, in the park next door to the rhino, these creations have appeared. As in all of these discoveries, I don’t know who did them, where they come from, what the inner significance is, or what they cost if I want one for my porch or lawn. I’m just showing them as one sees them in a casual stroll on the way to the gelateria. Anyway, I’m fairly sure the explanations would only baffle me.

Not that women in swimwear require any explanation.

Other premonitory signs include these helpful stickers on the ground near the Giardini vaporetto stops.  Directional signs are always needed, especially really sophomoric ones.

As expected, the big yachts are parking along the Riva dei Sette Martiri. I have never seen anyone except the crew, but probably the big parties will be this weekend.

I want this one. I want it to take me to Ultima Thule.

The next yacht over has mysteriously (if indeed only crew is aboard) accumulated big sacks of garbage. This is the last of about ten that was dropped into the special barge they engaged to take it away.

Traveling aboard the more mundane vaporetto reveals more art works that continue to rise. At the Accademia Bridge, in the garden by Palazzo Franchetti, a festive reception is underway to celebrate the raising of the bronze dead tree.

I’d like to be able to talk to Titian for a minute. I’d like to hear him say “I always wanted to make something like that, but nobody would let me.”

Here’s what’s intriguing about a man standing alone dripping water from melting ice onto a dead mackerel: There is absolutely nothing — no sign, no acolytes, no flyers — to elucidate what he’s doing. There’s something refreshing about that. I mean, does everything have to have an explanation? Ice. Mackerel. Figure it out for yourself.

Or, an hour or so later, just ice. Is this a statement about glaciers, climate change, the end of the world?  Or just the usual metaphor for the brevity/meaning/fragility of life?  Perhaps, to paraphrase whoever it was, sometimes a pile of melting ice is just a pile of melting ice.  I hope he ate the mackerel.

And speaking of performance art, Tuesday evening we were coming home after 10 PM and came upon a rehearsal for something which was well underway in viale Garibaldi.

It is a group from Korea; the woman in the center is a dancer, the two men holding the illuminated umbrellas are very muscular, and the effigy in the center is a framework supporting priestly or godly garb, but with no one inside. The photographer was shooting the stately advance of the dancer to wafty mystic music coming from somewhere.

A closer look at the effigy and the beef. And the umbrellas, which were screamingly bright.  The two men had to remain in this pose even as the dancer moved slowly away; there was a small but persistent chilly breeze blowing, and I began to feel sorry for them. As soon as there was a break, they were bundled up in full-length quilts.

She moved slowly and deliberately to the singing by the woman at the end of the strip of runway, who was producing a sort of eerie throat music.

A story line or narrative did not suggest itself, though her movements were lovely.

I tried to devise a coherent theory of what was transpiring, but what I saw was what you’re seeing. The white veil kind of complicated the situation in my imagination.  When she finally reached the hieratic singer, she turned and moved slowly back toward the men and the effigy. This all took about an hour.

Nevertheless, the area has been pullulating with visitors, to the special joy of the local bars and restaurants.

The white marble strip is the normal (and legally certified) limit of the outdoor tables at this bar/noshery.  But these days, as long as there’s space, tables are filling it all the way down via Garibaldi.

When it’s closing time at the exhibitions and everyone has drunk and eaten their fill, it’s time to take the vaporetto uptown. As you see by the line, either they or the ACTV were not prepared for this moment. Yes, they are waiting to board the next vaporetto. And the next, and the next…. It’s as crowded as Carnival, only people aren’t laughing.

Dress code: Anything, as long as it’s black. Someone who didn’t know that this is the indisputable color of art-gazers and -discussers might suppose the city was in mourning.

Surveys reveal that black is the color most commonly associated with mourning, the end, secrets, magic, force, violence, evil, and elegance.  Mainly, it’s the color that everything goes with.

Red! Somebody just made a wild and dramatic bid to be different!

So on the one hand we have these clusters of  trendiness (everyone on their cell phones, as always — I couldn’t wait long enough to see if anybody ever talked to anybody who was sitting right there with them) …

…. and on the other hand, the antidote to the glossiness of it all was standing in front of the pastry shop, evidently dressed for Act III of Swan Lake on Mars. I say it every year: the Biennale is more entertaining than Carnival. During Carnival, people dress up and pretend, but at the Giardini in May, people dress up and they aren’t pretending at all.

 

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Comments

  1. Helen says:

    Brilliant! I thought I’d like to go to the Biennale one year but you’ve just made me realise I really, really, don’t need to have all the hassle 😂

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      Goodness — I had hoped to make it clear that this level of activity is what you see in the first few days leading up to the official opening. Things calm down and smooth out from now on. I have no personal stake in your coming to see it, but I don’t want you to renounce it because of my blog! Come in October or November, if you really want to avoid people!

      • Helen says:

        Thanks, Erla. Yes, I have been in Venice in September/November and caught some of the Biennale by accident and enjoyed what I saw 🙂

  2. Cherie Konyha Greene says:

    My first time in Venice (it was November that time), I didn’t know what this Biennale thing was. But I loved all the bizarre and whimsical remnants I came upon, from a Grand Canal dock turned into a life-size chess board to a large fish made from old door parts hidden up some forgotten calle.

    My favorite in this collection is the hands at Ca’ Sagredo–are they propping it up or tearing it down? Since they come out of the water, an argument could be made for either interpretation.

  3. Linda says:

    Now that the closed park is spiffed up, do you know if there are any plans to open it, as they did the park nearby? Once the rhino is gone, of course. Those things can be dangerous.

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      I have no idea. I don’t even have the barest ingredients of an idea. Sorry…