The hot nights under the weak breath of our ineffective fan began to wreak their delusional magic as the cracks began to appear. It was a Monday and all of the Biennale was closed for the day so we set out to tackle some of the more touristy elements of Venice. Like a strange dream with twisting alleyways and shops that seem to repeat themselves every block we made our way to the piazza San Marco.
“I remember about the hordes, Emmily.”
“The hell with the hordes. That’s all you can ever remember is them hordes.”
The shopping districts around the Rialto bridge and San Marco revealed a very different side to this pretty isle. We felt like we were in a giant adult amusement park with thousands of selfie sticks vying for the perfect photo and every shop selling the same thing. Any cultural authenticity was swept away by the hordes that we had now become a part of. Although we cannot deny the romantic image of riding in a gondola the reality was incredibly expensive and the hordes in the other gondolas broke the spell with traffic jams.
The heat and sleepless delirium led us quickly away from the square and the hordes to a shady Campari spritz and a regroup. We stumbled across an old church with an exhibition of recreations of Leonardo De Vinci’s machines. Beautiful in wood, metal cloth and rope, there were some interesting contraptions, flying machines and unfortunately a lot of innovations for war.
The alleys and canals winding their way around the city and the lack of cars make Venice a peaceful and beautiful city (when away from the hordes). We got lost countless times and found small markers to remind us of a way home. The ancient buildings seemed still in relatively good repair in comparison to the crumbling edifices of Zanzibar, possibly due to the innovative system of metal staples to hold the buildings together.
Mornings were a favorite time to lounge around in the coolness before the heat of the day. Our breakfasts were simple salads of bocconcini, tomato, basil and rocket with fresh bread from the bakery around the corner from our apartment. Reclining on the most comfortable couch on our travels so far, typing to loved ones and researching the various pavilions hidden throughout the city. The sounds of church bells a regular soundtrack through the windows.
Finding pavilions around the city became like a treasure hunt. With vague makings on the not particularly accurate Biennale map we would wander around in general directions often turning into a cul de sacs leading into water. Other times we would come across a sign or markings on the ground that would lead us to a country’s pavilion. When a pavilion was found it was generally in a grand old building giving us access to some of the gorgeous internal history of Venice.
The Palazzo Franchetti hosted a glass exhibition called ‘Glasstress Gotica’. Up the gorgeous marble steps and past overly ornate wall decor, (My glob there is so much marble) we encountered many goddess’ and dragons before walking through massive rooms bejeweled in glass sculpture. Venice has shops selling glass wares all over the city but the objects in this exhibition put those souvenirs to shame. Emm was enamored by the puppets.
After missing our friend Nicholas Ives by mere weeks in our tour of Venetian art land, Dotahn decided to pay homage to his masterwork dubbed ‘Nick’s Apple’. We hunted for the perfect spot before stumbling upon it mere metres from a fruit stand.
The Iraq pavilion entitled ‘Invisible Beauty’ housed in an old crumbling building had a collection of 500 refugee children’s pictures chosen by Ai WeiWei to be made into a book called ‘Traces of Survival’. The drawings showed a raw and candid insight into the lives of the children, some of them depicting scenes of home and family before they had to flee, looking very similar to any drawing by kids at home. Others showed horrific scenes of violence and destruction that hit really hard, especially as they were seen through the innocent eyes of a child. The other work in this exhibition that really affected us was the photographic series by Akam Shex Hady.
A pavilion we just happened upon and turned out to be a fav was the Guatemala pavilion. It was colourful and irreverent, satirical and at times beautiful.
Of course all our time was not just spent looking at exhibitions. There was also a lot of gelati to be eaten, after all we were in Italy and it was incredibly hot. There was also a lot of looking at Venetian masks much to Dotahn’s chagrin.
There was also many random wanderings and getting lost. Finding amazing buildings and views of the canals. Eating awesome food (mostly pasta, pizza and gelati) and generally being excited to be in such a beautiful place. (Yes Dotahn, other then the hordes) We decided to continue with our Venetian cliches and see a concert showcasing a Venetian icon, Vivaldi! We managed to find a show that was not playing four seasons, they even threw in some Paganini.
More pavilions! Scattered all across the city, the biennale gave us a way to explore all the different neighbourhoods of the city. We went looking for Iceland’s pavilion which was a Mosque built inside an old church that has been closed for over 40 years called ‘The Mosque, The First Mosque in the Historic City of Venice’. Created by Christopher Büchel in collaboration with the Muslim communities in Venice and Iceland, the work was to be a fully functioning Mosque for the Islamic community as well as offering educational and cultural programs available to the general public. Unfortunately when we arrived it was closed. Apparently it had been closed down by ‘City Officials’ as it was deemed too controversial and unsafe. This is absolutely ridiculous! that all it takes to push the boundaries of art these days is to make a Mosque. It just goes to show the utter xenophobia of the world at the moment. After this disappointing mission we set our sights on the Iranian pavilion. There was a heavy focus on war and politics as expected, but with some interesting looks at the effect of a turbulent history on the next generation of Iranians and some striking sculptural works.
The pavilion of Azerbaijan included a hall filled with a confusing maze of ornate wooden staircases and a great shadow work using swords. The crown jewel of the show was definitely the video art work which used large screens and elements of a family home to tell the story of which we have dubbed ‘The dance of the flaming pomegranates.’ With serious faces, strange acting and you guessed it, flaming pomegranates, the piece was perplexing, amusing and unusual. Plus they had amazing air-conditioning.
While exploring we came across the small church San Zaccaria with a flooded crypt surrendered to the incessant waters of Venice. Every inch of the church seemed to be covered in huge paintings and ornate trimmings, statues and adornments. The rooms leading to the crypt become more humble with gorgeous mosaics floors and walled wooden chairs. Resting place to many a Doge the crypt was a cool, calming dark mirror in comparison to the verdant worship of the chapel above.
Following small stickers on what seemed to be a never ending criss-cross path we finally found the small pavilion of Luxembourg. A sarcastic, satirical and hilariously dark look at contemporary society, media and money. Emmily took part in a stirring rendition of ‘We are the World’ in ‘Fake Protest Songs Karaoke’.
Venice is made of stone. Pretty much all stone. Although beautiful and awesome with the lack of cars and plenty of water we did notice the absence of greenery. However, we began to see hints of lush flora peaking over walls revealing the huge number of secret gardens. Behind walls, locked gates and glimpsed from behind bars these gardens were a peak into the rich cloistered worlds of the Venetian elite. The lack of outside space also means that Venetian clotheslines are hung between apartments on pulley systems.
The most allusive pavilion was the Anonymous Stateless Immigrants Pavilion. Not written in any pamphlets or website, when we first saw this stenciled on a wall we thought it clever graffiti. However, as we meandered through the alleyways we came across more signage and arrows of this mysterious pavilion. We followed the arrows down a few winding calle but the sun was going down and all the pavilions closed at 6pm. We decided to look it up for the following day. On our way home we joked that perhaps it lead you nowhere, just around and around the city. When we looked it up this joke turns out to be a clever and poignant truth.
Anonymous Stateless Immigrants Pavillion
With a moonlit stroll we bid our goodbyes to Venice. It had been extreme in sweaty sleeplessness and a never ending art fugue state, but had left us full.