Sunday, 18 November 2018

Remembering Venetian Valeria Solesin, Killed in the November 2015 Paris Attacks

Graduation day in Piazza San Marco - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) One of the perks of graduating from Ca' Foscari, Venice's university, is that the ceremony takes place in Piazza San Marco, one of the most breathtaking venues on the planet. On November 16th, thousands of friends and relatives witnessed young students take that monumental step on their life's voyage.

Three years ago today, the residents of Venice gathered in Piazza San Marco for a much sadder event: the candlelight vigil for Valeria Solesin, a 28-year-old Venetian PhD candidate at Sorbonne University, killed by ISIL on Friday, Novemember 13, 2015 in the Paris terrorist attacks.

I will never forget that evening when so many citizens of Venice gathered together in solidarity for Valeria. It was an extremely emotional and poignant moment, with thousands of candles lighting up the dark. Here is an excerpt of a post I wrote at the time:

Candlelight Vigil for Valeria Solesin - Venice Victim of Paris Terrorist Attacks

Candlelight Vigil for Valeria Solesin in Piazza San Marco - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Thousands of people gathered in Piazza San Marco last evening to honor Valeria Solesin, a young, beautiful, intelligent Venetian woman, one of Venice's -- and the world's -- brightest stars, who was senselessly murdered by Daesh aka ISIL in Paris on Friday night. We gathered to remember all the Paris victims, but especially Valeria, a hometown girl. About seven thousand residents of Venice, young and old, made the journey to the center of the city to hold aloft twinkling points of light, illuminating the darkness that has descended on the planet. Many Venetians arrived with their children.

Valeria Solesin
Valeria Solesin represented everything good, empowering and compassionate about Europe. She was a brilliant young woman, who deeply believed in peace, not war. Valeria grew up in Venice, graduating in 2006, then got her degree at Trento University. For the last four years she lived in Paris as a PhD candidate at the prestigious Sorbonne University, studying sociology, with an emphasis on family and children. For years, she was a volunteer for Emergency, an Italian NGO that provides assistance to the civilian victims of war -- the extreme opposite of everything ISIL represents. She was killed at the Bataclan concert hall at age 28.

Click to read the entire post.

Graduation Day 2018 in Piazza San Marco - Photo: Cat Bauer
An award in Valeria's name is now in its second edition. The Premio Valeria Solesin is a competition for students at Italian universities inspired by the young Venetian researcher. Prizes go to the best Master's research theses on "Female talent as a determining factor for the development of the economy, ethics and meritocracy in our country," a topic to which Valeria had dedicated her work. It is open to students of 34 top Italian universities, public and private, and is supported by 14 companies, with Allianz Worldwide Partners promoting the 1st prize. Winners of the second edition will be announced on November 27, 2018.

Valeria Solesin was doing important work on the role of women in society. It is an extreme tragedy that her life was stolen from her at such a young age. Let us hope that the memory of the young Venetian woman inspires others to follow her path, and that positive female energy helps to balance the planet.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Juliet texts emojis but Romeo forgets his smartphone: Shakespeare in Venice at Hotel Danieli

Shakespeare in Venice at Hotel Danieli - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) William Shakespeare, the world's most famous English playwright, set one third of his plays in Italy. This rich exotic backdrop allowed him the freedom to tackle difficult subjects that might have been taboo on his native soil.

On Friday evening, November 9, I was a guest at the magnificent 14th century hall of Palazzo Dandolo, home of Hotel Danieli, and the stage for Shakespeare in Venice, a Journey through Shakespeare's Works, a condensed, contemporary version of five of the Bard's plays set in the Veneto.

The Merchant of Venice at Hotel Danieli - Photo: Cat Bauer
The quirky production, directed by Lorenzo Maragoni, whizzed through Romeo & Juliet, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, Othello and The Merchant of Venice in about an hour with two young actors, Giulia Briata and Josh Lonsdale playing all the parts. They were accompanied by Giorgio Gobbo on guitar, who tossed the audience into a farcical key by singing the Beatles' Here Comes the Sun in falsetto when morning dawns and Romeo must flee Juliet's room after their wedding night.

Josh Lonsdale is not only an actor; the 26-year-old Brit also wrote the text. One of the best bits was when Juliet, about to drink the poison, sends Romeo a text message complete with emojis (smiley face, kiss, kiss) warning him that she is not dead, and not to overreact. Unfortunately, Romeo has forgotten his phone, and does not get the message...

Cocktail dinner at Hotel Danieli - Photo: Cat Bauer
After the performance, guests were treated to a cocktail dinner created by Chef Alberto Fol featuring food inspired by Shakespeare in Venice with tasty morsels like Insalata di latti di seppia con sedano e olive, Gallina Padovana con saor di cipolla, Zuppetta di pesci dell'Adriatico and Anatra arrostita alle spezi Orientali con salsa Peverada on the menu.

Dessert table at Hotel Danieli - Photo: Cat Bauer
Shakespeare in Venice is part of a collaboration between the Hotel Danieli, the Teatro Stabile del Veneto and the Chamber of Commerce of Venice and Rovigo, a cultural project whose aim is to promote Venice's uniqueness and cultural and artistic heritage through Shakespearean theatre and Post WWII nonconformist literature. Next up on December 11 is Art/Beat - from Beat Generation to Contemporary Art, a commemoration, in English, inspired by the term "beat" coined by Jack Kerouac 70 years ago, and performed by two actors and two musicians.

For reservations contact:
Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Alone in the Doge's Palace - Venice, Italy

Palazzo Ducale at night - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Tonight I was alone inside the Doge's Palace with only the phantoms of the past. I had come from a book presentation in the Doge's Private Chapel. It was not the first time I have been alone inside Palazzo Ducale.

When I first arrived in Venice twenty years ago, I was fortunate enough to have an access-all-areas pass to the Doge's Palace to do some research, and could wander freely through the rooms rich with the Renaissance. I met a lot of ghosts.

Golden Staircase - Photo: Cat Bauer
There are so many tourists trashing the halls these days that I forgot what it looked like. Tonight, as I descended the Golden Staircase, I saw -- really saw -- a section of the floor for the first time, an optical illusion 5D Mary-Poppins-jump-through-the-pavement floor that threw me off. The floor did not seem solid at all; for few moments I was thrown back a couple hundred years.

5D pavement inside Doge's Palace - Photo: Cat Bauer
I jiggled my legs back to present reality, touched marble, and continued down Sansovino's Scala d'Oro. I met a female attendant leaning against the loggia. I was still dizzy: "What they built... what they built... so many years ago."

She was pragmatic. "Well, they didn't build it all at once. They built that section in 14th century; and that section in the 15th century, and that section in the 16th..."

"Yes, but, what have we actually built these days, in the year 2018?"

She thought, then said: "The Calatrava Bridge and MOSE."

I haven't had such a good laugh in a long time.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, 29 October 2018

Acqua Alta - Exceptional High Water in Venice, October 2018

Acqua alta on the Zattare in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) We are having our first acqua alta, or high water, of the fall season, and it is a doozy. I can't remember it being this high since back in 2008, ten years ago.

There is a siren that goes off to warn the citizens of Venice that acqua alta is expected, which starts with a shattering air raid wail, then segues into four ascending harmonic tones that sound something like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. With each ascending tone, anxiety rises. We usually have one or two tones. Three is bad. Four is almost unheard of. Today we had four. On top of that, it has been raining on and off all day with strong, gusty winds.

Fallen trees by Accademia - Photo: Cat Bauer
Officials say that the water level reached just about 160 centimeters today, which is "exceptional." They measure the high water level from point zero at Punta della Salute, which is where the mareograph, an instrument for recording the rise and fall of the tide, is located.  Most of Venice -- 97% of the town -- is at more than 100 centimeters, so normally when we have acqua alta, we put on our rubber boots and go about business as usual since there are only patches that flood -- in fact, many times we don't even put on our rubber boots if we know the area well enough to navigate.

Only certain areas are lower than 100 cm -- the lowest point in Venice is right in front of the main entrance of the Basilica of San Marco in Piazza San Marco, which is 64cm, and always floods. But when we have exceptional high water -- over 140cm -- that means 90% of the town is covered by water.

Flood Rates of Venice in Relation to High Water Levels

+100cm - 3.56%

+110cm - 11.74%

+120cm - 35.18%

+130cm - 68.75%

+140cm -  90%

The information I am using from the Province of Venice's Turismo Venezia does not list tides over +140cm, but we can imagine that at +160cm, nearly the entire town is covered by water. This does not mean that we are under water, but there is water in almost every calle in town. Here is a photo of the calle outside my door, which never gets high water, even at +140cm. I was only millimeters away from the water coming in my house! I wonder if in the future there will always be water in the calle, and that to live in Venice you will have to put on rubber boots just to get out the door.

Water in the calle - Photo: Cat Bauer
The water rose so high that they cancelled the vaporetti except out to the islands. Schools and museums had already announced they would be closed today and tomorrow. We were told to stay inside, but nobody seemed to listen, including me. I managed to navigate well enough up until about 2:30pm, but gave up when the water went over my boots at Rialto. There were guys right inside the vaporetto stop selling those noisy plastic colorful boots to tourists for ten bucks a pair.

Intrepid travelers at Bar da Gino during acqua alta in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer
The tourists in town were in good spirits, and seemed to treat it like a great adventure. Of course, for businesses it is not an adventure at all, but a lot of stress, hard work and clean-up. Even Gino's by Accademia which is open all day from 6:00am to around midnight gave up and closed around 2:00pm, leaving some intrepid travelers munching on some pizza as the water lapped around their feet.

Here is a YouTube clip of the Zattare, which became part of the lagoon, and was not possible to navigate without thigh-high boots as early as 12:45pm.

Another four-alarm siren went off as I wrote this. The winds are gusting. Exceptional acqua alta is also on the agenda for tonight and tomorrow...

Go to the Province of Venice High Water Information Centre for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, 14 October 2018

It's a First in Italy: Léon Bakst, Acclaimed Set & Costume Designer of the Ballets Russe, at Palazzo Cini in Venice

1909 Amoun costume for Michel Fokine in Cleopatra - design by Léon Bakst - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) The Ballets Russes has always intrigued me. Originally conceived by ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who is buried here in Venice on the island of San Michele, the itinerant company never performed in Russia, beginning its adventure in Paris in 1909.

The Ballet Russes grew out of the World of Art movement, founded in Russia by artists opposed to the prevailing culture -- a talented group that introduced "Russian Colour" in music, choreography and the figurative arts. In addition to Diaghilev, the founders of Ballet Russes included Léon Bakst, who had created a name for himself as an art editor and childrens' book illustrator before tackling set and costume design for ballet. Other prominent members included the renowned Vaslav Nijinksy, considered the greatest male dancer of the early 20th century, and Michel Fokine, the groundbreaking Russian choreographer and dancer.

In 1909 Bakst visited Venice with Diaghilev and Nijinksky. That same year he joined the Ballets Russes, which debuted with the ballet Cléopatre performed by Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Ida Rubinsetin and Michel Fokine, who was also the choreographer. 

Cleopatra costume design by Léon Bakst for Ida Rubinstein, Paris 1909 - Photo: Cat Bauer
"The greatest success of the season is Cléopatre. The theatre was packed even on the closing nights and the result was surprising every time, earning 34,000 francs a day." 
Letter by Bakst to his wife Lyubov Gritsenko, June 30, 1909.

"In my apartment Ida Rubinstein met Diaghilev and the entire troupe of the Ballet Russes artists and it was then that she was invited to perform in the 'Russian Season,' in Cléopatre, and later in Shéhérazade. For a year I couldn't make a real dancer of her. She was very unemotional in the roles of Cleopatra and Shéhérazade, but thanks to her striking appearance she managed to achieve unusual forms and a very profound image."
Letter by Michel Fokine to Frederick Beaumont, January 1, 1925

The Fondazione Giorgio Cini Institute of Theatre and Opera and the Saint Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music present the exhibition of Léon Bakst, built almost entirely around Bakst's stage and costume designs from the large collection of his work in the Saint Petersburg Museum, now on show in Italy for the first time. In addition to Bakst's designs, the exhibition is complemented by rare theatre programs and other iconographic items from the archive of choreographer Aurél M. Milloss, presereved in the Fondazione Giorgio Cini.

The exhibition made me greatly appreciate the organizations that somehow manage to preserve the monumental moments of mankind throughout war and strife, suppression and revolution. It seems that no matter how hard the forces of obstruction try to repress these precious jewels, industrious individuals manage to squirrel them away.

Léon Bakst. Symbol of the Ballets Russes, curated by Maria Ida Biggi and Natalia Metelitsa is at Palazzo Cini until November 19, 2018. Go to the Fondazione Giorgio Cini for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, 7 October 2018

What are those Photos around Venice? "Water, Future, Life" - Ten Years of the Elena Trevisanato Foundation

Brehane, elderly woman from Obal village - Photo by Axel Fassio
"We were resigned to the necessity of migrating, without knowing where to go. Today we are here, our village is prospering and we can live on our land. Water keeps our roots and our traditions alive."
Brehane - an elderly woman from the Obal village

(Venice, Italy) Ten photographs. Ten stories. Ten months. "Water, Future, Life," ten photographs by Axel Fassio tell ten different stories in an itinerary that weaves throughout the heart of Venice and Mestre for the next ten months to raise awareness of the ten years that the Fondazione Elena Trevisanato has been doing good deeds in Ethiopia.

Zahi, village chief of Darwoanji - Photo by Axel Fassio
"Since the day we got water, it is not only the history of individuals that changed, but the history of our entire community. It has been a dream come true. It is like we are born again."
Zahi, village chief of Darwoanji

Elena Trevisanato died very young, at age 19, when she fell off a horse. Her family spun their grief into gold by setting up the non-profit Fondazione Elena Trevisanato, which has transformed the lives of about 135,000 people by bringing water, new schools and health care to villages in the Somali Region of Ethiopia. With images and words, ten villagers reflect upon how their lives have been transformed by the Fondazione Elena Trevisanato.

Asma, student from Darwonaji village - Photo by Axel Fassio
"Education is the light of the world."
Asma - 12-year-old student from the Darwonaji village

The exhibition began on October 5 on Salizada San Samuele where the ten photographs were sprinkled throughout various businesses along the street. It will continue until July 2019, culminating with an auction next September. Here is the itinerary:

  • October 2018: Salizada San Samuele
  • November 2018: Campo Santa Margherita
  • December 2018: Campo San Giacomo dell'Orio
  • January 2019: the island of Giudecca
  • February 2019: the Rialto Fish Market
  • March 2019: the center of Mestre
  • April 2019: vaporetto stops along the Grand Canal
  • May 2019: Campo San Giovanni e Paolo
  • June 2019: Forte Marghera
  • July 2019: Fondamenta Misericordia

At the inauguration next February, there will be an event at the Rialto Fish Market open to all. The Fondazione Elena Trevisanato believes that the Rialto Fish Market is a historic space that is synonymous with work and tradition, as well as the future and life of all the citizens of Venice.

Selam, patient at Darwonaji health center - Photo by Axel Fassio
"The presence of the hospital ward has greatly improved the assistance we receive. Today, the dispensary of our village is a real place of care."
Selam, patient at the Darwonaji health center

Photographer Axel Fassio is a "globetrotter since birth, a Venetian by adoption." He has exhibited throughout the world, from Europe to the United States, from Argentina to Sri Lanka and Kenya. His images have been published in National Geographic, Der Spiegel and The New York Times, the Discovery Channel and BBC Travel. He has lived and worked in Africa with NGOs and the United Nations.

Everyone involved is volunteering their time, energy, spaces and other resources to turn the spotlight on the foundation created by the Trevisanato family to memorialize Elena, their daughter and sibling. Fondazione Elena Trevisanato has transformed the grief of one tragic young death into a movement that gives life and hope to thousands. 

Fondazione Elena Trevisanato onlus
Santa Croce 252
30135 Venezia
Tel.: +39 041 522 61 36

Exhibition info
Like on Facebook
Watch on YouTube

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Rebel Angels, Dogs are Humans with More Hair and John & Yoko Erotic Lithos - Art in Venice & Treviso

Francesca Woodman - From Eel Series, Venice, Italy, 1978,© Charles Woodman, courtesy Victoria Miro, London/Venice
(Venice, Italy) Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) was an angel on earth, and like many angels, died young. The sensitive photographer killed herself at age 22 by jumping out a window in New York City. Born on April 3, 1958 in Denver, Colorado to artists George and Betty Woodman, the family spent their summers in Italy, which profoundly influenced her work, and is the focus of the show at the Victoria Miro Gallery here in Venice. Woodman took her first self-portrait at age 13, and used herself and other female models, often nude, to create small, haunting images packed with powerful emotions.

The intimate photos on show at the Victoria Miro Gallery are deeply moving, and it made me wish that Francesca Woodman had stuck around a lot longer to witness the impact her work has on people still here on earth. Hopefully she is watching from the heavens.

Francesca Woodman: Italian Works is at Victoria Miro Venice through December 16. Go to Victoria Miro for more information.

Osvaldo Licini Amalasunthas on a Green Background (1949) ©Osvaldo Licini by SIAE 2018
Another rebel angel, Osvaldo Licini (1894-1958) was a complicated artist from the Marches region of Italy, who, in 1958, was the first Italian artist to be awarded the Grand Prize for painting at the Venice Biennale. He died soon after from emphysema. Sixty years later, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice commemorates Licini with a retrospective curated by Luca Massimo Barbero.

Over 100 works in 11 exhibition galleries follow the wildly diverse artistic path of the artist as he traveled from landscapes and figurative work to abstraction and Rationalism, with an accent on geometry. The most iconic works are of Amalasunthas, Queen of the Ostrogoths, and his series of Rebel Angels, which illustrate the many facets of his complex personality. Licini said, "He who seeks certainty rarely finds it."

Karole Vail photo by Cat Bauer
Karole Vail, Dir. Peggy Guggenheim Collection - Photo: Cat Bauer
The last days of summer were celebrated with breakfast on the fabulous terrace of Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal before the press conference for Osvaldo Licini, with Karole Vail, director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, radiant in white. OSVALDO LICINI. Let Sheer Folly Sweep Me Away runs through January 14, 2019. Go to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection for more information.

New York City 2000 © Elliott Erwitt - Magnum Photos
At 90-years-old, veteran Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt (1928) is still going strong. He's photographed everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Che Guevera, but is perhaps best known for his witty photographs of dogs. There is a lighthearted exhibition dedicated to his canine creatures at Casa dei Carraresi in Treviso, curated by Marco Minuz entitled I cani sono come gli umani, solo con più capelli -- Dogs are like humans, only with more hair.

Born in Paris, Erwitt spent his childhood in Italy until his family moved to the United States. Erwitt's preferred method of shooting is with a Leica camera using black and white film, and said "photography is not rocket science. It's rather simple," but only a few photographers have a certain "magic." There are also two short films in English with Italian subtitles in which the photographer speaks about his life and work, and how "Marilyn looked better in pictures than in person."

ELLIOTT ERWITT: Dogs are like humans, only with more hair is at Casa dei Carraresi in Treviso -- just a short walk from the train station -- through February 3, 2019. Go to Casa dei Carraresi for more information (in Italian).

Bag One - John Lennon - Photo: Cat Bauer
John Lennon created Bag One, a leather bag filled with 15 lithographs commemorating his wedding and honeymoon as a wedding present for Yoko Ono. The day after the initial presentation at the London Arts Gallery on January 15, 1970, eight erotic lithographs were seized by agents of Scotland Yard. When the show open on Febuary 7th at the Lee Nordness Gallery in New York, there were no such problems, nor are there any problems viewing the lithos today at the new Beatrice Burati Anderson Art Space & Gallery here in Venice. The lithos are on loan from the private collection of Rolando Giambelli, founder and president of The Beatles People Association of Italy.

Section of Ertotica #4 from Bag One lithograph by John Lennon - Photo: Cat Bauer
The lithos are part of the Water/Mater exhibition, which also features works by the Dutch architect, designer and artist Maurice Nio based on the theories of the Japanese researcher Masaru Emoto, which focus on how water molecules are sensitive to emotional vibrations. Maurice Nio also presents Dark Matter, a 17-metre sculpture on sand bags that is a metaphor for the uncontrollable forces of Nature.

Water/Mater runs through December 22, 2018. Go to the Beatrice Burati Anderson Art Space & Gallery for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Homo Faber Shines in Venice - Michelangelo Foundation's Mission for Creativity and Craftsmanship

Homo Faber Opening Ceremony ©SGP
(Venice, Italy) Homo Faber. Crafting a more human future is Europe at its finest, an exhibition that celebrates the human touch. You can feel the excitement in the air as soon as you step off the boat and onto the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Sixteen dynamic event spaces imagined by a team of world-class designers, curators and architects spice up the monumental spaces of the Giorgio Cini Foundation. It is the first major cultural exhibition dedicated to European craftsmanship, and an opportunity to visit a venue not normally open to the public.

The Michaelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship believes that it's time to give back and to put the human being back into the center of our systems. An international non-profit organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, the foundation was created by Johann Rupert, chairman of Swiss luxury goods Compagnie Financiere Richemont, and Franco Cologni, former Cartier executive, to celebrate and preserve master craftsmanship around the world and strengthen its connection to design.

Through September 30th, you have the opportunity to watch artisans at work and see the results of the collaborations between artisans and designers, attend conferences and concerts, and interact with over 100 Young Ambassadors, all the while strolling around one of the most beautiful venues on the planet. It's an immersive experience, and I promise you will come away refreshed by the knowledge that there remains an entire domain of humanity that still operates on the highest level.

Young people discovering LUXOS Magazine - Photo: Cat Bauer
I was delighted to see LUXOS Magazine, of which I am a contributing editor, prominently displayed on a wall of quality print magazines, available for free, inside the Homo Faber bookstore. I was even more excited to witness a group of young people discover LUXOS for the first time, and watch them flip through the magazine, intrigued. "What is it? Is it a fashion magazine?" they asked. "It's that, and much more," I explained. "LUXOS focuses on culture as well as brands." Which is a perfect fit with Homo Faber.

"Inside & Out" in the pool at the Giorgio Cini Foundation - Photo: Cat Bauer
There is a huge empty swimming pool inside the Giorgio Cini Foundation, complete with two diving boards. It is not empty any more. With "Fashion Inside and Out," curator and exhibition-maker Judith Clark spotlights the master artisans in the fashion industry who are crucial in bringing contemporary designers' visions to life. Using natural materials, Clark's original staging illustrates how critical craftsmanship is not only to fashion itself, but in the way it is exhibited, with examples by major brands such as Alexander McQueen, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Louis Vuitton on show.

Venetian Way inside the Giorgio Cini Foundation - Photo: Cat Bauer
Susanna Pozzoli, photographer, artist and artisan, had the privilege to enter and experience the goings-on in 21 workshops in Venice and the Veneto Region, which she has documented in "Venetian Way," a series of photographs captured by use of analogue rather than digital photography, and "is about the beauty of loving the work itself." Displayed along the walls of the cloister, Pozzoli's photographs are a journey through the creative process. I was thrilled that the work of one of my dear friends, Sergio Boldrin, had been included. Together with his brother, Massismo, Sergio makes papier-mâché masks in his La Bottega dei Mascareri workshop here in Venice. Sergio is also part of the Doppia Firma (double signature) section, which pairs master artisans with international designers to create unique, original objects.

Montblanc at Homo Faber - Photo: Cat Bauer
One of my favorite experiences was sitting down with Frank Derlien, Head of Final Assembly and Nib Manufacturing at Montblanc, as I sampled a series of fountain pen nibs to decide which one suited me best. Part of the "Discovery and Rediscovery" section, the artisans at Montblanc work through 35 different stages, rolling, stamping and shaping the 18 karat gold nib that perfectly matches an individual's writing style. I am a firm believer that the art of handwriting is a precious human ability that the digital world cannot replace, and Frank confirmed that there was great interest on the part of young people in Montblanc's offerings.

Cat Bauer aboard the yacht Eilean
We had to take our shoes off to climb aboard the Eilean, the legendary 22-metre yacht built by the renowned William Fife boat engineers in Scotland in 1936. Eilean (Gaelic for "little island") is moored in the Venetian lagoon during Homo Faber after being returned to her original splendor. Beautifully restored by master Italian craftsmen and engineers from the Cantiere Francesco Del Carlo di Viareggio, she is an exquisite example of the heights that human hands are capable of reaching.

On the grounds of San Giorgio Maggiore - Photo: Cat Bauer
That is just a very small sample of the offerings on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore through September 30th. There are many more delights waiting at Homo Faber. Crafting a more human future for you to discover, including three free concerts on the last three days of the exhibition (September 28, 29 and 30) at 8pm inside the awe-inspiring Basilica of San Giorgio. A visit to the island will renew your faith in humankind -- which should also include the Vatican Chapels exhibition, part of La Biennale International Architecture Exhibition. Go to the Michelangelo Foundation for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Friday, 14 September 2018

Splendor of The Venice Glass Week - 2018 The Second Edition

Still Life in Glass - Centrotavola Veneziano 2018 by Judi Harvest at The Gritti Palace
(Venice, Italy) The Venice Glass Week, now in its second edition, has the remarkable ability to get residents out of their homes and out on the town to visit galleries, sip wine and socialize like the good old days before mass tourism made it nearly impossible to move comfortably through the city. Founded on excellence and cooperation, it has a noble cause: its aim to is revitalize and sustain one of Venice's most ancient and important industries -- the art of making glass.

Salizzada San Samuele during Venice Glass Week - Photo: Cat Bauer
The Venice Glass Week is a major international festival dedicated to the art of glass, with a focus on the island of Murano, the heart of Venice's glass-blowing industry. From small galleries like those along Salizzado San Samuele whose festivities spill out onto the street, to shops, cafes, hotels and major cultural institutions, there are more than 180 events, including exhibitions, conferences, film screenings, educational activities, themed evenings, open furnaces and more that take place all over town.

Venice is transformed into an international village pulsing with innovation where we can once again see our neighbours and make new friends while learning about the latest trends in Venetian glass -- even the travellers who attend have a genuine love and understanding of La Serenissima. And, of course, it gives Murano a jolt of electricity.

In addition to Venetian born and bred artists and artisans, there are plenty of participants who are not Venetian by birth, but by choice, who add extra spice to the festivities. 

Indefinito by Mafalda Millies - Film Still
One of the most enjoyable evenings was at Casa delle Parole (House of Words) held on September 11th in Teatrino di Palazzo Grassi, which kicked off its new season with a "glass" theme. From September through June, on the second Tuesday of each month, Casa delle Parole reads literary texts from all over the world in the original language by native speakers, followed by the Italian translation. At the end of the evening, the short film INDEFINITO was screened, starring the dazzling glass sculptures of Marcantonio Brandolini d'Adda. The film by Mafalda Millies featured bold, original dance and choreography by Megumi Eda and a commissioned soundscape by Charles Derenne, and was produced by ALMA ZEVI as part of Brandolini d’Adda’s recent solo exhibition in New York.

Paolo Lorenzoni, GM The Gritti Palace & Judi Harvest - Photo: Cat Bauer
Over at The Gritti Palace on the Grand Canal, the blown glass centerpiece created by American Judi Harvest was the star of the show, inspired by Caravaggio's still life. Centrotavola Veneziano is an elaborate glass basket filled with blown glass fruits and vegetables grown in the Venetian Lagoon. At the inauguration on Wednesday night, guests were treated to tasty nibbles served in the kitchen of The Gritti Epicurean School, which had been enhanced by Judi Harvest's watercolors on the walls. The delightful and distinguished art historian Barbara Rose wrote the text for the brochure. Judy lives and works in Venice and New York City, and cultivates honey bees on the island of Murano, where her glass is blown.

Marya Kazoun at Ikona Gallery - Photo: Cat Bauer
The Lebanese-Canadian artist Marya Kazoun is at the Ikona Gallery in the Ghetto with her Perceptions installation, with glass sculptures blown on Murano, and which challenge you to go beyond and question the normal limits of human perceptions. Marya grew up in Beirut during the war years, and lives and works in Venice and New York City.

Pierre M. Picavet at Hotel Danieli - Photo: Cat Bauer
Pierre M. Picavet is French, and was the president of Wolford Italy, the luxury hosiery company. These days he pursues his passion, designing elegant glass lamps, tables and other furnishings, blown on Murano, which can be seen at the Dondolo Lounge in the historic Hotel Danieli on the Grand Canal.

The Venice Glass Week
That is just a tiny sliver of more than 180 events during The Venice Glass Week, which runs from September 9 to September 16, 2018. It is promoted by the Town Council of Venice, and conceived and organized by Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, LE STANZE DEL VETRO - Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, and Consorzio Promovetro Murano. The Venice Glass Week not only energizes the art of making glass and Murano, it wallops La Serenissima herself with positive, unifying energy. Go to The Venice Glass Week for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, 10 September 2018

New Art Form: Virtual Reality at the 75th Venice Film Festival

Eclipse - Jonathan Astruc & Aymeric Favre - Film Still
(Venice, Italy) The Venice Virtual Reality competition is in its second year at the Venice Film Festival, and is zipping forward at warp speed. No one really knows where this thrilling new medium is heading. I imagine that someone reading this post in the future will find it as antiquated as we do today when stumbling upon an old article about that newfangled medium called the "movies."

The Venice International Film Festival's mission is to elevate Virtual Reality into a legitimate art form. I am giving you my perspective as someone who chooses not to own a smartphone, and is a neophyte when it comes to VR.

Sunset - Island of Lazzaretto Vecchio - Photo: Cat Bauer
Two years ago we had the opportunity to experience VR at the Venice Film Festival for the first time by watching a rather peculiar biblical VR experience about the life of Jesus Christ(!) inside Palazzo del Casinò. Then last year, La Biennale drastically upped the ante by adding a Virtual Reality competition to their official program and moved the whole show to the island of Lazzaretto Vecchio, a former 16th century plague hospital, transforming it into a dramatic exhibition space that is accessed only by boat (I think they should change that to a team of gondola traghetti - it would make the experience even more surreal).

What is Virtual Reality?

It is hard to find a good definition of Virtual Reality. Here's one from Technopedia that I like:

Virtual reality refers to computer-generated environments or realities that are designed to simulate a person’s physical presence in a specific environment that is designed to feel real. The purpose of VR is to allow a person to experience and manipulate the environment as if it were the real world. The best virtual realities are able to immerse the user completely. Virtual reality should not be confused with simple 3-D environments like those found in computer games, where you get to experience and manipulate the environment through an avatar, rather than personally becoming part of the virtual world.

The VR experiences at the Venice Film Festival are divided into three different categories: Stand Ups, VR Theatre and Installations. To gain access, there is an elaborate system of reservations in place, or, since the competition is still in its infancy, you can just wander over to Lazzaretto Vecchio and take your chances by putting your name on waiting lists, which is what I did. 

1. Stand Ups

What they are: You literally stand up (or sometimes sit), alone, strap on the gear, and view a Virtual Reality film, either "Linear" that you passively watch, or "Interactive," which requires some form of action on the part of the viewer.

By luck, I was able to watch two linear VRs.

Arden's Wake - Tide's Fall - Eugene YK Chung - film still
The first was Arden's Wake: Tide's Fall starring Alicia Vikander and Richard Armitage, written and directed by Eugene Chung, CEO and Founder of Penrose Studios. Tide's Fall is the second installment of last year's Arden's Wake: Prologue, which I did not see, and which won the Lion for the Best VR at the 74th Venice Film Festival. The characters are Pixar-like animations.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world that has been flooded by the oceans, Vikander is the voice for Meena, a dynamic young woman living with her alcoholic father alone in the middle of the sea on some kind of tiny structure he seems to have created himself. I was mesmerized by the story, which is layered with dark complexities, and which transitions visually between their home and the sea, plunging straight into the belly of a sea monster where a whole lot of backstory takes place. Since it is VR, we are inside the story, not outside observers as in a film, which means we go down into the belly of the beast along with Meena. It is an utterly different cinematic experience, and the possibilities of where the story will go seem endless. The only quibble I have is that it was about 30 minutes long, and since it was not interactive, it would have been more comfortable to view sitting down.

1943 Berlin Blitz -_David Whelan - film still

The second Stand Up I saw (sitting down) was 1943: Berlin Blitz. The audio is the actual in-flight recording made by BBC correspondent Wynford Vaughan-Thomas when he flew with the Royal Air Force on a Lancaster bombing raid on Berlin during WWII.

Filmmaker David Whelan drops us right inside the bomber and allows us to experience the horrors of the raid. I had to wrap my mind around the fact that the voices of the pilots and crew were real; that this really had happened as we flew into a barrage of fighter planes, missiles and searchlights. As the blinding lights swept across the nighttime sky, I thought, So that's where the term searchlight comes from! Not from movie premieres! The crew's banter was cool as ice, with a dash of wit and humor as we navigated through what seemed like certain death. It was James Bond cool. You are seated directly behind the pilots; if you turn around you can see the guy recording the sound that you are actually listening to. It was surreal, and I was a bit dazed when I took the headset off to find myself safely inside the exhibition space.

2. VR Theatre

What it is: a group of people sit in chairs, strap on headsets, and watch the same film at the same time. The offerings were only Linear.

I caught two short films made by Biennale College Cinema VR. The first, Floodplain by Deniz Tortum was in Turkish with English subtitles, and seemed to be about an enchanted tree that casts a spell and puts everyone in its vicinity to sleep  -- all men, who seemed to be soldiers, police or foresters. The second, Metro veinte: cita ciega by Maria Belen Poncio was in Spanish with English subtitles, and was about a young woman who is almost completely paralyzed and in a wheelchair, determined to have sex, and sets off alone on a blind date. I thought both efforts were raw but intriguing, and hold much promise for the future.

3. Installations

What they are: Installations are both Linear or Interactive; the two I experienced were both Interactive with four participants. 

The first, Make Noise by May Abdalla, was a rather hackneyed animation about suffragettes breaking the glass ceiling, where the audience is seated and encouraged to use their voices to make noises and holler words like "rage." It felt like something a NGO would produce.

Eclipse - Jonathan Astruc and Aymeric Favre - film still
Eclipse, on the other hand, was totally cool, a virtual embodiment experience, a VR game developed by Backlight and Virtual Adventure in France. There are four participants divided into two teams -- the Support team, wearing blue, and the Explorer team, wearing red. We were suited up with backpacks, headsets, hand-controllers and feet sensors, and divided into two separate, empty rooms. We were instructed that we would be on the Eclipse II spaceship, and our mission was to save the crew of the previous ship, Eclipse I. I was the only female, and I was on the Support team. Me and my partner, who I'll call Kurt, stayed on board the ship Eclipse II while the Explorers boarded Eclipse I.

When the game started, we were no longer four people wearing ordinary clothes. Suddenly, we morphed into astronauts wearing spacesuits, and that is what you actually saw -- if I looked at my arm, I saw a blue spacesuit, not my real arm. Kurt and I could see and hear each other, but not the other team. To talk to them, we had to speak into a metallic band on our spacesuit wrist.

Eclipse - Jonathan Astruc and Aymeric Favre - film still
Kurt and I stepped into a Star Wars-type space elevator and zoomed up to the cockpit where our eyes were blinded by a huge boiling star dominating the window of the Eclipse II. For a moment I was dizzy, but then things started happening and I immediately found my space feet. We had to align a hologram so the ships docked; break a code when the electricity went out; jump into the elevator and zoom down to the Oxygen Garden to put out a raging fire with fire extinguishers that you had to grab by clicking a button with your real hand (that looked like it was wearing a spacesuit glove), actually pick up the fire extinguishers, then push a different button, emitting a white mist, all the while maneuvering a platform that hovered over the flames. The Oxygen Garden contained trees and greenery, all ablaze, as well as what seemed to be capsules on either side on fire that contained...? We both dropped our fire extinguishers, and watched in dismay as they tumbled down into the fire. We had to maneuver the platform back to get more, then charge once more into the breech, but eventually succeeded in putting out all the flames.

It was a blast! It lasted for about 40 minutes, which wasn't long enough to save anybody, but for a first-time experience, I think we did okay. I was so caught up in the adventure that it was mind-blowing to come out of it and realize that we were actually in street clothes wandering around an empty room, instead of astronauts inside a space ship.

VR Installation inside Lazzaretto Vecchio
We don't know how Virtual Reality will evolve, but the creative possibilities seem limitless. It feels like tapping into a child-like imagination, or reading a riveting novel, or having a lucid dream experienced by all five senses, when the real world disappears and you become immersed in a different reality.

I think it is terrific that the Venice Film Festival, the oldest in the world, has added this cutting-edge new art form to its menu. VR is about to explode into our lives.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

So far, My Favorite is "The Favourite" - 75th Venice Film Festival

Emma Stone on Red Carpet for The Favourite - photo courtesy La Biennale di Venezia ASAC
 (Venice, Italy) Trying to capture the magic of the Venice Film Festival in 500 words is a challenge, but I hope I've managed to give you a taste of it with a feature article for, which is now live on their site:

The Red Carpet and Beyond - Welcome to the 75th Venice International Film Festival, where stars are born

There have been a bunch of dynamic films screening this year. The one that caused the most excitement is "A Star is Born," Bradley Cooper's directorial debut. He also co-stars with Lady Gaga, who seems to create electricity wherever she goes.

Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga on Red Carpet - photo courtesy La Biennale di Venezia ASAC

Here is a review by Owen Gleiberman of Variety:

 “A Star Is Born” is that thing we always yearn for but so rarely get to see: a transcendent Hollywood movie. It’s the fourth remake of a story that dates back to 1932, but this one has a look and vibe all its own — rapturous and swooning, but also delicate and intimate and luminous.

I had the chance to have a long conversation with Gleiberman while we were standing in line waiting to screen "American Dharma," Errol Morris's documentary about the controversial Steve Bannon. Gleiberman is the chief film critic for Variety, the Hollywood global media company whose yearly party at the Hotel Danieli on the eve of the opening of the Venice Film Festival has become a tradition.

Gleiberman has some fascinating insights into the world at large, not just film, so if you are looking for a critic with pizzazz, read Owen. To me, he writes like a novelist.

The Favorite - Fox Searchlight
So far, my favorite film is "The Favourite," by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, and starring a female triumvirate of Emma Stone (the only American), Olivia Colman and Rachel Weisz. Set at the beginning of the 18th Century during the reign of Queen Anne, Lanthimos captured the machinations and schemes that a particular brand of women perpetrate upon each other to claw their way into positions of power. And yes, there are lesbian love scenes, but so seamless and integral to the story that you aren't jarred out of the film, as is often the case in the hands of less skillful directors.

Here's a review by Michael Nordine from IndieWire:

The Favourite” feels like a crowning achievement: a royal period piece led by the majestic triumvirate of Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz in which the emperor has no clothes, duck races are the go-to entertainment, and loyalty is as strange a concept as a new-world fruit called a pineapple.

Cat Bauer in the Campari Lounge at the Venice Film Festival 2018
Cat Bauer in the Campari Lounge

A terrific new addition to the Venice Film Festival has been having Campari as a sponsor, who have a pop-up lounge, complete with terrace where journalists can relax and enjoy a beverage. Sipping a Campari spritz is one of my favorite things to do in the evening, and Campari red is such a vibrant color, and the terrace has a terrific view, so I like to make a pit-stop at the lounge whenever I'm in the area, which has not been often enough!

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog