Saturday, May 25, 2019

Banksy Crashes Venice and Improves the Neighborhood

VENICE BLOG - Ca' Banksy in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer
Ca' Banksy - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) The Art World is buzzing because Banksy, that elusive artist, painted a mural on the wall of a building in Venice that has been closed for years. So, yesterday, I went over to Campo San Pantalon to have a look for myself. The mural on the Rio Novo canal is easy to spot. It depicts a migrant child wearing a life jacket, dreadlocks flowing in the breeze, with a hand raised high, holding a pink flare.

I stopped in the shop next door to ask who owned the building. First the kindly shopkeeper gave me a lengthy presentation about the hand-painted Russian lacquered papier-mâché boxes on display after I told her someone had given me two of the beautiful boxes as gifts. It was educational, because I had no idea about the history of Russian lacquer art, which was developed from icon painting after the collapse of Imperial Russia.

Then I asked her who owned the building.

"Why? Do you want to buy it? It costs 4.5 million euro, and you can talk to the real estate agent in Campo Santa Margherita about it."

VENICE BLOG - Banksy mural in Venice, Italy - Photo: Cat Bauer
Banksy mural in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer
So, over to Santa Margherita I went and found the office of Engel & Volkers. I asked the woman at the reception desk if what the shopkeeper had told me was true.

"It was 4.5 million euro, but now it is 'price upon request.'"

"You must be happy."

"We are very happy. Banksy just claimed ownership of the mural two hours ago on his Instagram, and we are still trying to understand all the implications..."

Street Artist in Venice on YouTube

On Wednesday, Banksy had uploaded a video on his YouTube channel with the caption:
Setting out my stall at the Venice Biennale.

Despite being the largest and most prestigious art event in the world, for some reason I’ve never been invited.
The video sends an effective message about the cruise ships in Venice.

I just love Banksy...

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

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Let's Talk About that Controversial Boat - “Barca Nostra” at the Venice Art Biennale

Barca Nostra - Christoph Büchel - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Let's talk about that boat.

Barca Nostra (Our Boat), an installation by Swiss artist Christoph Büchel at the Venice Art Biennale, is causing all sorts of controversy.

On the night of the 18th of April, 2015, just off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, a fishing boat designed for a maximum crew of 15 set off from Libya with between 700 and 1,100 migrants crammed into its hull when it collided with an enormous Portuguese merchant ship trying to come to its rescue. After it sank, only 28 people survived. It was the largest single loss of life in decades.

Before the shipwreck, the Italian Navy and Air Force had run a search and rescue operation called "Mare Nostrum," which was credited with saving thousands of lives. But it was extremely expensive for one member state of the European Union to handle the overwhelming flow of migrants -- Italy is just a treacherous hop across the Mediterranean from North Africa. Simply put, to reach the EU, and the hope of finding a better way of life, one of the shortest routes is to get on a boat from Africa to Italy. Similar to migrants crossing from Mexico to the United States, they cross from Africa to Italy -- except there is no need for a wall; there is, instead, the harrowing Mediterranean Sea.

Despite Italy's request for additional funds to run the operation, the EU did not offer more support. Instead, it was replaced by Operation Triton, managed by the EU's border agency, Frontex. Triton's area of operation was much more limited in scope than Mare Nostrum, and they called more often on merchant ships to assist with migrant rescues -- huge cargo carriers to save small fishing boats -- according to the normal rules of navigation, which impose the obligation of providing assistance to boats in distress upon which ship is closest.

After the tragedy, the Italian government decided to retrieve the shipwreck at a cost of 9.5 million euros, and began the laborious and distressing work of identifying the bodies to give them some dignity. The fishing boat was transported to the Pontile Marina Militare di Melilli (NATO) in the Port of Augusta, Sicily where an average of 150 people a day -- professionals and volunteers -- worked to extract hundreds of bodies, perform autopsies and attempt to identify the victims so they could inform the families and have a proper burial. Nuns came from all over Sicily to volunteer their services. That operation concluded in 2017 at a cost of 23 million euros.

All sorts of proposals of what to do with the wreck were then put on the table, including sending it to Brussels so the EU could take responsibility for the migrant crisis; putting it in a Human Rights Museum in Milan; or floating it throughout Europe as a human rights symbol. 

This year, on April 18, 2019, the fourth anniversary of the shipwreck, the Italian government handed the boat over to the Commune of Augusta in Sicily, which worked with the Swiss artist Christoph Büchel on the Barca Nostra project. (We can only imagine what negotiations went on behind the scenes to make that happen.) According to a press release:

"The project facilitates a symbolic transfer of the status of the shipwreck that changes its legal status from a former object of court evidence to an artifact, considered “a special vessel to be disposed of” by ministerial decree, to a “bene culturale”, a significant symbol of our “interesting times” and collective complicity and memory, resulting in its first public exhibition at the Arsenale in Venice."

Barca Nostra - Christoph Büchel - Photo: Cat Bauer
And now the wreck is here in Venice as part of the Biennale. Some critics find it outrageous, especially since it is located right next to an outdoor refreshment cafe. But that is not how most people will first encounter it. Most people will come out of the dimly-lit Indonesian pavilion, as I did, and get smacked in the face with the haunting shipwreck looming over them. The shock of the encounter took my breath away. 

One criticism is that because there are no labels informing the visitor what it is, most people will not know what terror took place aboard that boat. I, for one, knew the boat was at Biennale, but did not know exactly where it was, and was certainly not thinking about it when it rattled my bones.

I think Barca Nostra is exactly where it is should be, and where it will stay until La Biennale concludes on November 24. Instead of all those souls dead and forgotten, the shock of actually seeing the boat is deeply emotional and disturbing. With or without a label, the migrant shipwreck has a much higher profile with its appearance at La Biennale than it ever had before.

Whether we will actually do something about it is another debate.

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

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

LIVE! From the 2019 Venice Art Biennale - May You Live in Interesting Times

Robert Henry Lawrance Jr. by Tavares Strachan (2018) Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) I love the way Ralph Rugoff's mind works. He has tamed the humongous Biennale beast by reducing the number of artists and organizing the vast Arsenale space into smaller compartments.

Even though Rugoff says that this year there is no theme, the artists he invited to participate have captured the essence of the title, "May You Live in Interesting Times." That "ancient Chinese curse" seems particularly pertinent today, and has been cited over the past 80 years by authors and politicians ranging from Arthur C. Clarke to Hillary Rodham Clinton. Only one problem: the curse was utter fiction presumably fabricated by a British diplomat -- there was never any such curse in China.

The curator of the 58th Venice Art Biennale is an American who grew up in Greenwich Village, and whose father was a film distributor. Rugoff studied semiotics(!) at Brown University, then moved to Los Angeles to give screenwriting a shot. He switched to journalism and art critcism, then segued into curating, and has been the Director of the Hayward Gallery of London since 2006. According to an April 10, 2019 article in The New York Times "A Playful Curator Takes on a Tough Gig at the Venice Biennale" by Farah Nayeri, "He recalled watching lots of movies as a boy, and being dragged to art galleries by his parents." That colorful background is reflected in the layout of Arsenale and the artists he has chosen. There are signs, symbols and lots of video and film installations, so be prepared to spend time watching a story play out.

No history in a room filled with people with funny names 5 2018, Korakrit Arunanondchai & Alex Gvojic
After making a surprisingly emotional journey from the entrance at Arsenale -- a bombardment of the senses -- until arriving at the press room, one installation completely captivated me: a 31-minute 2018 short film on three screens entitled No history in a room filled with people with funny names 5 by Korakrit Arunanondchai in collaboration with Alex Gvojic, which I think is a masterpiece. There are women playing light beams like strings on a harp... Remember the dramatic Thai Cave Rescue with the soccer boys and their coach trapped in a cave? That has something to do with it, too. And the mesmerizing movements of the performance artist, Boychild... I don't have enough time to adequately describe it, so here is a summary from the International Film Festival Rotterdam:

Opening with the myth of spirits summoning projectionists to initiate an outdoor film projection, artist Korakrit Arunanondchai’s dynamic film is charged with the idea of community – among humans and non-humans – in Thailand’s contemporary moment of instability. Boys trapped in a cave trigger a reflection on the geopolitics of the region and the fragility of its history.
Arunanondchai was born in Thailand in 1986 and lives and works in New York and Bangkok; Alex Gvojic was born in 1984 in the USA and lives and works in New York. Although you can enter in the middle of the film, it is much better to watch it from the beginning. There are plenty of cushions so you can relax in the same "outdoor setting" as the audience seen in the film, but I was so riveted by Boychild's dancing that I stood the entire time. 

48 War Movies by Christian Marclay (2019) Photo: Cat Bauer
From what I've seen so far, this year's Biennale is one of the most accessible and enjoyable that I can remember, and other attendees I've spoken to share my view. At this morning's press conference, President Paolo Baratta spoke about "the visitor as a partner" and said "It's work to encounter a work of art." 

It may be work, but it's also fun. Tomorrow, Giardini!

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