When we went to the Venice Biennale, we booked a small apartment to stay at for a few days while we checked out the city and the art at the international exhibition. The apartment was an artists small studio. There was an open window that was a visual entrance to the rest of the small neighborhood. There were hardly any people on the street, and it felt incredibly peaceful. The apartment was welcoming, with familiar decor that we would expect from any artist/designers. There was a Rocky Horror poster on the wall. There was a futura poster on the refrigerator.
The dominant colors of the apartment were red and white, subtly mirrored in the architectural facades of the surrounding buildings, which were muted tones with warm inflections, almost any color except the cool end of the spectrum.
It was an unassuming neighborhood, which was very calm, and definitely a local neighborhood. It felt like we were the only visitors, and later at a restaurant in the neighborhood, I was at my most mondo-touristy and got an interesting look of disapproval from the staff at first, which was slowly processed into a great experience. The barrier was there.
From what I understand, Venice is almost entirely without Venetians at this point. It is specifically a site for tourism. I was told this when talking to our host in Rome about our travels, and while I thought her stories were anecdotal about Venice, they turned out to be absolutely true.
On our first walk into the Venice city center, we saw a massive cruise ship that was one of the sources of hyper tourism. The streets were overrun with tourists. It was a perfect example of tourism completely overtaking a town. Luckily our stay in Venice was in a quiet outpost of local Venetians on the end of the city, where toward the end of the day you could see young and old alike, gathered around the benches and small, humble green spaces no larger than a quarter of a city block, in central nexus of the anonymous streets, drinking wine from the bottle, and enjoying life in a quiet atmosphere with distant sounds of the rest of the city echoing softly among birdsong and low volume radio frequencies.
The biennale was only a few blocks down the street, and I couldn’t help but feel like we were intruders into this peaceful environment. I went frequently to the biennale, and experienced some incredible art that I may find time to write about, but I am more interested in what I came to call the Flower Pavilion in the hallway of our apartment building.
In the foyer of the apartment building, a series of mailboxes and slightly dirty walls, yet clean and cared for, lined the hallway. There were dark steps leading up to the apartments, but this entrance was fascinating in it’s “everyday” appearance. But I looked closely at it. On the left wall, when walking in, there was a series of three reproductions of paintings in ordinary frames, all done by the same artist, without attribution. They were small, and hung in different levels of vertical space, separated by uneven spaces between the reproductions. These paintings were likely pulled from an old magazine. They were too glossy to be printed from a computer. They looked like they could have been there for twenty, or even thirty years. They were slightly faded from the soft, almost faint light from windows at the tops of the north and south walls, creating an even level of sunlight through the rest of the room.
This was a fascinating record of peace and stability, possibly disappearing, as travelers like us replaced families and local culture. It was a gentle reminder of the hyper commodification of the central shelters of an endangered community, with the specter of the cultural violence of the biennale spiraling through the rest of venice in clustered pavilions, as well as repurposed sites through the rest of Venice. Yet this was a folk curation, a moment of simple expression, for the sake of it, and there for the community of the apartment building to have a gentle experience while checking their mail.
What can we learn about the everyday? It is just as artful and designed as all of the other visual media in our cultures. We have simply become desensitized as we choose a site of neutrality based on frequency of experiences from which to base the rest of our observations and interactions within various spheres of visual and intellectual experiences. Perhaps this is the true white cube, a site of the ordinary as neutrality that begs for the endotic, a gesture of momentary exoticism that changes our perception, and makes us become aware of where we are. Small offering of natural beauty, standing for half a human lifetime, stand in defiance of the coming wave of tourists that will eventually take Venice over in total, with this beautiful community displaced, in the name of temporary culture. It was great to experience the peace of this neighborhood for a brief moment, as Venice slips into cultural hegemony, and into the waters of the lagoon, and the dark absence of memory as the city floods, and is swept out into the surrounding ocean, perhaps creating a reef of human experiences, an artifact to be reveled by expeditions far into the future, as peaceful as the gentle river of sunlit afternoons in the park with conversation, love and gentleness.