Editorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Note While sitting in the common room a few months ago, regular online columnist Morgan Haigh and I were discussing the immediate future of The Courtauldian. In recent years, a magazine has not been produced during the final academic term. Morgan suggested that this year there could be a novel summer publication, a magazine which would focus purely on one city. Work would start in June on this special-edition. It is my hope that this will be the start of an annual series of special-edition publications, centring around various cities and their art. This year we chose to spotlight Venice, including, but not limited to, the 2019 Venice Biennale. The plethora of insightful and exciting pieces that were submitted for this magazine surprised us all â&#x20AC;&#x201C; a selection of which you will find in the following pages. More can be found on our website, www. courtauldian.com. Being my final publication as Editor of The Courtauldian, this has been a special one for me. I would like to personally thank the Deputy Editors, Morgan and Rose, for their continued support. Likewise, to Farah and Crystal, our Graphic Designers, I am hugely grateful. Thanks must also be said to the entire editorial team and to all our wonderful contributors, both writers and illustrators. Without their hard work and dedication, this magazine would not have been possible. Finally, to our readers: enjoy! Tessa Carr
Editor : Tessa Carr
Deputy Editors: Morgan Haigh Rose London
Editorial Assistants: Flora Loughridge Sara Quattrocchi Febles Bea Fomin
Graphic Designers: Farah Dianputri Crystal Sagady
Don’t Look Now : Venice in Film Nancy Collinge ‘Venice is like a city in aspic, wrapped over from a dinner party, where all the guests are dead or gone,’ utters an elderly blind psychic around the ninety-minute mark of Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 cult thriller Don’t Look Now. All milky-eyed and with silent footsteps in a peculiar patent green coat, she conjures the image of a city pickled in gelatine. It could also be the island equivalent of Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde menagerie, the antithesis to our loved ones’ gondola clad postcards from summers spent in the city. In an issue dedicated to Venice in this poignant year, Don’t Look Now provides the perfect synthesis of the chic, yet gothic sensibility of the Italian city in garish technicolour. Is this anti-advertisement to tourists subtle enough to permit us to slightly peer behind the artifice of the Biennale in our present time? Or is it merely a piece of modernist dislocation, a nod to Roeg’s forebearers: Hitchcock et al? Draped in the elegant but disturbed eroticism of Roeg’s lens, Don’t Look Now is about a young couple ( Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland) whose drowned daughter appears to haunt them through the meandering backstreets and canals of off-season Venice. Leaving their surviving child in school in England, they move to the deserted city, where the husband, fittingly an art-conservator, works on restoring decaying church mosaics. The film too takes the form of a mosaic; it interrupts itself with glimpses of the future, alluding to the husband’s propensity for supernatural premonitions, of which he takes no notice, a mistake that ultimately destroys him. Typical features of the neo-gothic film are
present: unheeded warnings, an unseen mass-murderer and two dumpy sisters holidaying – one of whom is the aforementioned psychic. Yet these tropes are executed with style and elegance, employing an otherworldly dislocation to update Daphne du Maurier’s short story for a sexually liberated audience in the year that marked the end of the Vietnam War. Amidst this oxymoronic, muted-yet-kaleidoscopic Venetian odyssey, a special gothic ambience is achieved within the confines of the film. Pauline Kael describes this sensation which Roeg imparts to the environment as an ‘unnerving cold ominousness’. Roeg makes the decay of Venice clear to the viewer: an eternal grey sky overhead, disintegrating gargoyles, the dank wet walls of passageways and the labyrinthine canals. Yet the dislocated modernist style of filming says otherwise; the worldly and artificial, splintered and flitting back and forth to a near-subliminal effect, highlight how there is nothing worn and tired about Roeg’s direction. Following Walkabout (1971) and Performance (1970), both psychedelic romps through the Australian Outback and London’s underworld respectively, Roeg’s Don’t Look Now adopts an impressionist approach to its imagery in a more frontal manner than his previous works. In altering the audience’s perception of reality, the film alarms and deceives; the only constant is the colour red as it traverses different chronological and spatial planes. A red stain on a photographic slide, the daughter’s red hood floating in the pond, the same red hood appearing in Italy, red boots, a red scarf and essentially, the muted reds of Venice’s decaying rooftops and decrepit walls are just a few of the red elements present in the film. Roeg paints a world haunted by the unexplained supernatural through the use of only one colour.
Stills from ‘Don’t Look Now’, 1973, dir. Nicolas Roeg (Images: Eldorado Films & Studio Canal)
Stills from ‘Don’t Look Now’, 1973, dir. Nicolas Roeg (Images: Eldorado Films & Studio Canal)
The beholder is lured to the rouge shade, just as the couple is lured to Venice under the guise of it being something entirely different, a retreat from the memory of their daughter. Where the city is in ‘aspic’ to the elderly sisters, to Sutherland and Christie’s characters, the psychological impairment of bereavement renders them too in a state of immovability. It is as though the colourless city has been vacated to permit them time to grieve; cool indifference from the locals and a key sensual encounter arguably permit this. The sex scene in question has the couple nude in bed, intercut with flash-forwards to their post-coital dressing, which in Kael’s words, ‘is almost the opposite of a striptease’. The mood of this erotic encounter prevails throughout the duration of Don’t Look Now, but the taboo of death, sexuality, and the implied impending divorce combine to create a noxious soup of discomfort and terror. There is a scene where Sutherland’s character finds a discarded glove and a face-down plastic doll that is partly submerged in the Venetian canals. Holding the toy, water runs down from its face; is this a baptism or another drowning? Artificially blinking, the lifeless eyes stare back at him and Pino Donaggio’s soundtrack soars, a crescendo against the desolate pallid sky. Littered waterways do not belong to the image of Venice we expect. All of Roeg’s stylistic choices in his depiction of Venice refer to the didactic message at the core of the film: things are not as they seem.
Forty-six years since its premiere, Don’t Look Now is to be re-released in cinemas this July. Whilst Roeg’s film is kitsch, overly stylised, and the dénouement probably a little bit too ridiculous to be considered a serious piece of art, we are still presented with a lesser-seen Venice, a rarity in an art world that elevates the city’s history above all else. Since the biennial boom of the 1990s, the face of Venice as a cultural centre has shifted, even becoming rotten for some. At the climax of the film, as the camera sweeps to reveal what lies beneath the Venetian red hood, we see the truth for the first time, the whole rotten disfigured truth. ■
Angela Yang (@angelay_sh), Before sunrise at Piazza San Marco with a view of the Bell Tower
Anurendra Jegadeva, ‘ Yesterday, in a Padded Room’, Venice Biennale, 2019 (Image: Wei-Ling Gallery)
‘Holding up a mirror’ to malaysia and the World Farah Dianputri This year has seen Malaysia grace the Venice Biennale for the first time. As a Malaysian who has spent a long time away from home, the news came as a pleasant surprise. The story of the Malaysian Pavilion in Venice began with the 2018 elections. It marked a watershed in Malaysian politics. Prior to the elections, the presiding establishment had been wracked by a corruption scandal. In 2015, the acting prime minister, Najib Razak, and his cohorts were implicated in embezzling the nation’s sovereign wealth fund, to finance everything from buying Monets, to funding The Wolf of Wall Street (you’re welcome). The scandal motivated Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, a venerated exprime minister, to form a new coalition to take down Najib. The 2018 elections saw Mahathir’s party win by a landslide. It was a moment filled with a pervading sense of promise and excitement. At the time, I was finishing my first year abroad
and recall my phone buzzing with texts proclaiming a new Malaysia. Amidst the euphoria, gallerist Lim Wei-Ling contacted Mahathir with a proposition: to establish a Malaysian pavilion at the Venice Biennale. He gave his blessing, and through the combined efforts of the Wei-Ling Gallery, the artists and their sponsors, the dream of the Malaysian pavilion was realized. Adopting the theme ‘Holding Up a Mirror’, the pavilion set about interrogating the multi-faceted nature of Malaysian identity. Although the elections provided a great source of inspiration for the pavilion and its work, the exhibits also expressed sociopolitical issues in Malaysian history and contemporary times – narratives that are in a constant flux of reconciliation. I’d like to focus on one particular piece that explores cultural struggle.
Anurendra Jegadeva’s Yesterday, in a Padded Room (2015) is saturated with faces of a globe-spanning range, gaudy colours, and frivolous pseudo-vandalism. However, the main focus is on the form of the two chairs, both of which bear masks. The Padded Room is an imagining of a scene from the Kedah Annals, where the mythical Garuda bird and King Solomon divide the peninsula in two, the North as Hindu and the South as Muslim. Much like the mythic characters of this tale, the division between the two zones of influence also remains a myth. Malaysia has an identity problem when it comes to reconciling its Hindu past with its rabid Islamism. Evidence of non-Islamic heritage has often been actively stamped out. In 1998, the state of Kelantan banned a traditional dance of Mak Yong on the grounds of it being contrary to Islam. In 2005, Mak Yong was granted UNESCO World Heritage Status, and Kelantan refused to lift the ban. Another instance occurred in 2013 when developers were granted permission to demolish parts of the Bujang Valley, a Hindu civilisation in
the state of Kedah, which dates back as early as 110. Jegadeva’s work can also be interpreted from a global geopolitical viewpoint. The absurdity of Padded Room is enlivened when we bring to mind the meeting rooms of our world leaders. We live in an era where we are disillusioned with our politicians. Despite the dire everyday circumstances caused by the limbo stasis of Brexit, the violence in Sudan, Yemen, Palestine, Hong Kong, the persecution of the Uighurs, the brutality of ICE, the world seems to hold itself at a precarious balance. We know all of this is happening but we stand in a padded room. We have allowed caricatures to hold our fates in their hands. Much like the walls of the Padded Room, our screens are saturated with images that we passively consume for the most part. Perhaps through viewing images that encourage us to be critical rather than complacent, we may be called to action. With this feeling of hope for the future in mind, I had a final question to pose to the Wei-Ling Gallery: what does representation in the Biennale mean for the future of Malaysian art? “By having a Malaysian Pavilion at the Venice Art Biennale this year, we are taking an important step to establish Malaysia firmly on the international art map and place our artists amongst the leading contemporary art voices in the world. More than anything, this first Malaysian national pavilion is for the next generation of Malaysian artists to aspire, persevere, work hard, and stay committed, knowing that they too can have their voices heard and their ideas shared on this important platform in the future.”
Angela Yang (@angelay_sh), A café by Piazza San Marco with empty rows of tables awaiting the day’s guests
The Poets of Venice ‘Around me are the Stars & Waters’ Rose London To call Venice a city of ghosts is painfully cliché. But what isn’t cliché about the famous floating city – La Serenissima, the ‘most serene’ city? As literature’s love affair with Venice continues doggedly into its sixth century, poets and writers persistently attempt to revive the lost romanticism of the crumbling coloured façades, the slow gondolas traversing the Grand Canal and the view across the lagoon to the swiss-cheese exterior of the Doge’s Palace. On the one hand, nothing appears changed from the Venice that belonged to the Romantics – the city still sings of those poet-traps; sun, ruin, colour, history. When the light fades and the day-trippers embark back on the Vaporetti, it’s not hard to picture Lord Byron swimming back along the Grand Canal, pushing a small candle on a board in front of him to light the path back to his Palazzo. Around me are the stars and waters, — Worlds mirrored in the ocean - Lord Byron, Palazzo Lioni And yet, to twenty-first-century eyes – ones far too saturated by Canaletto, Giorgione, Bellini; by tourism boards and tea-towels printed with San Marco – the ruin-sun-history matrix appears exhausted of stories. Stripped by the twenty million tourists that flood the streets each year. Through the voices of other visitors to Venice, I hope to find my own vantage point on the city, teetering between an idyll of the past and a sad ruin of a long-lost golden age. I start in the most recent past, and with a poet that saw a Venice closest to that which I saw. Joseph Brodsky (Visited Venice regularly 1972 - 1996) ‘What Russian doesn’t dream of Venice?’ opens a small amateur guide to the city by a Russian tourist board. This was a connection I wasn’t aware of – but compare the heights of St Petersburg, Joseph Brodsky’s birthplace, with the architecture of Venice; the former took huge inspiration from the latter. At varying times, Venice has been an object of lust for Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Aivazovsky, and Tchaikovsky. For Brodsky, Venice was ‘paradise’. Expelled from the Soviet Union in 1972, he settled in the US as a university lecturer and began flying to Venice for his holidays, returning every year. Avoiding the crowds in summer, Brodsky preferred the dark, dampness of Venice in winter. His collection of meditations on Venice, Watermark, asks the reader to dig deeply into symbolic interpretations of the great city, describing Venice as ‘part damp oxygen, part coffee and prayers’. His final resting place is the cemetery island of San Michele. ‘Whether by theft or by artistry or by conquest, when it comes to time, Venetians are the world’s greatest experts...They bested time like no one else.’
Ezra Pound (Lived in Venice 1962 - 1972) “Do you know Pound, Ezra Pound?” “No. Is he here?” “In Venice, yes. Across the Canal.” Disliked by Joseph Brodsky, Pound was another poetic conqueror of Venice. His epic poem, The Cantos, describes Venice as a stone forest growing out of the water. Ezra Pound is a difficult character, a writer of difficult poetry, and in that sense, serves as a wonderful catalyst for dismantling a difficult city. ‘Gods float in the azure air, Bright gods and Tuscan, back before dew was shed’ he writes in Canto lll. ‘Green veins in the turquoise, Or, the grey steps lead up under the cedars’. During his earlier stint in Italy, during the 1930s and 1940s, Pound espoused Benito Mussolini’s fascism and supported Adolf Hitler, and was detained in 1945 for antisemitism. Like Brodsky, he too rests on San Michele. Ernest Hemingway (Visited Venice regularly 1918 - 1954) Poetic contemporary of Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway reportedly volunteered to teach Pound to box in return for lessons in how to write. Sharing a friendship, they similarly shared a love for the city on the lagoon. After the war, Hemingway stayed in the luxurious Gritti Palace in Venice, and began to frequent Harry’s Bar, wherein he was the first to order a ‘Montgomery’ – a cocktail (that sounds like death to me) composed of fifteen parts gin and one part Vermouth. Craving solitude and quiet to write, he moved to the Venetian island of Torcello, writing Across the River and Into the Trees. Set in Venice, the novel is a semi-autobiographical tale of a colonel falling for a beautiful aristocratic Venetian woman. Hemingway returned to Venice again in 1954 to recover from a plane crash – he apparently believed he could be cured by Venice’s scampi, lobster and Valpolicella, a sweet red wine from northern Italy. Him and I both. Lord Byron (Lived in Venice 1816-1819) Perhaps the best and the worst of stereotypical Venetian culture is exemplified by Lord Byron. Driven out of England for his scandalous bohemianism, he travelled to Venice. His extravagance was not quashed by the city, writing home that he had slept with two hundred women in the two years he spent in the city, regularly swimming from the Lido to St Mark’s Square, while also learning Armenian and writing his loose-moraled Venetian poem Beppo. ‘I want to see Venice, and the Alps, and Parmesan cheeses’ he wrote in 1814. I felt somewhat akin to this crude cultural tourism during the five days I spent in Venice this summer, photographing the Doge’s Palace, the pasta, the wine and Bellinis. However, the version of Venice, laid out in Byron’s long poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage stuck, and even John Ruskin, who arrived in 1835, admitted that it was Byron’s Venice he came to see.
Hemingway at Harry’s Bar, Illustration by Rhiannon Powell
Through all this misty haze of sun-burnt romanticism, I still find a much more modern quotation by art critic Jerry Saltz echoes my feelings the most: ‘Venice is the perfect place for a phase of art to die. No other city on earth embraces entropy quite like this magical floating mall.’ I could quite easily imagine myself falling into entropy on this tiny island; the narrow streets twisting into themselves, the sedate progression of the canals seemingly slowing down time itself, the gentle lapping of their murky, historysoaked waters beckoning you to sit down and stay in the atmosphere of lost romance, and live out your days trying to walk in the shoes of all those who experienced a better Venice. ■
Entropy on the Adriatic a poem by Rose London
Too easily drunk and too easily dragged into the lake from excessive self-examination in rippling tides. Hats, coats, tails, shoes, everything. Detritus coupled with a forgetfulness, and a slow-moving current. This crude twine is leading us down winding sun-baked alleys that feel too tired for poetry too tired for drunk tourism, sinking balefully having filled their boots with cheese, meats, churches, and rotting flowers. It was easy enough to rewrite the creation myth. Thrusting into the sky, tearing bits out and eating it Filling cups with sun-blue wine. That twisting jasmine seems clinging, it has wet toes. We scramble around panicked, clinging at rocks sinking balefully, and singing. Far out, where it gets dark the piercing shrill shout, white oil flesh on lazuli silk bare and blinding high-exposure husks of words that threaten their own erasure I wonder if Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve heard it. Or made it up.
Angela Yang (@angelay_sh), Fresh laundry blowing in the sun
Angela Yang (@angelay_sh), The quiet neighbourhood of Castello
The Music of the Lagoon
In every home, someone is playing a musical instrument or singing. There is music everywhere.
– Anon, Seventeenth Century
It is very hard to walk along the narrow alleys or through the bright, little squares of Venice without hearing, in your mind, the most beautiful music. Be it from the forest of bell towers or the lilting song of the gondoliers, the city in the lagoon seems to sing a thousand melodies, all of which are harmonised by the gentle lapping of the green-blue waters against ancient walls. Long before Vienna rose to musical capital of Europe, Venice was nurturing a generation of great composers. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Claudio Monteverdi and the uncle/nephew team of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli developed a rich and unique style of church music specifically for services at the spectacular Basilica di San Marco. In fact, it was the architecture itself that helped shape the innovative sound of the Gabrielis’ music: the resonant acoustic of San Marco encouraged them to take standard religious brass and choral music in an intricate and polyphonic new direction by utilising San Marco’s unusual arrangement of two opposing choir lofts to create phrases that hung in the air and mixed to create a new and wholly Venetian sound. Giovanni Gabrieli is also credited with a number of practical innovations, such as the development of notated dynamics to help direct players and singers as to the volume required at different times. It is also thought that some of Gabrieli’s works are among the first to be published and performed throughout Europe. Venice had always been a trading city and now music was added to its rich portfolio of commodities, as its influence in the musical culture of Europe was secured. However, when it comes to innovation, no one can rival Monteverdi. Maestro di Capella at San Marco for most of his life, he composed great choral and orchestral works such as his 1610 Vespers – still often performed today. However, it is in his secular works that he made the longest lasting impact. Often credited as one of the founding fathers of opera, he was one of its earliest adopters and developed its identity separately to the traditional masques from which it grew. His early work L’Orfeo (1607) is one of the earliest operas still regularly performed. In 1637 the Teatro San Cassiano opened as the world’s first commercial, public opera house – Venice was once again at forefront of musical development. It was Monteverdi who rose to the challenge of writing some of the very first opera for public consumption,
Dirk Bogarde in Visconti’s ‘Death in Venice’ (1971), Illustration by Rhiannon Powell
a particular success was his L’incoronazione di Poppea, a tale of the life and loves of the Emperor Nero, the high point of which is the exquisitely beautiful duet ‘Pur ti miro’.
It would be remiss to talk of the music of Venice without mentioning Antonio Vivaldi.The whole city seems to reverberate to the sound of his magnificent oeuvre of concerti and religious music, and it is often hard to find a chapel that is not advertising nightly tourist performances of his famed Four Seasons for exorbitant prices. Bridging the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Vivaldi developed a far more energetic and impassioned style than any of his Baroque contemporaries. Taking religious orders, his severe asthma prevented him from performing the daily work of a priest and allowed him to spend more time on his music. Composing and teaching at the Conservatorio dell’Ospedale della Pietà,
a school and home for orphaned and foundling girls, Vivaldi gave the hospital a great reputation for its quality of music and people would travel from far around to hear the girls perform. For modesty, the young girls would perform from balconies hidden behind metal grates so as not to be seen by the audience. Many visitors found this added an extra magic to the performances, as the source of the sound was invisible to them. Vivaldi’s four concerti for violin and orchestra known as the Four Seasons is the most recorded piece of all classical music and it is ubiquitous in today’s society – be it in television advertising or repeated on loop while you sit on hold to some company or other. Meanwhile, his most popular choral work, his Gloria, is sung by professional and amateur choirs the world over.
Venice’s appeal to composers continued through the centuries and with the growth of the railways many more came to be inspired by the city’s great musical heritage. Felix Mendelssohn stopped off on his tour of Italy in the early 1830s and, whilst the rest of the country inspired his joyful Fourth Symphony, the songs of the Venetian gondoliers prompted a series of wistful works of solo piano known as ‘songs without words’. These quiet and mournful pieces reflect a more haunting and mystical side to the Venice that is often lost today amongst the hordes of tourists but can still be captured in the early mornings or in the quietest streets far from the Piazza San Marco. Another German to make the pilgrimage was Richard Wagner. Making several long visits to Venice towards the end of his life, he wrote that it was there that he found peace from the noisy carriages of the cities of Germany, possibly identifying yet another reason that Venice attracts so many musicians and composers. After completing the score of what was to be his final opera, Parsifal, Wagner returned once again to Venice for the winter of 1882/3 and it was there that he died in the February. His body was carried back to the mainland by a funeral gondola, an echo of the grand Teutonic legends that he loved so dearly. Although none of Wagner’s music directly references Venice, there is no doubt that the spirit of the place seeped into his consciousness. The overture of Parsifal could almost have been written to accompany the funeral gondola’s slow, silent progress across the morning mists of the lagoon. The Italian poet Gabriele
d’Annunzio wrote this epitaph on the memorial plaque on Wagner’s apartment: In this palace, the souls hear the last breath of Richard Wagner perpetuating itself like the tide which washes the marble beneath. One of the most famous evocations of Venice in film is Luchino Visconti’s 1971 adaption of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. Competing for the starring role in this film are Dirk Bogarde and Gustav Mahler. Mahler’s music is used throughout to evoke a soul-wrenching ambience around Bogarde’s character. Music from his Third and Fifth Symphonies is used, both works with no original connection to Venice, however, the transformative effect of the film has meant that one movement, in particular, will forever be linked with the city. Whenever I have arrived or departed from Venice by boat, I cannot help but hear in my head the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Through a combination of the music itself and Visconti’s use of it in his film, it now conjures up the image of that picturesque jumble of buildings sitting low on the water which one gradually approaches over the waves. Although eventually losing its musical crown to other European capitals, Venice has always had and still maintains a pride in its musical heritage and exhibits it proudly alongside some of its greatest painters and architects. In a world full of loud, polluted cities packed with cars, buses and lorries, Venice stands alone as a place where, without the intrusive background noise, one can still hear the music of the years floating along the canals. ■
A Ten-Year Long Reflection on La Serenissima
Sara Quattrocchi Febles
Let’s be honest, I barely remember that trip to Venice in October of 2009. I tell myself that it’s because it was a quick four-day holiday. I guess my family needed a few days to disconnect from the franticness of Rome. I do seem to have some sporadic photographic snippets of the city in my brain; although those might actually be more bodily feelings than actual memories. Upon reflection, I realize that these feelings have been formed through other unrelated experiences and have been masked as being from my nine-yearold self in Venice. In reality, that trip is a memory that I have constructed to fit in with the narrative that my family continuously recalls. The way I view and think about the city has drastically changed over these past ten years. The one thing that excited me the most about this family trip was going on a gondola. I remember my pleas to my parents to fulfil my fantasy. I was desperate to go on this romanticized trip where a peculiarly dressed gondolier would guide the boat. Unfortunately, I can’t recall the exact trajectory that the gondolier took us on. Passing below the Ponte dei Sospiri is the only image that I have impressed in my mind. I was fascinated by its white simplicity and I could almost hear the sighs of the convicts. I realize now that I was amazed by how something so terrible could be made so beautifully and still remain harmoniously cohesive with the rest of the city.
Gentile Bellini, ‘Procession in St. Mark’s Square’, 1496, Tempera on canvas, 3.67 x 7.45 m, Gallerie dell ’Accademia, Venice (Image: Gallerie dell ’Accademia)
This innocent fascination is something that I do not possess anymore. If I see the Ponte now, I know that instead of fully immersing myself in its architectural space, I would subconsciously begin over-scrutinizing each and every detail of it. It is the way I have become accustomed to viewing things. I don’t think I would ride the gondola, or even want to for that matter. Now, I just see it as an overpriced attraction made purely for touristic enjoyment, an inauthentic source of Venetian culture. I can say that my innocent excitement as a nine-year-old has transformed itself in a perpetual state of cynicism. My growth has not hindered all of my experiences. Piazza San Marco is another fogged-up memory I can somewhat recollect. Unlike the gondolas, I have quite a bleak memory of the Piazza. Visiting Venice mid-October was not the best idea regarding weather. The Square was cold, windy, and grey. The empty metal chairs sat outside the varying cafés did not help with the hostility Piazza San Marco imbued in me. All in all, it wasn’t somewhere I really wanted to be. I could only feel discomfort, which is my singular vague memory of the Piazza.
I don’t have any other realistic image or feeling of St Mark’s upon which to base my opinion. I can only picture it with Gentile Bellini’s Procession in St.
Mark’s Square (1496) in mind. The majestic golden flakes on the Basilica and the warmth of the colour scheme have completely changed the way I imagine the Square.
I don’t have any other realistic image or feeling of St Mark’s upon which to base my opinion. I can only picture it with Gentile Bellini’s Procession in St. Mark’s Square (1496) in mind. The majestic golden flakes on the Basilica and the warmth of the colour scheme have completely changed the way I imagine the Square. Even though I know that it is not the same as it was during the fifteenth century, I subconsciously picture it with this powerful harmony and prosperity that sets it apart from any other square in the world. My disappointment as a child has transformed into amazement for the architectural work of the Piazza. Riding gondolas and experiencing Piazza San Marco helped me realize both the cynicism and the excitement that arose in me through my different experiences over the past ten years. Nine-year-old me would have never thought that I would want to avoid gondola rides, or that I would actually end up appreciating and enjoying Piazza San Marco. Reminiscing on the trip has led me to understand how my desires and passions have shifted over the course of this decade. All I am left with is the curiosity of how I might physically experience the magic of La Serenissima differently after all this time. ■
Angela Yang (@angelay_sh), View of the Grand Canal and an approaching water taxi from the terrace of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Why I Canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t Stop Thinking About Barca Nostra
I was, admittedly, a little nervous to write this piece concerning the Barca Nostra (Our Boat) at the Venice Biennale. Firstly, because I have never been to the Venice Biennale, or any biennale for that matter. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the general rule for reviewing something as subjective as a piece of exhibited work is that it is only accurate when one has experienced its impact first hand. Secondly, the sheer volume of published articles on Christoph Büchel’s Barca Nostra is enough to make anyone feel intimidated. If we were to amalgamate the general information from these (varying in opinion, may I add) online articles, it would read like something along the lines of: a fishing boat boarded by around eight hundred migrants from Libya to Italy which tragically sank in 2015, its remains excavated and placed, unlabelled, in the Arsenale for this year’s exhibition. The Swiss-Icelandic artist has curated a mysterious presence surrounding his work: Büchel gave no statement or interview which would aid us in trying to decipher his intentions. This, in turn, caused the press to run amok with their own interpretations of the artist’s ‘work’. I emphasize this deliberately, as unsurprisingly we find ourselves entering the age-old discussion of whether something is or isn’t an artwork. At this point I feel I should come clean about my own stance in the discourse; I often find myself taking a step back when such questions arise. It is not because I don’t care, or because I have nothing of value to say, or because I am radically against any labelling in the contemporary art world. Such discussions are necessary, now more than ever before, particularly as in 2019 we are oversaturated with images and objects left, right, and centre, and it can be overwhelming to sift through the plethora of ‘art’ within our reach. This is precisely why I usually refuse to comment. I am still figuring it out. There is no set template through which viewing the Barca Nostra could be made easier, hence why every opinion piece I have read on the matter struck me as extremely valid. The sensationalising of human suffering is the surface of the conversation. Rightly so, this struck me immediately when I learnt about the vessel being in the Biennale. A giant portion of the outrage came from the photographs which displayed ‘networking’ around the boat once the Biennale officially opened. Milling around, consuming aperitifs, indulging in the grandeur of being a big fish in the art pond. None of this would attract any attention had it not been directly in front of an object which signified an immense loss, if it didn’t carry the weight of its tragedy in every particle of the shipwreck. But the disaster had not been made clear, thus the vessel’s context remained outside of public comprehension. This begs the question: are the human implications what makes an ordinary boat a work of art? Or is it the setting of the Biennale which consolidates its value? On a broader scope, the exhibiting of human stories out of context has been happening in museums and galleries since the very beginnings of art curation. Screaming children in the British Museum or suited and booted professionals sipping wine in Venice makes little difference: awareness cannot be reached when the meaning is not shared.
Christoph Büchel, ‘Barca Nostra (Our Boat)’, 2019 (Image: Luca Zanon Awakening/Getty Images)
The story, albeit controversial, left behind more so a bitter taste than anything else. It isn’t about the polemic nature of shock-inducing art in a popular Biennale, or about the uproar which it created. In my opinion, it is the silence that is the focus. Büchel decides that the boat remains passive, that it is up to us to contextualise the silence, it is up to us to interact with it, make it part of our equilibrium to then be able to talk about tragedy. By focusing on the receptacle of suffering and the absence of life within it, placing the vessel as a lonesome shipwreck amidst clamour, it is the object that reflects the silence of its history back into the unaware art world, not just its microcosm in Venice, but everywhere. This is why I can write about the Barca Nostra from the comfort of my London bedroom. I can hear it from here. ■
Angela Yang (@angelay_sh), Basilica di San Marco
“I wish Giovanni would kiss me,” is the first line of Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 book, Eat, Pray, Love. This book was later adapted to the big screen, with Julia Roberts as the lead, of course. On the 6am flight to Venice in early June, it was this film that kept me from dozing off and giving my eyes the well-needed rest that they would have deserved after only two hours of sleep the night before. Instead, I was training myself for the marvels of Italy and, more precisely, the microcosmic world of Venetian food, envisioning myself in the shoes of Liz ordering antipasti, primi piatti, secondi piatti and dolce… and, of course, house red wine for the table. In that way, I also had a yearning, although it was not for Giovanni, but rather for the discoveries awaiting.
Venice: Eat, Pray, Love (but mainly eat) Aniko Petri
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Venetian cuisine has been shaped greatly by the proximity of water or alternatively, inhibited by it, seeing as most ingredients have to be imported to the city from the mainland due to limited space for kitchen gardens. Veniceâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s peculiar situation is nevertheless perfectly suited for the simplicity of Italian cooking. At its heart, Venetian food is not frivolous or over the top, but it is full of heart and flavour. This is how it happened that I was near-enough brought to tears by a spaghetti al pomodoro â&#x20AC;&#x201C; most likely aided by the sleep deprivation and the intense heat. This was the first meal we sat down for after arrival, by a quiet canal a bit further from the epicentre of tourist activities. For the first time in months, everything felt calm and familiar, but also mixed with the excitement of
the upcoming days which would be spent walking up, down, and across the islands, criss-crossing canals, and visiting every church in sight. In moments like these, you come closer to understanding why Liz Gilbert writes so reverently about the food culture of Italy. It is also a universal truth that food is one
of the most important parts of any holiday, the issue of “What are we eating and when?” being brought up just as much as complaints about the effects of climate change on the weather (which was too hot). In this way, food was the connective tissue between all other aspects of the trip. The ever-popular Aperol Spritz and salted crisps combination – served in every bar – was always a moment of reflection to talk about how beautiful such and such piazza is, and the evening walks culminating in an 11pm gelato rounded off the day before everyone collapsed into their respective beds. Even knowing how vital food culture is to the visitor experience in Venice, I was still surprised by how seamlessly one can combine it with other aspects of the holiday…
On the Wednesday we went to Padua to see the Scrovegni Chapel with its Giotto frescoes, as well as the Basilica dedicated to St. Anthony. Between the two buildings, there was a period carved out for a lunch break. We all ate the same gnocchi dish based on some otherworldly premonition that my friend, Morgan, had had the day before, claiming that we will eat the ‘best gnocchi ever’ in Padua. He had no foundations for this claim, but he was right. The restaurant was empty except for us and it looked like a small family-run business. We sat in the garden and had green pesto and garlic gnocchi in a fresh ricotta sauce, with shaved smoked ricotta and toasted poppy seeds, which turned out to be so good that we complimented the chef multiple times with our collectively limited Italian vocabulary. And then we went to see more art. On the same day, returning to Venice we found a grocery shop that had been converted from a theatre. The opulent interior with the painted ceilings and marble columns was kept, meanwhile, what used to be the auditorium was now rows and rows of shopping aisles. For an afternoon picnic we bought tomato and olive focaccia and cannoli, both traditional Sicilian and pistachio flavoured. Very simply we then settled down next to a
Zhanna Kadyrova, ‘Market Series’, 2018-Ongoing, Ceramic tiles, cement, concrete, & natural stone (Image: Artsy)
canal and watched motorboats, as well as the odd lemons, float along (quite strangely, we spotted lemons in the canals on three separate occasions around the city. It seems that foodstuffs are literally a part of the canal-life-blood of Venice). This was another instance of food and culture merging together in the city. Food is truly everywhere in Venice. It is even present in the 2019 Biennale through Ukrainian artist, Zhanna Kadyrova’s Market mosaic sculptures installed in the Arsenale, depicting a food stall made of materials recycled from building sites, subverting the viewer’s expectations about the qualities of food as something that can be consumed, here rendered permanent and solid by Kadyrova. Exiting the Biennale, we went to the food market at the Rialto which had exactly the same items for sale as those shown in the art installation. We also had a heavenly pasta aglio e olio, the ingenious simplicity of the dish being a point of contrast to the often chaotic and hard-to-digest pieces that were exhibited at the Biennale. Returning to London, I watched the second half of Eat, Pray, Love. Liz feels that she has to travel to three different locations around the world in order to ‘find herself ’ and to experience the
different aspects that she missed from her life. In my opinion, she should simply have gone to Venice, which is a small world unto itself, and where anyone can find good places to eat, a myriad of churches to pray in, and plenty of things to love – for example, an evening spent with friends sitting by the lagoon and watching the sunset over the outline of St Marco… an experience which is only made better by a picnic of local green olives and mozzarella. Separating the culinary culture of Venice from other areas of culture and art-making would be as big a mistake as not seasoning your dishes properly. It may be aesthetically appealing, but it is a flat and vapid imitation of what the meal could be. If only there was a pinch of salt somewhere to inject some life and flavour into the whole thing!
I walk down alleyways, cloistered in shadow, I cross canals and pass windows filled with masks, Or glass, or model gondoliers. I find Saint Mark’s, see it flooded with the dirty, Feathered water of swarming pigeons rising and falling Across the stone, shimmering in the rain and Dusting the air with breadcrumbs and soot. This city rhymes with the water, it hums to the sound Of little black boats beetling between its buildings, And makes the fireworks above it dull by comparison. It is a mortal city: defined by its lagoon, made more alive by the knowledge It will one day die. Even Gabriel, atop the Campanile, Will fall like any angel, His golden hand transfigured by prismatic water. Stand still in Venice, close your eyes and feel it breathe.
a poem by Lightfoot
Christoforos Savva in Venice: An Interview with Andre Zivanari Ariadne Diogenous
For the 58th Venice Biennale, Cyprus is being represented by Christoforos Savva (1924-1968), an artist whose inclusion is packed with meaning. 2019 brings the 50-year anniversary of Cyprus being represented for the first time in the Biennale, an entry in which Savva was featured. It also marks 50 years since the artist’s sudden death. ‘Untimely, Again’ (curated by Jacopo Crivelli Visconti) is a celebration of the artist’s contributions to Cyprus’ art scene in the twentieth century, but also of Cypriot culture generally. I had the pleasure of interviewing Andre Zivanari, director of the non-profit foundation Point Centre for Contemporary Art, who played a key role in the decision-making process for this year’s Cypriot Pavilion. The Ministry of Education and Culture alongside Point Centre have carefully selected Savva as his oeuvre constitutes an ode to the uniqueness and beauty of Cypriot art. The choice of representing Cyprus with an important yet deceased artist may appear puzzling to some. Apart from the double 50-year anniversary, what else was involved in the thought process which led to the selection of Christoforos Savva? This project was conceived out of the need to foster a critical dialogue and to promote further investigation and the understanding of our locality and how this relates to the broader cultural discourse. Savva’s work is characterized by the diversity, hybrid mixture of materials and processes and his ability to handle them all at the same time. Through his work, he transcended both tradition and modernity and he reflected his ability to appropriate and reinvent themes and styles. He is an artist who was ahead of his time and who thought differently from anyone else around him during his years. It seems therefore appropriate to see his work returning to Venice fifty years later. ‘Untimely, Again’, is a historic exhibition and it is within a context that focuses on the contemporary so that we can dedicate our time into going back and looking more closely at a set of works that had been overlooked by the international public and which had not been studied in depth in Cyprus for a long time. The fact that he is not a ‘contemporary and living’ artist is of secondary importance compared to the urgent need to reflect on such issues.
‘Untimely, Again’, Cyprus Pavilion, 2019 Venice Biennale, Installation View (Image: Tessa Carr)
â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Untimely, Againâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;, Cyprus Pavilion, 2019 Venice Biennale, Installation View (Images: Tessa Carr)
His cement reliefs and yphasmatography (patchwork, textile work) really speak to and pay homage to his Cypriot cultural heritage. How important is it during the selection process to pick an artist whose work embodies this? Especially given that contemporary art has become increasingly less concerned with cultures and more preoccupied by themes and ideas. Art today is more than ever preoccupied with narrative historicity and draws inspiration from traditions, national heritage and culture. It happens via thorough research and, in some cases, in a more scientific approach. In previous years, the artists would directly challenge the material, techniques and methods and craftsmanship to connect with such concepts. â&#x20AC;¨ Savva, by recovering an artistic tradition that was related mostly to women, paid tribute to the poor rural environment in which he himself was born. He acknowledged tradition without idealizing
the past. The awareness that these practices enclose a sophisticated simplicity could be considered as a political act and his ability to simultaneously handle totally different materials and genres can be interpreted as a clear placement of openness. Do you see biennials as the nucleus of promoting individual cultures? If not, how else can art from the ‘peripheries’ such as Cyprus be brought into the narrative? Yes, I see biennials as a nucleus for the arts. They stand still as platforms for the world to meet and to establish new relations; they allow for new interpretations and narratives to emerge. This is one of the main reasons Christoforos Savva’s work is today included in this platform. Being in the periphery does not mean exclusion from the main discourse. An international curator was invited to investigate and to reflect on a Cypriot artist, unknown before in the international art scene. Additionally, Hatje Cantz, the international publishing house, published the first comprehensive book on Savva’s oeuvre. What is needed is a systematic and consistent way of promoting our culture. You, yourself, do so much to promote the production of art in Cyprus. How effectively do you think Cyprus is being brought into and taking part in global discussions about contemporary art? We promote the production of art and culture in Cyprus and we support our artists in pursuing their careers abroad. The work of many Cypriot artists with international exposure reflect our tradition, and their practices investigate aspects of our history, archaeology, politics and much more. As a result, the discussion is happening simultaneously and in many different directions. We invite international artists to visit the island with the prospect of commissioning new works. These exchanges carry with them the idea of transferring knowledge and disseminating issues and ideas that derive exclusively from our reality. Many times, these works, as a result of these collaborations, are shown in international institutions abroad. We take part in EU-funded programmes through collaborations with other institutions. Through our residency programme, we invite theorists, writers and curators to interact with the local scene. The different ways of approaching and exposing the art scene in the wider spectrum of production could only result in a more meaningful and vibrant exchange. The rich Cyprus heritage and culture readings in a contemporary context stands out within the universal narratives of art and enriches our dialogue. Jacopo Crivelli Visconti spoke about post-colonialism in Cyprus and how it affected artistic production. To what extent do you agree with this? Many of the Cypriot artists of the [colonial] era would not have had the opportunity to travel to England for studies, had Cyprus not gained colonial status. The exhibition pays homage to a major figure of Cypriot art while aiming to provoke reflections on the processes which have shaped the post-independence national imaginary of Cyprus. Any such endeavour needs to take into account the fact that Cyprus, like many other
‘Untimely, Again’, Cyprus Pavilion, 2019 Venice Biennale, Installation View (Image: Tessa Carr)
countries with a colonial past, did not have the opportunity to deal with the ‘modern’ in a substantial and autonomous way. At least in so far as its art historiography and the international visibility of its artistic production are concerned, what has registered instead, is a sense that it ultimately chose to delve directly into the ‘contemporary’. Revisiting, then, this key moment in the island’s recent history becomes a fundamental step towards a better understanding of its contemporaneity. The way that art is taught in Cypriot public schools is quite problematic. The careers of our own important artists, like Savva, are almost never introduced to children. How different would cultural awareness be in Cyprus had there been more discussions about Cypriot art? Would people have a deeper appreciation for it if they were made aware of the careers of such artists? Will we see change within the next decade?
I believe in the change to follow within the next decade. Considering that now there are art departments in higher education, the newly established Art School at the Technical Institute and the forthcoming of the new State Gallery to be the Museum of Contemporary Art could really create a momentum towards public involvement in art and culture. It is a fact that schools would be more involved when they are provided with the infrastructure. Taking into consideration all the school and university students who visited the Savva exhibition at SPEL The State Gallery in Nicosia shows that the young generations are not only open to new challenges but also demonstrate a genuine interest to invest in art and culture. The many achievements and recognitions of Cypriot artists abroad by the international art world can only help in the awareness of the importance of art and culture and how these enrich people’s lives. ■
Angela Yang (@angelay_sh), Rounded arch at the Palazzo Ducale leading visitors out to Porta della Carta. Shot from the Giantsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; Staircase, former official entrance to the palace
Illustrations Cover by Crystal Sagady
11 The Poets of Venice – ‘Around me are the Stars and Waters’ Illustration by Rhiannon Powell
12 Entropy on the Adriatic
Illustration by Lucy Sabath
16 Illustration by Rhiannon Powell
The Music of the Lagoon Illustration by Rhiannon Powell
Why I Can’t Stop Thinking About Barca Nostra Illustration by Tessa Carr
Finite ad Infinitum Illustration by Rose London
contents 2 Don’t Look Now: Venice in Film Nancy Collinge
6 ‘Holding Up a Mirror’ to Malaysia and the World Farah Dianputri
9 The Poets of Venice – ‘Around me are the Stars and Waters’ Rose London
12 Entropy on the Adriatic Rose London
17 The Music of the Lagoon Morgan Haigh
20 A Ten-Year Long Reflection on La Serenissima Sara Quattrocchi Febles
24 Why I Can’t Stop Thinking About Barca Nostra Emilia Kraus
28 Venice: Eat, Pray, Love (But Mainly Eat) Aniko Petri
32 Finite ad Infinitum Lightfoot
34 Christoforos Savva in Venice: An Interview with Andre Zivanari Ariadne Diogenous
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