I’m a bit late with this post since Alexej and I were in Venice last weekend to see the Biennale. It was an amazing but tiring experience.
We flew Saturday morning and started off with the national pavilions in the Giardini. On Sunday, we had a full day of viewing the exhibitions, including all of the Arsenale, and the rest of the national pavilions.
There was a lot of interesting work in rest of the Arsenale, and lots of my favourite works were in the Pavilion of the Earth and the Pavilion of Traditions.
On Monday, we took a vaporetto out to the island of Cimitero di San Michele. If you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know that I’m fascinated by cemeteries. Photos aren’t allowed on the island, but if anyone has a chance to visit, I recommend it. It’s so peaceful and you can see generations of Venetian families laid to rest side by side. When we went, there were beautiful silk or fresh flowers on nearly every monument which showed the Venetian dedication to honouring their departed loved ones.
We then took the vaporetto one stop further to the island of Murano, which is famous for its glass. We found a workshop called Guarnieri Glass Factory where you paid 3 Euros to see a demonstration (preferable to having a free demonstration, but the obligation to buy a piece). We did purchase a few little souvenirs on Murano before heading back to the main island of Venice.
We had cicchetti (bar snacks) and drinks at the fabulous Cantine del Vino Gia Schiavi for lunch. One of the best snacks was tuna on toast topped with cocoa powder. It sounds like a strange combination, but it was delicious. I have actually been dreaming about it since then.
Despite the cold, our visit to Italy wouldn’t have been complete without visiting Grom for gelato. I had panettone and glazed chestnut flavours. Grom has been expanding as a chain and there’s now one in Nice, but I’m hoping one opens in London soon too.
Our last exhibition was Damien Hirst’s Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, which is spread across the galleries of Punta della Dogana and the Palazzo Grassi. I have to admit, one of the main reasons I wanted to visit Venice was for this exhibition. I’m not a fan of Hirst’s other work, but I read about this exhibition when it first opened and it sounded like it was one of the most ambitious and imaginative of any recent art projects.
The narrative is that an ancient shipwreck off the coast of East Africa was found in 2008, and Hirst was involved in the recovery and restoration of the objects. The artefacts are shown covered in coral, and also in a pristine gallery copy model. The artefacts supposedly span a huge range of cultures, showing Greek and Roman mythological sculptures next to an Aztec calendar stone. Each has a museum-like description that speculates on the origin of the artefact and its meaning.
If you hadn’t heard about the exhibition before visiting, you could be forgiven for thinking it was real (even Hirst doesn't insist unicorns are real), until objects crop up that are obviously not from an ancient shipwreck. A gold Transformer is labelled as the Meso-American god Quetzalcoatl, and Walt Disney and Mickey are 'The collector and Friend'.
Although the exhibition is obviously about museums and the veracity of their artefacts and explanations, you also know that Hirst is going to sell these sculptures for ridiculous amounts of money. They’re wonderfully lurid, grotesque, sensational, gratuitous, titillating works. In the world of Damien Hirst, I think we’re all suckers, but I don’t feel too bad about it when he gives us a glimpse of such an imaginative, fantastical world.
Speaking of imaginative, fantastical worlds, on Thursday, my friend and I went to see Harry Potter: A History of Magic at the British Library. Of course, we both grew up reading the books, like most kids of our generation and those that followed. Along with many of J.K. Rowling’s original manuscripts, I was surprised to see her original sketches for the characters and a layout of Hogwarts. There were also some wonderful illustrations from Jim Kay. What I found most interesting however were the ‘real’ magical objects and books on display, including many from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, Cornwall.
After hearing about the museum a few months ago, I wanted to visit, although it’s nearly impossible to get there from London without a car. Thankfully, there is a pop-up version of the museum currently on show at the The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities. Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to visit this month.
Magic and London
I’ve written before about my growing interest in all things occult, and I’ve been listening to Gordon White’s incomparable podcast Rune Soup for months. Rune Soup is just a wealth of information on all things magical.
Along the same vein, I’ve also been reading The Secret Lore of London, edited by John Matthews and Caroline Wise. I went to Peckham Library to find a book about Venice’s history and ended up with this London book instead.
In the huge range of information about London, one of my favourites so far is the story of how St Peter consecrated Westminster Abbey, as recounted by Nigel Pennick in his chapter, ‘Legends of London’. Apparently, an angelic choir arrived at Westminster Abbey, but poor St. Peter accidentally ended up across the Thames in Lambeth and had to ask a fisherman to take him across. The fisherman then witnessed Westminster Abbey lit up with heavenly light, and then took St Peter back across to Lambeth (I guess he had a return ticket from there). St. Peter told the fisherman that he had consecrated Westminster Abbey and that he should go tell the Archbishop of London (again, I don’t understand the mechanics of holy visitations because it seems like he could have done this himself). In any case, the Archbishop checked Westminster Abbey and found evidence that the story was true. During the Reformation, the story was dismissed as ‘popish superstition’. I love the idea of the saints being just as muddled up about directions as us mortals.
I love Christmas, but surely mid-November is still a bit early for decorations to be up in the shops. I always bemoan the fact that here in the UK you don’t have a buffer-holiday like Thanksgiving to stave off Christmas preparations coming earlier and earlier each year.
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