- la Biennale di Venezia
Grey rain clouds swirl over the lagoon. From the planes descent I see what looks like a medieval model train set, left adrift from the mainland but for the thin tracks serving as an umbilical cord to the post modern industrial world. The hazy paintings of Adolfe Valette’s rainy Manchester come to mind more than the crisp sun kissed Canaletto’s I had been anticipating for years.
I navigate the initial language barriers with the English speaking Italian ticket clerk, purchase a travel pass then make my way through fear mongering stories of a city of pickpockets. I sit outside the airport dressed for cold Manchester rain in thick, brushed cotton wool trousers, when I notice a smoker. I ask for a light and strike up a conversation with what turns out to be another artist on the same a-n bursary as myself.
The conversation develops throughout the bus ride to the hotel, as does my awareness of just how thick my trousers are in the growing Venetian heat. After vacating our seats to a couple of elderly Italian ladies ‘The Smoker’ stares perplexed into the face of one of the old women as she continues to mutter in Italian, pointing at his bag. “What’s your Problem?!” interrupts The Smoker abruptly . He is clearly mistaking her offer to store his bag under her chair and out of the walkway as a threat.
The fear of missing the hotel and my increasing trouser discomfort places a small seed of doubt in the back of my mind. The Smoker and I continue to discuss our current practice and forthcoming events in the north of England, whilst embarking on a trip to Venice until we arrive at the hotel.
The advertised luggage storage area is a pile of rucksacks behind a shamefully thin curtain. The Smokers private room is already available so I store my bag with his and make the rest of the journey towards Venice. The conversation continues to reveal a series of common interests that often accompany a lifestyle of hard work and foolish endeavor.
We arrive in Venice proper, walk over a bridge, take a photograph, eat a slice of pizza, marvel at its flavor and size for its price, try on some masks then stop for a beer and a smoke in ‘The Raging Pub’. Our further discussion reveals the shared trials of being an artist in the north of England whilst sitting in Venice.
I have resorted to walking with bowed legs to counteract the chaffing from my thick, brushed cotton wool trousers for what feels like the entire south side of Venice. I can see Mark Quinn’s inflatable Alison Lauper sculpture in front of ‘The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore’ painted by Canaletto in 1740 and currently on display in Manchester Art Gallery.
In Manchester there was a pizza parlor called ‘Mama Mia’. Abi the Moorish proprietor had a secret ingredient that kept me coming back for years. Abi was from Iraq but offered little information about his past. Both Abi and his pizza were of Moorish descent and full of secrets. After years of indulgence and being ever observant of the objects around me I became intrigued by the image of a bridge on the Mama Mia pizza box. I assumed this mass-produced, badly bled image was based on a famous Renaissance painting.
After years of trawling through books with paintings of river scenes and obsessive online scrolling I found my bridge in Venice. It was the Bridge of Sighs and had been featured in paintings by Turner, Monet, Canaletto and owed its name to a poem by Lord Byron. The Bridge Conjoined the Doges Palace and the old courts where Byron’s convicts would receive their judgment after breathing a sigh as they caught their last glimpse of the grand Canal.
In ‘Art In the Age Of Mechanical Reproduction’ Walter Benjamin proposed that an artwork lost its magic when seen as a mere reproduction without its true physical state and place. I felt that the ‘Google’ images taken by tourists on cheap holidays were the outcome of a social and economic revolution were ‘The Grand Tour’ and the printing press had found great grand children in the internet and affordable travel. With this in mind I proceeded to paint the scene featured on the pizza box referencing the style of the aforementioned Canaletto, directly on top of the pizza box image.
This once respected and lofty art form would find either devalue via the mass produced easily attainable pizza box or give the pizza box a new art value. Years past and every plan to make a pilgrimage to the bridge resulted in financial and geographic immobility. ‘Take Away Walter Benjamin’ would rest within eyes view in my studio as a reminder.
I weave my way through the streets towards St Marco square occasionally catching glimpses of The Doges Palace’ famous arches basking in the unreserved Italian sun. I roll a cigarette with The Smoker and proceed towards the palace through St Marco square under the Giant advert for the Caro Biennale show. We turn the corner onto the waterside but the hoards of people block the view. I drink in the details of the columns I had previously struggled to execute faithfully onto the cardboard surface.
The crowd opens and I am faced with everything. Bridges, palaces, courts, time and space are one rolling idea and I can’t feel my trousers anymore. I open my bag and lift out a reproduction of my painted pizza box and hold it up in front of the Bridge of Sighs. As I photograph the reproduction in front of the Bridge Of Sighs The Smoker photographs me being photographed by people watching me photograph the reproduction in front of the Bridge Of Sighs. I have found my Bridge in Venice for a second time.