Saturday, 29 October 2016

Letter from Venice (22) 29-10-16

Waiting at Celestia landing stage I see the contract cleaner, a middle-aged man in a luminous jacket, sweeping at the edge of the sea. A blue boat suddenly pulls up at the pontoon and a man clutching a poster jumps off. He practically runs to the frame which holds the route map for all of the ACTV boats. Without ceremony he prises open the edges of the frame with a special tool, rips out the old map, replaces it with a new one, slams the frame shut and jumps back on the blue boat which departs immediately to the next stop. This isn’t the only sort of maintenance that goes on. I had noticed that the triple piles that mark out the shipping lanes for the legion of boats around Venice are often excavated by the rotting effects of the sea half way up at the waterline. Quadruple versions of these are also used as mooring posts for the floating boat stations themselves. The other day, on the 5.2, I noticed a large flatbed barge with a mechanical grab on deck, stationary alongside one of the triple piles. The grabber was pulling up old piles and replacing them with new ones, pale brown rather than weathered grey in colour. The new piles lean together in threes with their top end sharpened like a pencil only without a lead, and are bound together with a double hoop of metal. Their "sharpened" tops are dipped in pitch. A few days ago San Pietro boat station had been ‘suppressed’ because a similar barge was alongside. Today we stop there on my way to the Architecture Biennale at the Arsenale and I notice that the pontoon is now chained to two new groups of brand new piles.

This half of the Architettura Biennale is housed in the Corderie which claims to be the longest naval rope shed in the world, although I’ve heard that my home town boasts this distinction too. This may just be chauvinism of course. The Corderie is striking architecturally in itself. It has two lines of giant, plaster-covered brick columns forming three naves down the mighty length of the whitewashed brick shed with matching pilasters on the side walls. The central lines of columns support two high ledges running to the wall on either side. The high, pitched ceiling is made of wood with supporting beams. In this ‘space’ are the exhibits. The entrance room through which we pass has been reduced in size by a wall made of stacks of hundreds of thousands of laterally placed white polystyrene tiles each projecting to different degrees. From the ceiling thousands of twelve foot long shiny metal flooring strips have been suspended like vines in a rain forest just out of reach. We are assured that these materials were stripped away after the last Art Biennale and reused in this way. ‘Embedded’ videos show workmen doing the important installation. As I walk through the exhibits there are endless video and audio installations and little placards hung from reinforced steel stalks stuck in breeze blocks proclaiming the ‘Reconceptualisation of the iconography of cable ties.’ There is a huge white block across the central nave draped with yards of black cloth. The cube is covered in lines of meaningless (going on the languages I can understand) text in every language conceivable. One exhibit is four brand new triangular wooden ladders, each supported by a single spar with single words on their rungs. They are illuminated by spotlights streaming angled shafts from the ceiling. I reach the stage of longing to see the end wall of the rope shed and finally emerge blinking in the sunlight. I skirt the edge of the Arsenale basin, slip through the Italian exhibition and the Giardino di Virgini and then out of the Arsenale to find myself standing beneath the swallowtail crenellations of the Arsenale wall and directly opposite the beautifully mannered Palladian façade of San Pietro di Castello.

A lovely stroll past a large boat selling fruit and vegetables from a canal down the broad Via Garibaldi, which is lively on Saturday morning and where I unsuccessfully try to locate a barber, takes me on to the Fondamenta dei Sette Martiri where I am pleased to take a seat on the terrace of the sole waterfont caffè and order a coffee. The light on the sea is dazzling and, between two large white cruise boats two girls, one sitting, one lying, are framed against the bright, hazy sky over the lagoon on a low marble bench at the edge of the water.

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