No, this isn’t the picturesque isle of Torcello; it’s a detail from Urs Fisher’s incredible work, showing at the Venice Biennale. A couple of weeks ago I travelled to Italy’s “floating city” to take my seat at the feast that is the world’s most spectacular art exhibition(s)! I was covering the extravaganza, and in particular India’s inaugural national pavilion, for Elle India, but of course I took in as much as I could from contemporary artists working all over the globe.
As another journalist friend of mine agreed, over lunch, back in the rather less glamorous environs of Mornington Crescent, sometimes you feel that the grandiose context of the Biennale is clouding your judgement. You have to pause, pinch yourself, and reset your critical compass.
An avenue of work that wouldn’t turn heads in a gallery in Shoreditch led up to Fisher’s spectacular work. The pace of The Art Pack trudging through the Arsenale suddenly changed and everyone stopped, filtered the delight through their iphone cameras, and turned to their companions to utter their pleasure in the hushed tones specific to gallery-going. And church.
The Swiss artist has created wax candle sculptures for the exhibition, which are lit and will slowly melt over the course of the exhibition. Beautifully deforming and destructing. The waxy figure of the suited man made me think of Tom Wolfe’s ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’ and the self-destruction of Wall Street and its bankers. From Damien Hirst’s pickled carcasses to the ‘momento mori’ of the skull in Holbein’s paintings, artists are intoxicated, or perhaps just perennially puzzled by the idea of the ephemeral, the impossibility of permanence. I think that’s what Fisher’s work is ultimately about too.
Of course there are countless other pieces that I could tell you about, but there was something about Fisher’s work that stayed lodged in my mind.
When we’d had quite enough culture thank-you-very-much, we hopped on a vaporetto (or 3!) over to the sleepy island of Torcello. It’s quite a long trip from the hub of Venice but it was a searingly hot day and we snagged seats at the back of the boat, where the breeze and the lagoon’s gentle spray kept us perfectly cool.
There’s one reason to go to Torcello- Locanda Cipriani, a charmingly old-fashioned Italian restaurant where we enjoyed the most delicious food and the best bellinis ever! It’s the sort of restaurant that is so comfortable in its reputation (it’s still owned by the same family who hosted Ernest Hemingway when he stayed at the “inn” while writing ‘Across the River and Through the Trees’ and people like Queen Elizabeth II stop by for lunch…), that it doesn’t need to try too hard to be “glamorous” or “exclusive”. Although that doesn’t mean that they take their clientele for granted: the service is amongst the best I’ve experienced- gracious and accommodating without being simpering.
It was with Torcello on my mind that I went to see Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, starring the modern goddess, Kristin Scott Thomas. Like just about everyone else, I was left somewhere in between. I wasn’t swept away, nor was I entirely underwhelmed. But I was very happy that when the scenes played out, or rather didn’t, on Torcello, I knew exactly where Pinter meant…