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"Every city in the world seems to have a ‘Rialto’ theater and many also have nightclubs or cabarets called ‘Lido,’ as though Venice were the symbol of something important about the ‘good life.’ For the past three hundred years, this Italian port has been one of the undisputed highlights of the European tourist circuit, the real end-point of the so-called Grand Tour. Today this translates into thousands of people streaming in daily on the big cruise liners, and many more arriving in big planes too – tourists who may come for only half a day, a mere pit stop on their modern-day version of the ‘Grand Tour’.
Bigger and deeper canals are continually being built to accommodate bigger cruise ships. The same refrain has been repeated for 35 years: that Venice is being wrecked by the ever-increasing stream of tourists, and every year that goes by this complaint continues to ring true despite the tourists are also one of the main drivers for the city’s economy.
The clichéd tourist experience remains an easy target for mockery. Tourists are regarded as a strange phenomenon; they are constantly discredited and laughed at in a way that fails to recognize the object of their desire: an intrinsic part of cultural knowledge and experience. Meanwhile, the European cultural and intellectual world is also constantly converging in troubled Venice. According to Jimmie Durham, "curators, architects, filmmakers and artists also make their pilgrimage to attend the Biennales, which means that European intellectual thought is inseparable from both European tourism and from the man-made object." Moreover, he says, "the romantic vision of Venice held by tourists and European intellectuals alike excludes the vital reality of Venice’s working class. These people are constantly remaking the city; keeping it from falling into ruins, recreating it in front of everyone’s eyes."
Four years ago Jimmie Durham was invited by the Fondazione Querini Stampalia and began talking to people in and around Venice who work as boat builders, glass blowers, goldbeaters, woodcarvers, as well as people who work in restaurants and various administrative positions. He talked to all different kinds of workers and gathered their stories. He found that many came from countries such as Senegal, Tunisia and Bangladesh, and that they prefer to remain an invisible element of the local economy.
During the 56th International Art Exhibition of Venice Biennale, Durham presents Venice: Objects, Work and Tourism. The installation at the Spazio Carlo Scarpa features new objects formed from unexpected combinations: broken glass collected over the years alongside brightly colored paint, three-hundred year old venetian bricks posed against elements from the tourist industry and everyday commerce of Venice. This work is not intended as a monument, but rather as a vehicle for dialogue that addresses the complex melding of these ideas: tourism, the social imaginary of Venice, labor, and the man-made object.
The exhibition is accompanied by an artist book conceived as integral part of a single project. In this book, Durham has compiled writings and images – of objects he has assembled, as well as images of people and scenes of Venice – as well his analysis of the underlying connections between the tourism industries, the stories of local workers and Venice’s history. For Durham, "Venice is the embodiment of this confluence: a place where object becomes most evident as the cornerstone of cultural and intellectual life, and a place where this seemingly static symbol of culture and intellectuality is constantly being modeled and refined through handling and everyday labor."
Venice: Objects, Work and Tourism is a project curated by Chiara Bertola born from the collaboration between Fondazione Querini Stampalia and kurimanzutto, Mexico City, with the support of FURLA Foundation, Bologna; Dena Foundation, Paris; ZERYNTHIA Associazione per l’Arte Contemporanea, Rome.
Venice: Objects, Work and Tourism
6 May - 20 September 2015
Installations and objects at the Carlo Scarpa Area and Museum, and interventions in the historical collection.
Curator: Chiara Bertola
Internat. Architecture Exhibition, 22 May - 21 November 2021. Curator: Hashim Sarkis.
59th International Art Exhibition, 23 April - 27 November 2022. Artistic Director: Cecilia Alemani.