Venice is a contemporary city par excellence because it is the most artificial city there is. A city that was built from nothing, entirely of marble and stone, in water, and yet it has succeeded in being long-lasting; it is kind of a miracle because it challenges logic.
But art too has always been born within a dimension of improbability and subversion of logic. This is why I strongly believe that Venice is the place where contemporary art can best be represented. Venice is already a work of art in itself and obliges us to behave in a particular way, to pay attention to everything. For example, it is necessary to gain a sense of time and learn to calculate this well, because it is only one’s own pedestrian pace that establishes distance: in Venice we are obliged to have an awareness of time and space, and to measure them in an unusual way. In some ways, the living conditions here are very close to those that characterise a work of art: its anachronism offers the possibility of being incredibly contemporary.
Of course, we should remember that we approach works of art with a special sensitivity… and I do not think it is the treatment that Venice has received recently. Today, rather, the city has been ‘dumbed down’ to a level of trivialisation and commodification. Yet it was born of a challenge and strict and very precise regulations; it has always fought fiercely for its own autonomy – not from a wish for isolationism, but because it was aware of its own uniqueness. Today, uniformity is threatening its identity.
The Biennale is a key event for Venice and is the only time when the latest and best contemporary art comes to town. The museums of old and contemporary art are among the finest in Italy, not to mention the other possibilities that the city offers in terms of seeing, thinking and presenting art. All the conditions are in place, therefore, to multiply and transform the “exceptions” into something stable and permanent and so make Venice once again an exemplary laboratory of wide-ranging experimentation. The important thing is not to abandon it, not to sell it off, and to respect its unique nature.
Chiara Bertola, critic and curator, was born in Turin and now lives and works in Venice. Since 2001, she has been in charge of the “Conserving the future” contemporary art programme at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia.