Dispatches from La Biennale 2022 – Better Late Than Never

Clear Skies or She Always Pretended to Remember You

Part 1.

Just north of the Giardini lies Sant’Elena, one of the last residential pockets of Venice, a little quarter of red park benches and conceptual libraries, where a lone soccer pitch is crowded at sunset with local children yelling, their voices echoing from the back of the Biennale at the end of the day. There is a Venice/Venice quality about the Sant’Elena park, it’s where locals gather near sunset with their dogs and sometimes children, wandering out of their house to glimpse nature. Often tourists like myself interweave with their lives, but they know their lives are not normal, because they too live in a tourist trap. Like Zineb Sedira’s “Dreams Have No Titles” the lines between reality and cinema are extremely blurry. Life is a film set and we are both the set and the extras.

The Sant’Elena lending library holds a spiritual value, as if it is a giving tree on an island that doesn’t always seem philanthropic and is about to sink into the water. Throughout the entire pandemic, I periodically wondered if I would live to see this lending library again. There are thousands of these makeshift lending libraries around the world, most of them filled with weathered romance novels and never read self help books, but there’s only one that feels mythic. Since 2019, when I’m in Venice, I’ve tried to go there daily if I’m in the neighborhood to give and receive and see what others have left behind. It’s a meeting point like the Venice breakwater in Venice, California. I sometimes wonder who started the Sant’Elena edition.

Francis Alys at the Belgian Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 2022

On a Thursday in May after watching Francis Alys’ “The Nature of the Game,” his sprawling retrospective of global children’s games alongside paintings he has made of these films, I wandered filled with love of the universality of play back to Sant’Elena. There I came across a series of language immersion materials entitled, “Inglesi Oggi,” and “Futuro No Problem,” early 00s CD roms and workbooks exported to Italian school children. It seemed like destiny, especially because the working title of my postcard project has always been, “Oggi.” I read Lesson 28. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll tell you right away, that I’m an American from Chicago. I hope you’re as glad to have me with you as I am to be here.”

“Signore e signori, vi diro subito, che sono un americano, di Chicago. Spero che siate altrettanto felici di avermi con voi quanto lo sono io di essere qui.”

I picked it up and put it in my bag, and thought about the universal power of art to transcend our endless conflict in the world, then raced to catch the last vaporetto to Murano to think some more.

To be continued

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