For Tod Davies
Two of the exhibitions from the last
Venice Biennale have stayed with me.
Both were in the centre of the city
rather than in the Giardini.
They were close to the vaporetto stop
at San Samuele on the Grand Canal.
The first was in the Palazzo Grassi,
on the Calle De Le Carrozze:
Anhela Ayzenberh’s IMAGES OF WAR
AT HARVEST TIME. The Kyiv journalist
curated tens of thousands of anonymised
mobile phone photos of wrecked and rusting
Russian hardware: tanks, rocket launchers,
and long range artillery against
a backdrop of unharvested fields of wheat.
The second was across the narrow calle
in the small church of San Samuele:
TALKING WHITE MEN, dedicated to
Diego Garcia’s indigenous
inhabitants, and only comprising
four large holograms – of Tim Berners-Lee,
Noam Chomsky, Richard Dawkins, and
Henry Kissinger – showing each subject
on an endless loop with no sound except,
through the open doors, the vaporettos
slowing, idling, accelerating.
Both caused much controversy. The Kremlin
and Downing Street respectively complained
to the Italian government. Supporters
claimed that the continuation of the war
and the expulsion were shameful, and needed
continuous exposure. That summer
and autumn a number of anonymous
YouTubes appeared. One purported to show
the exhibit in the early hours
when the power was supposedly switched-off.
There was still no sound but sub-titles
suggested Chomsky and Kissinger
were arguing both about Israel
and the International Criminal Court,
Dawkins was frequently shouting, ‘Selfish Gene!’,
and Berners-Lee was speaking machine-code.
Another seemed to show, in profile,
the disembodied and larger-than-life sized heads
of the two principals in a minibus
in the car park of the Elysian Fields,
a Jefferson Heights retirement home
in the Catskills. The most viral featured
a very large rat, with Putin’s head,
setting fire to uncut fields of wheat.
The following year each season made the earth
a little less inhabitable
for humankind. During one long night,
in late December, high water rose
as usual, but did not ebb. All
of the islands of Venice – that most serene
of cities – were engulfed.
Note: the poem was first published in the Summer 2022 edition of EAP: THE MAGAZINE – https://exterminatingangel.com/eap-the-magazine-archive/.