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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/.

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