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May you live in interesting times … A reflection by Catherine Kovesi

Apr 28, 2020

Andrà Tutto Bene (all will be well). Credit: Bridget Gleeson

When Venice Champions went to the 2019 Biennale, few would have realised how prescient the year’s theme, May You Live in Interesting Times, would prove to be. Venice displayed its usual combination of stunning beauty and contingent fragility, but all seemed business as usual.

Yet just over a month after our October group returned home, Venice was confronted with an ‘acqua granda’ – literally ‘giant water’. As waters of 187cm raged through the city for two hours and then just as suddenly subsided, many of the places we had all visited only a few weeks and months previously suffered heartbreaking damage.

The Basilica of San Marco was flooded for only the 6th time in its 1000 year history; the Basilica of Santi Maria e Donato on Murano, visited in May, lost large sections of its 12th century mosaic floor; Palazzo Nani Bernardo, the location of the final dinner in October, had much of its garden destroyed (the largest private garden in Venice).

But through the dismay and heartbreak, those same Venetians who had offered us such hospitality during the Biennale events all swung into action. Melissa Conn of Save Venice Inc, who hosted the tour of San Sebastiano; Toto Bergamo Rossi of Venetian Heritage, who hosted the tour of the Museo Grimani; Jane Da Mosto of We are Here Venice, whom Kerry interviewed in the October ‘In Conversation’; all these, and many more immediately set about working to conserve, and repair the damages.

But now our beloved Venice finds itself in further uncharted waters as its residents, together with all Italy, live in lockdown. The city which invented Quarantine, is now demonstrating the validity of these historical epidemiological methods in trying to contain what has become a global catastrophe. As the hashtag #iorestoacasa (I am staying home) gains currency with 3,461,171 posts (as of 28 April), so too do the hashtags for ‘all will be well’: #andràtuttobene (with the accent) 1,110,227 posts and #andratuttobene (without accent) 746,189 posts. Venetian friends have posted surreally beautiful, yet hauntingly eerie photos and videos of a deserted Venice.

Perhaps the photo that moved me most, however, was that of a duck’s nest, made in the ropes of a deserted Vaporetto stop; the hope of new life as we all live in interesting times. I too hope that ‘all will be well’ in a city we all love, a city that we need to return to and support for the Venice Biennale in 2021.

 Dr Catherine Kovesi

Learn more about Biennale Arte 2022.