Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Biggest Splash of the Opening Week of the 56th Biennale (at Least for Locals)

A gangway in front of Fondazione Prada collapses: full story and images here: http://nuovavenezia.gelocal.it/venezia/foto-e-video/2015/05/06/ (photo credit: Interpress)
The glee with which many Venetians responded to the minor but dramatic mishap early last week of what local papers called a group of "VIP"s in front of the Fondazione Prada on the Grand Canal (above) seemed like a good indicator of just how much ambivalence (if not outright antagonism) many, if not most, Venetians feel toward those million of visitors on whom their livelihood--or a cynic might say, their "lingering demise"--depends.

Judging by the volume (in both senses of the word) of responses and remarks on social media it was pretty clearly the big hit of the opening days of the 56th Venice Biennale, at least for the local crowd.

What happened was simply that the floating dock projecting out from the Fondazione Prada (located in Ca' Corner della Regina) into the Grand Canal tilted so perilously for some reason that it separated from the gangway connecting it to the fixed pier and, under what La Nuova di Venezia claims was the appalled gaze of multi-billionaire Miuccia Prada herself, sent a good half dozen of her guests ("bejeweled ladies and well-suited men") into the drink.

No one, fortunately, was injured, and what struck me about the incident and the local response to it was that this slight (but very well-documented) mishap managed to achieve what was once the explicit function of Venetian Carnevale and all its ancient precursors throughout the world--but which the contemporary corporate Venice Carnevale has entirely given up on. That is, to quite literally upend the established social hierarchy, bringing down the highly-positioned and powerful "Haves" to the immense, if only momentary, amusement of those vast many--quite literally the vast majority of the populace--without any particular position or power.

It is ultimately, it seems to me, a cold consolation (or amusement), partaking, I suspect, of more envy and despair than actual joy, but whatever it was it was certainly widespread last week. And I'm tempted, actually, even to suggest that the breadth and intensity of such glee (understandable and common as it is) might be construed as a fairly good indicator of the economic and social inequality present in a society. The bigger the gulf between the Haves and the Have Nots, the bigger the splash, so to speak, when one (or some) of the privileged former group slips up.

In any case, it was just the first of a number of incidents last week that seemed to call attention to the difference between what the Biennale means to most locals and what it means for those who come from abroad to see it.

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