Close encounters in Venice

20, 22 April. For a few days, the very coveted opening days, Venice marked the pace of those who came from all over the world to visit the new edition of the Art Biennale. As I prepare for the throng of rooms, suites, and satellite galleries, I walk along a tree-lined street that connects the Giardini to the rest of town. I have in my head the echo of decadence with which Giuseppe Berto opens unknown gunDeath is everywhere, in marble and brick, in hollow floors, in separate thresholds, in the anxiety with which mice keep breeding. Death that paves the escape routes to the mainland. On the other hand, in the expensive days of the Biennale’s opening, Venice is overflowing with people and events. He is overflowing with optimism. And while I too, under a hesitant sky, whether to turn to beauty, rushing to snatch a portion of the profit and recreation, here along this tree-lined path I met a man of about fifty years old. It is a blonde, rather tall, leather boot with a square toe. He wears a black suit and holds a briefcase in his right hand. He walks with long steps, his chest sticks out, but his gait has something special. I stop and he does the same. Three or four metres. He smiled, he is serious and puts his bag to his right. He lowers it, opens it, and takes out a handful of leaves. Then I get serious too, the paranoia of ending up on a candid cam rises, or worse than confronting a psychopath. I only relax when others stop and watch. Meanwhile, the man retrieves the duct tape from his pocket and slowly, starting with his left foot, begins to attach the papers to the dark suit. Continue in this manner until you cover one leg completely and then the other, then cover the torso, arms and even the face and hair. Although his way of acting suggests a certain firmness, and also a moral conviction, I seem to have read in the performance, which I shall discover later under the title gun offense, a kind of emptiness and frequency. A man with strength overwhelmed by nature compensates for the general fragility, filling the air with tenderness. What does the performer do? What does he want to prove? Aren’t you shy? Here, this is a typical error. Judging informal, unacknowledged, unparalleled things with clemency or a predatory look. After all, unpredictability, and risk, are exactly what makes a work of art something special. While I get lost in considerations, the three carabinieri approach.

The eldest is in his 60s, middle age must be my age and a girl completing a trio. They slow their pace, exchange a few words in the ear, and allow themselves to absorb the spectators scattered around the performer, now a hedge man. I salute them and state that I am in Venice to write an essay on the lesser-known aspects of the Biennale. I show the pen and notepad I keep in my pocket and ask them for their opinion.

“Ask him, ask him, the artist,” suggests the elder, referring to his colleague. The girl starts laughing. I turn to the carabiniere in the middle, my age, and I explain again what I’m doing there and then I ask him if he is also an artist.

“But go ahead, I studied restoration.”


“Then I trained with a restorer here in Venice, but nothing, there is no work. So I took part in the competition and they took me in arms ».

“Are you still a little used to art?”

“I have very little time. There is obviously a lot of art in Venice, and I love it, but it does not mean that I start pursuing everything.”

What do you think of the biennale?

“What to say…it’s fun, come on, I mean, there’s a nice vibe.”

“Did you manage to see anything?”

“Little. We are responsible for security, even if everything is quiet. We toured the gardens.”

“What do you like?”

“Oh my God, I don’t remember much. There was that woodcarving, wasn’t it? – he says, turning to his colleague – which seems special to me ».

She confirms “yes” as she puts her hands behind her back.

“And what do you think of this performance?”

“Nice, come on. That is, I don’t get it, but it’s convenient.”

“Do you see any differences between what’s in the Biennale and what’s outside?”

The carabinier smiles and looks down.

“They are ugly? Are they bothering you?”

hardens a little. “No, no, for heaven’s sake, that’s just, you look – he says, pointing to the performer – you don’t understand what he’s doing. Why cover yourself with newspaper?”

I trust him that I also do not understand contemporary art, but it is difficult to admit it, perhaps allowing ourselves something with my close colleagues, shyly, a little to laugh, a little malice. I thank them and return to follow the performance, which, unexpectedly, took a political turn: on the front part of the body the performer is covered with the pages of a newspaper, and on the back side the leaves sprout. Been completed. The audience is distracted. Instead, the performer takes off his shoes and secures them to his face with duct tape; Then it remains still, like a statue, for a minute. Really finished. Now, as if at the end of a cosmetic treatment, he removes all that stuff from his face, picks up his bag and walks through the bushes on either side of the road. I was astonished by his escape because I would like to ask him some questions. So I follow it over the benches, toward the vegetation, but it seems to have evaporated. I am waiting for a noise signal. There is no way to track it.

I’m about to leave when I hear insults in an unknown language. The sound comes from the right. I pierce hedges and make my way with my hands. In a small open space, on his back, wet and red, there is the performer in his underwear who cleans himself, throwing everything into a black bag. He wipes himself with handkerchiefs, runs his neck with a towel, so I trace my steps so as not to interrupt him or give the impression of spying on him. Reappears after a few minutes. Checked shorts, white shirt, shoulder bag and sandals with socks. wet hair. I introduce myself with a slightly surprised smile. The way he talks (“Hi, my name is Olaf”) sounds like a friendly guy. He tells me that he is forty-six years old and is from Sweden, a “high school teacher” and has four children. Your English is as weak as mine or maybe we are just embarrassed; Or maybe, after seeing him transform from fence man into Olaf, it’s more like talking to a superhero outside of the bathroom. Loose, weak, bruised.

Olaf begins by confirming my impressions of him, that is, he refers to the “damn art system” as an enemy that, after seducing you, corrupts your soul. It’s a fairly straightforward premise, but Olaf adds that if you’re not in the market you’re not an artist. I was struck by the serenity with which he talks about it, also because integration into the system – or rather the systems – is a central problem. It’s Olaf’s problem, it’s Damien Hirst’s problem and his company. It defines the system to which the economies belong, degrees of approval, number of followers, awards, press reviews, visibility… and defines categories. For example: artist or non-artist. Olaf is not an artist because he does not participate in the Biennale. or that he is an artist because he performed with the audience – a performance not far from even some performances already seen in official venues; Or again, he is an artist like many others, with a good approach, and good ideas that they have never shown in the Biennale. So what are the parameters? Who has the right to define and assign categories? Thinking about it is a terrible thing, from universal judgment. This is yes, this is no. This we will see.

Olaf noticed my distraction and then said that his performance, gun offenseIt is outside the market and cannot be bought or sold. He is here, at his expense, to say that there is room for everyone, that art belongs to everyone, and if professionals do not care who cares. Then he apologizes, says he is very upset about the situation, and finds it difficult to speak.

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