“Venice: Going Back to its Essence”, text by Marco Vidal, 2015, eng
I have always thought that Venice could become a model city in the world for its quality of life and a human and social dimension now lost in most modern cities, where meeting in the street and sharing public spaces has become something rare and sought after. Having the chance to travel I have often had confirmation of this. The most advanced cities try to create pedestrian and social spaces within them. The more enlightened public administrations and town planners tend to try to create residential areas where social life is encouraged, with meeting places often enriched by fine architectural surrounds, offering museums and green ‘lungs’ where the external noise, pollution, advertising pressure and chaos are neutralised. Thirty years ago this could have been the starting point for a new Venice projected toward the future; a place where this dimension already existed, enriched by a unique architectural and artistic heritage and an absolutely extraordinary environment, its lagoon. The challenge was economic, to give the resident population prospects in terms of jobs, differentiated work sectors and fast connections with the surrounding district compatible with the speed of modern life. Thirty years ago, for example, it would probably have been possible to convert the Porto Marghera area in such a way that it could have accommodated the many extraordinary, non-chemical production plants that were scattered throughout the Veneto region in those years of economic growth. An economy related to Venice as its vital heart, in a few words, could have been able to present us as an advanced city. This was the big lost opportunity for Venice. The political choices of the last thirty years have focused on an economic and social model contrary to what I have described above, a model based solely on the uncontrolled exploitation of Venice’s land and beauty. The only economy to which Venice opened its doors was tourism, but without any organisational or management plan that would draw on its proper value. Year by year the uncontrolled flows have grown to a level that seems to be 30,000,000 visitors. I say ‘seems’ because not even the statistical analysis of the flows has been institutionalised, perhaps to arouse less concern. But in these last twenty years as tourism grew to the point of reaching 30,000,000 visitors, what happened to the city of Venice? Did the tourist economy correspond to any wealth for Venice? In the same years as the tourist boom there was a drop in the resident population from 93,000 in 1981 to 56,000 in 2014: about 40% fewer residents in the last thirty years. Entire generations of young people born in Venice, or who have graduated from the prestigious Venetian universities, have been forced to pack their bags to find a job and a house to build themselves a future, away from Venice. Here there is no work outside the tourist sector, and the property market has surged due to the demand for holiday homes and space for tourism. Every year tens of thousands of square metres of residential space once intended for residents have been the subject of a change of use allowed by the city council for tourist reception activities, room lets, B&Bs and hotels. In the last three years the Venice city council has accumulated a budget deficit of several hundred million euros against the growth of the tourist economy, necessitating the cutting of some fundamental services and an increase in council taxes, which are now among the highest in Italy. The city council has for years not had the money to maintain Venice and its monuments and has been obliged to sell its own prestige property holdings to cover only part of the hole in the balance, and to use the facades of the most significant monuments for advertising campaigns that can sustain restoration costs. In addition to the flight of the resident population, thousands of historic Venetian activities and public and private offices have moved or closed down: all unable to maintain their base in Venice because of the property prices swollen by tourist demand and the pool of users now cut to the bone. Alongside, commercial activities are now in the hands of big brands owned by luxury multinationals on one hand and of souvenir bazaars on the other, defined as Venetian but made in third world countries. Neither of these kinds of activity leads to any extended redistribution of local wealth; most of the goods sold in Venice to the 30,000,000 tourists are not made in the area, residents are seldom employed in their sale and often their owner is not even a physical person. The land is then exploited without any logic of organisation or flow distribution, with the result that Venice suffers overcrowding at various times of the year, while other parts of the council’s territory have been completely forgotten: the Lido di Venezia, antique pearl of elite international tourism, is in a state of abandon; Porto Marghera, which was one of the biggest industrial areas in Europe, is now empty, does not offer jobs and is a decaying industrial desert. After thirty years Mestre is still in search of its own identity. These are the results of political choices made and supported for decades in Venice by a local political class that has been distinguished by numerous corruption scandals, the squandering of public money on pointless public works, favours in exchange for patronage votes and insufficiency on all sides. This political class is certainly supported by a population that is in some cases compliant, in some myopic and in others resigned, but certainly needs replacement with new lifeblood from outside. Because of the active rejection I feel towards this model that is killing Venice, as an entrepreneur and citizen of Venice I support Andrea Morucchio’s work and his political message. It is a message that starts with the hundreds of articles in international papers dealing with Venice that genuinely report the outrage every person feels in knowing the condition towards which the most beautiful city in the world seems destined. An exposé of the shame we feel at having to read all over the world about scandals that concern us directly, from the big ships that continue to sail undaunted through St Mark’s Basin, to the corruption of a political class that in any case continues to govern the city, and the depopulation of a city that is becoming a themed amusement park. But it is not a resigned message. Together with the artist, it is precisely the path of smell that marks a call to what is the essence of Venice and around which the future of the city must be built. This primordial perfume, extrapolated from a passage by Brodsky defining the essence of Venice as that of algae frozen in winter, a mixed green and vegetal perfume, takes us back to the natural and primordial essence of the ‘Anadyomene’ city, born from the water like Venus Anadyomene. In order to create this essence we made use of a great Italian ‘nose’, Maurizio Cerizza of AFM, a highly experienced master perfumer who has created hundreds of successful perfumes during his professional career. On a winter’s day we accompanied him by boat to immerse himself in the smells of Venice and the most unpolluted part of the lagoon in order to perceive the same smells that inspired Brodsky’s piece and recreate them for our installation. We then made a very limited production of it for those wishing to possess the ‘essence of Venice’. Morucchio’s work is intended to recreate a synaesthetic atmosphere that envelops the visitors’ senses, striking their sight in strong tones with the shocking headlines of international papers exposing the speculation on Venice, and their hearing with the sound of underwater recordings of maritime traffic in the lagoon. But finally, through smell, the visitor is recalled to the primordial essence of Venice, a smell that leads the mind to its water, its vegetation, its delicate and most real dimension. And with respect for its natural dimension and appreciation of this unique heritage, the artist and all of us who worked on the project entitled The Rape of Venice want to attract the attention and active involvement of all those who will synaesthetically experience the work in favour of Venice.