It is ironic to me that a city where you get around by boat; floods.

Venice is sinking and the sea level is rising yet “acqua alta” (high water) is more than that. The first recorded flood was in the year AD 589. The worst one in recent history was in 1966. It happens usually in winter and is caused by the shape of the Adriatic sea, the Venetian Lagoon, prevailing winds, along with of course more latterly, the sinking city and the effects of climate change.


We were back for the Venice Biennale, two weeks before it closed for this cycle and four years since we were last here.

It’s a huge mad event spread over an already busy and overcrowded city. This year we stayed in a funny little back street hotel. Frankly, when we arrived it didn’t smell so good. We only worked out why when we opened the front door the next morning to be greeted with six inches of water in the street. The hotel gave us plastic bags that got us as far as a tat shop where we were stung five euros by a very friendly Bangladeshi for a pair of plastic over boots.

It was a bright sunny day and Piazza San Marco looked good underwater. We waded across the square and then along the waterfront to The Arsenale, one of two massive contained venues for the Biennale. There were thousands of other punters traipsing through the exhibition. I was following an older lady who turned to her companion “it’s all so angry” she said.

The theme of the event this time was “May you Live in Interesting Times”. Purportedly this is the translation of a traditional Chinese curse. Though apparently no evidence supports this interpretation.


Highlights inside the building were South African Zanele Muholi’s massive self-portrait photographic wallpaper. Ghana’s exhibit was my pick though, featuring six artists. I really liked the massive pieces made of bottle tops and copper wire by El Anatsui and the portraits by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

Outside the building up on top of the harbour wall is a 90ft fishing boat that sank with an estimated “cargo” of between 700 and 1100 African immigrants. Only twenty seven survived, including the captain. It’s title is Barca Nostraour boat. Is it art? I don’t know – but it is mighty powerful.



Lorenzo Quinn’s massive hands in his Building Bridges were pretty spectacular too.


The New Zealand exhibit Post Hoc was disappointing. I get what the artist was saying about extinction and how that relates to this year’s theme. To me though it was visually underwhelming. Fake trees dressed up as cell towers with the words of things that have become extinct broadcasted through hidden speakers. To be fair when I listened in all I got was extinct stars. When one reviewer listened in they got the “sound a manual credit card imprinter made”.

On the Sunday we were at the other main site, the Giardini, having waded through San Marco again. Erin from Te Papa and on secondment at the NZ Pavilion had recommended the Israeli exhibit – it was entitled the Hospital to Cure Social Ills and was very interactive. I took a number and sat in the waiting room, I was briefed and kitted out in shoe covers by one of several staff dressed in white coats. I screamed three times as directed in a sound proof box and made a choice of one of four short films to watch on a specially designed reclining seat. I was warned that what I was going to watch was confronting. It was. In a very personal manner. But there we go.

The Polish pavilion was entirely taken up with an inside out large private plane. I stood behind three young German lads who couldn’t get over how the artist had rolled up the wings inside the plane – and to be fair – neither could I.

We left Venice as we arrived on an old tub of a ferry that crawled along out to the airport. It belched fumes and made far too much noise and was about 100 feet long. It was nearly full with about 100 people on board.

Barca Nostra – our boat – made me think.


Here is the my Venice Biennale blog from four years ago


Pete Carter is the author of This is Us. Due out in June 2020 it will be published by Exisle and tells the story of more than 200 New Zealanders in words and pictures. The book is really a portrait of the nation and how it is made up. Pete wrote Our Dog Benji a children’s book illustrated by his nephew, published by EK in 2017. He is also the author of two books of poetry. He has had magazine articles published and poetry in anthologies. As a photographer he has had two solo exhibitions and work included in group exhibitions in NZ and overseas and has sold work to and been commissioned by corporate clients.

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