08 October 2009

“The Venice effect”

“The rhythm in Venice is like breathing,” he said. “High water, high pressure: tense. Low water, low pressure: relaxed. Venetians are not at all attuned to the rhythm of the wheel. That is for other places, places with motor vehicles. Ours is the rhythm of the Adriatic. The rhythm of the sea. In Venice the rhythm flows along with the tide, and the tide changes every six hours.”...

“Do you see a bridge as an obstacle?... To us bridges are transitions… like changes in scenery, or like the progression from Act One of a play to Act Two. Our role changes as we go over bridges. We cross from one reality to another reality. From one street to another street. From one setting to another setting.”...

“A trompe-l’oeil painting… is so lifelike it doesn’t look like a painting at all. It looks like real life, but of course it is not. It is reality once removed. What, then, is a trompe-l’oeil painting when reflected in a mirror?”…

“Sunlight on a canal is reflected up through a window onto the ceiling, then from the ceiling onto a vase, and from the vase onto a glass, or a silver bowl. Which is the real sunlight? Which is the real reflection?”

“What is true? What is not true? The answer is not so simple because the truth can change. I can change. You can change. That is the Venice effect.”

Count Girolamo Marcello, speaking to John Berendt
The City of Falling Angels

We human beings are notoriously resistant to change. Why? Because change makes a dreadful mess of things. Change is a very clumsy, undignified business. Change robs us of our certainty, or – more accurately – our illusion of certainty. Change can make us look foolish or selfish. Change might irritate or frighten those around us, making them suspicious of us, leaving us without our usual support systems, forcing us to explain or appease. Change often causes us to doubt ourselves, makes us feel timid and embarrassed. And change almost never happens smoothly, nor without extracting a price.

Two years ago I moved to Venice to… well… to change. Really, to accelerate the change in myself that was already well underway. What a fool I was! I believed in a few months’ time I would reach some particular internal state, recognize it, breathe a sigh of relief, be satisfied, finally feel authentic and at ease, and move on. Life would make sense then, and everything would fall into place.

I’m here to report: it doesn’t work that way. Or at least it hasn’t so far.

The past summer in New York was tough. It set me back a few steps on my journey. I did some back-sliding, lost my way a bit. This brief visit to my other home showed me that La Serenissima and I are not finished with one another yet – not at all. Perhaps we never will be. I see that I must have both Venice and New York if I am to enjoy balance and peace in my life, if I am to conduct my studio life in a satisfying way. Why? I still don’t really know. It’s very weird, this drive to seek the two cities’ contrasting energies and influences to guide and shape me. And achieving my bi-continental goal will certainly not be easy. At present I really can’t afford to live in either place! But in truth, I have no choice. I am fully under the spell of “the Venice effect.” And the only constant in my life is change.