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Fragmented itineraries in Venice

25 Aug 2016

August brought the final instalment in a trilogy of visits to Venice this year, for me and my partner, Esther. Our first visit in winter had brought unexpected connections. Our second came when Esther was invited back by the It’s Liquid group, to perform Girl in Suitcase at Palazzo Ca’ Zanardi in spring. After that success, our third visit was in summer for another performance of Girl in Suitcase, this time at Venice Art House for their ‘Fragmented Identities‘ event, and to present a completely new work called ‘Blood>>>Orange‘ at the Skyline rooftop bar of the Hilton Molino Stucky Venice.

Tuesday 2 August

Things one doesn’t wish to hear: the captain informed us our flight out was delayed for safety checks as the plane had struck a flock of small birds during its inbound journey from Naples. We touched down fifty minutes late at 4:30pm yet managed to make the 5pm Alilaguna boat to Arsenale. We walked to our AirBnB flat in Castello, acquired the key, and stepped into what was the nicest accommodation, in the best location of our three visits. It was a good start. Having settled in we went for pizzas at the nearby Trattoria dai Tosa, eating al fresco in the warm evening air.



Wednesday 3 August

After a long lay-in we took brunch of toasties at a café on via Guiseppe Garibaldi. We sat outside, shaded from the ferocious midday heat by umbrellas and cooled by a fan that blew mists of water vapour upon us. Esther bought fresh fruit and vegetables from a market trader whose goods were stacked across a boat moored permanently at the head of the adjacent canal. We topped up supplies at the local Coop, then headed to Giardina, stopping to take photos at The Forests of Venice installation by Kjellander + Sjöberg & Folkhem – our first close encounter with art on this trip.


We were due to meet our friend and fellow performer, Glynis Ackermann, at Giardini around 4pm. She’d been invited to perform ‘Foil‘ at two It’s Liquid events on Thursday: first at Palazzo Ca’ Zanardi, with co-performer Peter Rueegg, and again after Esther’s performance at Venice Art House… where I would be her co-performer. We’d arranged rehearsal time this afternoon. Whilst waiting, Esther and I wandered on to Sant’Elena, bought ice creams, oscillated gently in the large dish of a playground swing, and then returned to lay beneath trees in the gardens. We weren’t here for sightseeing.


Glynis and Peter were based two-hours away in Mestre, yet Glynis arrived exactly on time. After pausing for melon-ham snacks at a café in the gardens, we returned to our flat for rehearsal. Glynis and I undressed, took a shower, and practised the piece four times through. It appeared simple but required delicate movement in practice. Later at 6pm, we met Peter at Giardini and all went for a meal together. It was good of them to stay, despite having such a long return journey. When they left us, Esther and I took a short vaporetto ride to Giardini, purely to enjoy our first waterbus journey of this trip.

Thursday 4 August

We were aiming to be at Venice Art House around 4pm, so after our customary lay-in, and with a couple of hours to kill, we took a vaporetto across to Lido. It was set to be our hottest day so far. We walked through crowds on the public beach and then along emptier private sands in front of the large hotels. Esther had stripped to her underwear and, on finding a quiet area, indulged in a cooling swim – taking care to avoid jellyfish. Back at our flat, we gathered all that we needed for Girl in Suitcase and then returned to Giardini for a vaporetto up the Grand Canal to San Marcuola-Casinò.



We were running late, eventually reaching Venice Art House nearer 5pm. We checked the space, uploaded our music to the It’s Liquid laptop then popped out for toasties as we had not eaten properly all day – Esther needed her sustenance. Venice Art House opened its doors to guests at 6pm but over the next couple of hours perhaps only four or five people wandered in. Girl in Suitcase had been scheduled to start at 6:30pm but instead we waited patiently; looking at artworks, drinking the complimentary Prosecco and chatting with other artists. This couldn’t go on indefinitely, however.


© It’s Liquid 2016

© It’s Liquid 2016

A little after 8pm we were all given a choice: go to Ca’ Zanardi where a large audience had gathered for the simultaneous opening night event there, or wait till 9pm when the audience would be brought to us. It was agreed we should go to Ca’ Zanardi. This was more troublesome for Esther and me as our props were heaviest. Frustratingly, it also meant I would not now be able to perform with Glynis as she was already due to work with Peter at that venue. Others couldn’t perform as their work was fixed within Venice Art House, but they came anyway – a feeling of solidarity had built amongst us.

© It’s Liquid 2016

© It’s Liquid 2016

We found Ca’ Zanardi in chaos. We were neither greeted nor spoken to by the event’s curators – perhaps we represented failure and must, therefore, be shunned – and their intern staff were struggling to cope with an organisational overload. There was little we could do, except watch the artists already booked for this venue and await our chance to perform afterwards. We’d missed the opening performance, so the first we saw was Hannah Berestizhevsky presenting ‘Heart Cramp‘ in the Palazzo’s gold room. Then came the turn of Glynis and Peter to perform ‘Foil‘ in same magnificent space.

© Veronica Comisso / It’s Liquid 2016




Joss Carter emerged in white paint, loin cloth and chains to begin shuffling about the building, meekly inviting guests to take a paper-wrapped stone from a small bag. Out on the balcony, Elisabeth van Dam drew the largest crowd for her impressive dance piece, ‘Wuthering‘. We were then led down to the courtyard, where duo Hypnogogia were to perform – by now the audience had thinned, and was predominantly made up of other artists. When Joss completed his howling extract of ‘Salvation‘ on the lower floor, it meant the relocated Venice Art House performances could – at last – begin.


© Veronica Comisso / It’s Liquid 2016


© Veronica Comisso / It’s Liquid 2016

Esther had felt increasingly disheartened by the whole experience, but the solidarity of artists and the fact we could still take positives by filming the performance encouraged her to see it through. The first Venice Art House artist to perform was Silvia Pipponzi with Mattia Raggi, who improvised a site specific dance on the ground floor. There had been expectation that all the remaining artists would be on the ground floor but Esther and Alexandra Holownia – the final two performance artists – were determined to be in the gold room.

© Veronica Comisso / It’s Liquid 2016

While Esther and I were preparing, one more artist performed her work, which involved putting food ingredients in her mouth, spitting them in a pan, making an omelette, and sharing it with her hungry audience – a meal we missed. In the gold room, I bandaged Esther’s naked body, helped her climb into the suitcase, lowered the lid and then went out to announce the impending performance for those people who stayed. They took a while to assemble so I returned and flapped the suitcase lid to give Esther some air on this suffocatingly muggy night. Once underway, I recorded the entire performance


© Veronica Comisso / It’s Liquid 2016

© Veronica Comisso / It’s Liquid 2016



© Veronica Comisso / It’s Liquid 2016


After all that she had endured to reach this point – physical and emotional exhaustion, feeling let down and having to re-energise – after all of it, she was wonderful. She took her richly deserved applause and went off to wash while I quickly cleared the space so Alexandra could perform. Alexandra set down her jacket, bag, hat and headband sewn with colourful vaginas, plus a massive snake-like penis and a huge pair of breasts. Her music started and she in turn commenced a carefree dance, picking up one item after another and airily wafting it around. I ran to get Esther – she had to see this!


© Veronica Comisso / It’s Liquid 2016

© Veronica Comisso / It’s Liquid 2016

© Veronica Comisso / It’s Liquid 2016

At the end of the dance, Alexandra announced her mission to spread love, peace, and sexual acceptance around the world, then invited us all to take up an item and join her in dancing once again. Everyone took part. Having struggled so much to get this far, it was a beautiful hedonistic way to end the evening. Afterwards I helped Esther to finish washing blood and paint from her body. It was around quarter to midnight when at last we left with Glynis and Peter, heading to the Ca’ d’Oro vaporetto stop. We hugged our very fond farewells then went separate ways… hopeful of reuniting soon.



Dancing around carefree in Alexandra’s hat of vaginas had been important for me as it proved to be my only performance participation of the trip. We took our things back to the flat, then wandered out once more into the night, hoping vainly to find a restaurant or bar still open at 1am. No chance, but it was nice to walk the near-deserted streets. Returning to the flat, Esther showered while I loaded my recording of the performance onto her laptop. We watched it together, all the way through; Esther was really happy, and so was I. It was 2:30am when finally we settled down to sleep, utterly exhausted.

Friday 5 August

Needless to say we didn’t get up early. It was our only day with rain predicted, but not until 5pm, so we went by vaporetto to Vignole – an island we’d not visited on either of our previous trips – changing at Fondamenta Nove. We called in first at Trattoria alle Vignole for cappucinos and strawberry tiramisu, then afterwards planned on hiking to Forte di Sant’Andrea, but soon reached the limit of the canalside footpath. So instead we decided on a first impromptu nude photo shoot of the trip, with me semi-immersed in the water of the canal.




Back at the vaporetto stop we had a second shoot, with Esther nude on the adjacent quayside. After she’d dressed and the vaporetto arrived, we island-hopped via Murano to Sant’Erasmo – the Capannone waterbus stop. Here at last the heavens opened but we had umbrellas with us. After the frequently oppressive heat of our previous days, it was quite pleasant to have some cloud cover and experience rather cooler conditions. The rain had subsided and sunshine broke through once again by the time we walked south to Torre Massimiliana.




The caretaker at the tower welcomed us in, and showed us up to the roof so we could admire the views. Continuing on, we wandered down to a near-deserted beach with an intention of walking up the coast but the darkest imaginable black clouds loomed fast at our backs. The winds picked up strongly as we beat a swift retreat to the Al Bacan pizzeria. Inevitably rain followed, so we took a break with coffee, pizza and wifi. When the weather cleared we decided the moment for beach walking had passed so started back to Capannone – breaking into a jog to catch the hourly vaporetto.



Back at Fondamenta Nove we decided to call in at Ca’ Zanardi, just a brief walk away. We wanted confirmation of details for the Blood>>>Orange performance next day, as we’d been tipped-off it may be ‘suspended’. Nobody knew anything though, so – after stopping for a final performance in the courtyard on our way out – we left. On the plus side, we found Alexandra taking photos from the nearby canal bridge so invited her to join us and Glynis at the Hilton’s Skyline bar ahead of Blood>>>Orange; happily, she agreed. After pausing to take a few photos of our own, we returned to the vaporettos.


Instead of going directly back to Giardini, we got off at Bacini in the hopes of finding a walking route to our flat. No such luck – we were trapped in the Arsenale shipyard by walls, fences and water. Nonetheless, it was sufficiently deserted for me to indulge in our third and final nude photo shoot of the day down by the water’s edge. We returned to Bacini and completed our waterbus journey back to Giardini. Esther headed for our flat to start cooking, whilst I detoured to buy a bottle of wine. That evening we enjoyed the best meal of our time in Venice so far.




Saturday 6 August

Another late rise was followed by another crossing to Lido and a bus ride further along the island than we had been before. When we were at what we guessed to be roughly the halfway point, we got off and walked to the sea-facing side. We’d gone beyond the sands, so returned to the main road for coffees and a panini at café Tentazioni, before walking a little further and returning to the sea – this time in line with the first beaches. We found a deserted little shack made of driftwood, which offered welcome protection from the direct sunshine, whilst being open to cool breezes on all sides.



On an adjacent rocky groyne we noticed a naturist sunbather, and required no further encouragement to follow suit. At first we maintained our privacy but soon felt tempted to venture out. I went for a swim and we both sunbathed upon the rocks. When it was time to leave we walked first along the beaches until they began to get more crowded, then further by the main road – stopping for juices and a couple of fruit tarts at a small café, and to get wine for our next meal at the flat. We returned to the vaporetto station by bus and took the first boat back to Giardini. This relaxation time was invaluable.



At our flat we filled two backpacks and a large airport luggage bag with all we needed for that evening’s performance. On reaching the Hilton at around 8:30pm, we instantly found Alexandra and together went up to the Skyline rooftop bar to chat with the staff there. They were very nice and accommodating, yet plainly had no idea who we were or what we were there to do – awkward. Evidently the tip-off we’d received was wholly correct – It’s Liquid had indeed ‘suspended’ their performances yet neither we nor the welcoming people at the venue had been formally told of it.


We took sunset photos then retreated to consider our next move. I had a deep sense of foreboding; staff were willing to slot us in at 10:30pm, between a singer and DJ set, yet to me it seemed the wrong performance at the wrong time for the wrong audience. We would be confronting them with nudity, blood and body paint, to a soundtrack that included The Fall, Dead Can Dance and Skinny Puppy. It’s unlikely this is what diners in cocktail dresses and evening suits would be anticipating. I felt certain of a negative reaction, without sufficient positives at an artistic level for it to be worth the trouble.


Esther concluded independently that circumstances weren’t right for performance and I did nothing to encourage her otherwise… although Alexandra would have chanced it. Instead the three of us went for a meal, close to the Palanca vaporetto stop where we could keep watch for Glynis, but she never arrived; understandably the four-hour round trip from Mestre was too much. It was hard for Esther to let a performance opportunity slip from her grasp, and she felt more than a little regret as the night drew to its close. I was in full sympathy – we should not have been put in this situation.

Sunday 7 August

After sleeping off the disappointment of the night before, we decided to make up for it by staging two outdoor performances ourselves: firstly a solo ritual with the menstrual blood that Esther had intended to use as part of Blood>>>Orange; secondly a variant of Blood>>>Orange itself, somewhere prominent within Venice. We went north to San Pietro, crossed to Fondamenta Nove, back to Sant’Erasmo Capannone, and retraced our steps from two days before, down to the deserted beach… except that now it was far from deserted.


On this clear, warm weekend day, sunseekers were occupying every available square metre of sand, while private motorboats were moored in a line just beyond the water’s edge. We walked on beyond the end of the beach, and instead found a beautiful area of coastal land that was awash with violet flowers and wind-brushed grasses. We took off our sandals and waded through black mud and wetland plants to reach a dry area, firmer underfoot and more secluded. Esther undressed, readied her pot of blood, and I started filming. It was beautiful act of cleansing: the Sant’Erasmo Blood Ritual.

We washed the dark mud from our feet and continued walking, turning inland to arrive at Sant’Erasmo Chiesa vaporetto stop. From there, we returned to Fondamenta Nove, then took connecting vaporettos to San Marco-San Zaccaria and to San Giorgio – the island directly opposite the most famous of Venice’s palace facades. I had fancied we could perform Blood>>>Orange on the long stone boat mooring that reached out from the east side and terminated with a small lighthouse, but unfortunately this turned out to be gated with no way past.


Nowhere else was suitable on this small island, but Esther didn’t mind; she was quite happy simply to have performed her earlier blood ritual – Blood>>>Orange would keep for another day. With such an outstanding backdrop, however, I couldn’t resist a quick nude photo shoot. Not enough people were on San Giorgio for me to care about being seen. As the hour neared eight o’clock, sunset colours added beautiful warming tones to the backdrop. Ever since our first trip to this city I had wanted to try a guerrilla-style nude shoot somewhere unmistakably Venetian and now, at last, I had my moment




This was our last evening in Venice. Back at San Marco-San Zaccaria, I wanted us to share a final visit to Piazza San Marco – the main square. After so much hiking, our sandals were starting to rub us sorely, so we took them off and walked barefoot to the heart of Venice. It was a magical evening. Despite setbacks to our performance plans, with one relocated and the other ‘suspended’, we were grateful for the many positives we could take from this trip, and grateful once more to be in such a magnificent place. That evening we ate in again – a quiet celebration.


Monday 8 August

At last, we managed to rise early – well, comparatively early – in the morning. For our remaining hours before returning to the airport we boarded a vaporetto from San Pietro to the island of Certosa just one stop opposite. It’s an uncomplicated little island with one café, a scattering of art installations and the modest remnants of a former military presence, but otherwise all green, pleasant and shady. We stopped for coffees before wandering in sunshine slowly around the perimeter footpath, pausing to sit in serenity every now and then. We were free to enjoy the simple pleasures once more.


Back at the flat we checked emails and ate the last of our fridge food. As if to prepare us for a return to London, we each received messages that offered us bookings as life models for the remainder of the year. These, unlike the performance arrangements on this trip, would be reliable. Our boat ride to the airport was smooth – as was the flight home. We’d enjoyed a superb holiday, had some fun photo shoots, met great people, and made the very best of our opportunities wherever we could. It had been a sublime experience in learning and life.



Goodbye Venice. We loved you.

From → Art

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